PAGE ::: 1

INFO   :::  Projects > Archives > The Helsinki Charter: Promoting Serbia's Europeanization > HC No. 143-144 > Text



Bosnia-Herzegovina in the Aftermath of General Elections


By Davor Gjenero

After the major political step by President Tadic's administration, whose conciliatory resolution in the UN General Assembly launched the process of "silent recognition" of Kosovo independence, Bosnia-Herzegovina remains the last big "status" problem in the Balkans. The advocates of nationalistic strategies and the advocates of sustainable democratic structures capable of cross-border cooperation alike hold that the processes related to Kosovo independence and those to the constitutional reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina are closely interlinked. Nationalists in Serbia and in Croatia shared the same view: recognition of Kosovo independence is just a prelude to dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and, for the starts, to independence declaration of the entity under the control of Bosnian Serbs. On the other hand, the International Court of Justice's /ICJ/ advisory opinion on Kosovo - at the request of the UN General Assembly and at Serbia's initiative - only further strengthened the argumentation of the advocates of a different concept of regional relations: Kosovo independence cannot be a precedent for independence declaration of the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The fundamental value of the ICJ advisory opinion is the fact that faced with the sovereignty principle on the one hand and the principle of people's right to self-determination in mandated territories on the other, the ICJ judges opted for the concept of fundamental human rights. The context in which fundamental rights of the ethnic majority were violated was the main reason why they recognized the legality of Kosovo independence. Obviously, in this sense Kosovo can in no way be a precedent for independence declaration of any territorialized entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Members of the political class that represents Bosnian Serbs as well as those representing Bosnian Croats cannot argue that their respective ethnic communities have been continually jeopardized at the territories in which they are in the majority today and which are under their formal or informal political control. International courts have ruled on the grounds of undeniable evidence that "a limited genocide" took place in the entity named Republika Srpska but the victims of the genocide were "minority" Bosniaks rather than people from the majority ethnic community. The context of the proven Srebrenica genocide - recognized by the parliament of the "mother state," though not explicitly but by invoking relevant international documents - does not only question the "right to self-determination" but also the territorial sustainability of the entity controlled by the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the context of the election campaign and its radicalized political rhetoric, the concept of self-determination for the "Serb entity" but also of the establishment of a separate Croat entity with "centrifugal ambitions" were notably emphasized. It should be noted that this time the political elite of Bosnian Serbs, used to the support from Belgrade administration, did not get a formal support for its electoral "package." Policymakers in Belgrade were obviously aware that encouragement of any new dissolution processes was totally inappropriate against the background of consolidation of regional relations. So far, Belgrade has played its "Banjaluka game" just a bit more effectively than Zagreb's "Mostar game" in which Mostar had stood for Croat political body in Bosnia-Herzegovina ever since 2000. Belgrade's policymakers are presently focused the most on Serbia's Europeanization and the state's "self-definition" and "self-delineation" is their first step on this road. Ever since the change of the regime in 2000 Croatia has been pursuing the policy of "disengagement" in Bosnia-Herzegovina, while the "aesthetic flaw" of that policy is that today's Zagreb - even if willing or pressed by the international community - cannot efficiently discipline the Bosnian Croat elite and restrict its behavior. By avoiding confrontation over the policy of "self-determination" advocated in the Serb entity by Tadic's formal protégée, Milorad Dodik, Belgrade has secured a maneuver space for influencing that policy. And yet, it seems that the impact on developments in Serbia by the policy of Dodik's group is bigger than Tadic's on his formal protégée, Dodik. It is to be expected that in the period to come Belgrade's policy will undergo the same experience as Zagreb's policy for its "compatriots" in Bosnia-Herzegovina: its centrifugal force will be smaller and smaller, and any prospect for "self-determination" will be embarrassing for key policymakers to the extent to which they are genuinely committed to their country's Europeanization.

It is to be expected, therefore, that with the fadeout of electoral euphoria after establishment of new institutions in Bosnia the "self-determination" rhetoric among Bosnian Serbs would be fade away. Political processes in the smallest entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Croatian one, are less predictable. There, the political elite failed to achieve two major goals in the elections: it failed to secure political representation in the B-H Presidency by a politician of its choice and, as it seems, failed to secure the office of a chairman of the Council of Ministers that rotates by ethnic principle.

The Croat political elite believe that Bosniaks have profited from the majority principle and chosen "their" member of the Bosnian Presidency instead of them. In homogeneous societies the majority system generates good results and the use of the majority principle in several electoral rounds in the societies that are not divided a priori guarantees marginalization of radical political options and strengthening of political centers. However, in plural societies, the societies in which ethnic divides are prioritized over political, the majority system brings about "eternal minorities" and fosters political extremism.

Only conciliatory arrangements of sorts are efficient in plural societies, the arrangements by which every ethnic community can exercise its legitimate right of electing the political elite of its own, whereas voters and their elected representatives alike are responsible for establishing such relations with leaderships of other ethnic communities that enable shared responsibility for communal development. In such arrangements the elected elite incapable of reaching consensus with the elites of other ethnic communities loses the confidence of "its" electorate in the long run. On the other hand, the majority system in plural societies enabling a bigger community to decide on political representation of a smaller one results in radicalization and creates a climate in which the electorate honors "its" elite's unreadiness for compromise. And that was how the majority system affected the election of members of B-H Presidency and the elections of Zeljko Komsic. As a representative of Croat political corps and a social-democrat, Komsic is entitled to run in the elections and social-democrat politicians from Croatia can legitimately support his candidacy. However, only the political culture of voters can prevent the use of the majority system to the detriment of a smaller ethnic entity, that is to say, to prevent the situation in which "others" - members of a bigger entity - decide on smaller entity's political representation.

Many genuine advocates of sustainability and unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina take that its worth is in being a "buffer state" between "traditional rivals," Croatia and Serbia. Though this rivalry marked the 20th century only and though the two states have sobered up in the meantime and take no longer that one's interests threaten the interest of the other, the myth of traditional rivalry and the need for a "buffer state" persists. "Ambitions" of the advocates of such buffer-state are reflected again at various levels. Some attach the significance to the "Bosniak part" of B-H as they hold that Croatia and Serbia, formally or by the means of some "special relations," may "take away" their "parts" of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The others attach the significance to a unified Bosnia, often referring to it as functional, but that means a centralized and even unitarian state.

Resistance to centralization is a focus of a "coalition" of the advocates of nationalistic projects among Croats and Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina. But denial of centralism in Bosnia is also a common denominator of sorts between rather blurred Zagreb's and Belgrade's policy concepts for rearrangement of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Now that "Europeanization" of the two states initiated a kind of collective fear of centrifugal forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina and of runaway "entities" unification with mother countries, denial of a unitarian and centralized Bosnia-Herzegovina became another common denominator of Zagreb and Belgrade. The catch 22 is usually in details and details are those that seriously differentiate Croatia's and Serbia's policies for Bosnia-Herzegovina. Though the leadership of the Croat ethnic community in Bosnia has now restricted its ambitions to the territory of Western Herzegovina only - that is to say, to different relations between Croats and Bosniaks within the Federation - the concept that seems predominant in Croatia advocates rearrangement of Bosnia-Herzegovina into a highly decentralized state, the federal units of which must not reflect the present interethnic arrangement that mostly resulted from the war, but establish relations by the principles economic, geographic and historical gravitation. On the other hand, is seems that the concept of "logical maintenance" of so geographically defined "Serb entity" prevails in Belgrade. A rational policy would try to reach a compromise between the two concepts. Some policy plans that may fall into this category were touched on during the presidential elections in Croatia.

However, the startup of any serious constitutional reform entails prerequisites for sustainability and functionality of Bosnia-Herzegovina on the grounds of democratic political culture. Bosnia-Herzegovina cannot be a sustainable and functional state as long as its citizens perceive its value in the simple calculus of the value of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats living in it. Only once citizens recognize "a higher identity," their shared value, the state could become stable and sustainable. Global politics need to encourage the climate propitious to it: the three constitutive nations and the two neighboring states are not the only ones to blame for its absence. The issue of visa liberalization regime exemplifies the international community's failure when it comes to Bosnia-Herzegovina. While thanks to their "other identities" Croats and Serbs in Bosnia rather easily overcame the obstacles of Europe's rigid visa regime - given that Croatia was placed on the "white list" long ago, and Serbia last year - the situation of Bosniaks and other citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina without "another homeland" has been complex for long. Instead of helping to create a shared identity such a policy undermines the attractiveness of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Unfortunately, the visa regime is not the only European or global policy affecting Bosnia-Herzegovina in this way.

It is always easier to build up a shared and higher identity when something threatens it from the outside. Fortunately, the region has been consolidated and Europeanized to such an extent that neighboring states are after the territory and identity of Bosnia-Herzegovina no longer. But the absence of this "cheap" ferment needs to be substituted by more complex but more lasting linkages among citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The culture of equality and mutual respect needs to be developed above all. Such an identity that secures sustainability of the state and the society can be built by overcoming the situation in which Belgrade and Zagreb patronize the identity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only thorough decentralization, governance at micro-levels and interlinkage of "micro-identities" and local identities on the one hand and (supranational) state identity on the other can guarantee social sustainability. In order to have such higher, collective identity created people from the Serb national corps in Bosnia-Herzegovina may have to experience a "self-sobering" shock like the one the Croat corps has already suffered when it lost Zagreb's auspices and "special relations" between the so-called Herzeg-Bosnia and Croatia established in the time of Tudjman's regime.

The climate enabling a game with positive score, the game in which collective identity is a value higher than the sum of three separate identities is typical for European political games. To make this climate workable Bosnia-Herzegovina has to be more in the focus of the European Union, while Croatia and Serbia aware that their Europeanization entails assistance to Brussels to bring Sarajevo (but Banjaluka and Mostar as well) to the fore of its interest.



PAGE ::: 1







Copyright * Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia - 2008

Web Design * Eksperiment