Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 113 - (26/10/06)
The Office of the International High Representative (IHR)
The international administrators installed under the Dayton accords maintain a
significant influence over Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H). There is a high
representative, Christian Schwarz-Schilling of Germany, who has the right to
dismiss politicians and impose laws.
This was a right exercised extensively by his predecessor, Lord Paddy Ashdown, a
former commando and unafraid to exercise his authority, which saw many local
politicians glad to see the back of him. It could be said that much of the heavy
lifting has been done as following Shwarz-Schilling, the office of IHR was
planned to become redundant.
The mainly Western governments that oversee that office are considering whether
to close it next year in June or extend it. The European Union also wants to
withdraw its force of 6,000 troops.
Results of recent elections, however, make an extension likely, or at any rate a
Elections magnify ethnic tensions
For Bosnia has run true to form. Its nationalist parties have once again
stolen the show in general elections held on October 1st, by campaigning on
eternal nationalist and religious sentiments - without mention of the economy or
EU integration in a country where poverty and high unemployment are rife.
Nationalist parties easily won the elections, leaving just enough room for
speculation about the formation of coalitions, while smaller parties failed to
even win the minimum number of votes to enter parliament.
Bosnian voters chose their leaders based on ethnicity alone - leaders who hold
opposing views on how the country should be governed once, or rather if, the
international community leaves as scheduled in June next year. Unless the two
victorious parties can compromise, the results risk a delay by international
authorities in ending their oversight of Bosnia.
Two groupings are poised to dominate politics for the next four years. One is
led by Haris Silajdzic, who was the Bosnian Muslim prime minister during most of
the 1992-95 civil war, and the other is led by Milorad Dodik, Bosnia's most
prominent Serb politician. Both Silajdzic and Dodik were criticized during the
campaign for increasing ethnic tensions.
Commentators said the next few weeks would prove whether the political leaders
could find common ground. "We shall see whether they were true nationalists
or they were just using the nationalist speeches as a campaign trick," said
Tanja Topic, a political analyst at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. She said
that a "radicalization" of the two substates "would lead to the
extension of the high representative's mandate," unless the two sides
Voters were selecting members of Bosnia's three-member presidency - one
president for each of the main ethnic groups: Bosnian Muslim, Serb and Croat.
They also were choosing members of three parliaments, one national and one for
each of Bosnia's two substates, one dominated by Muslims and Croats, the other
Representatives were also being selected for 10 cantons, regions that have their
own police forces, health and education systems. The complex layers of
government were devised by the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that helped bring an
end to the war, which cost about 100,000 lives.
According to the Bosnian Central Election Commission (CEC), 48 parties and 12
independent candidates had registered to contest the elections, while four out
of 23 presidential candidates pulled out of the race before the polls.
The elections were marked by a higher turnout of voters, some 55 per cent,
compared with 2002 parliamentary elections, which barely reached 50 per cent.
Observers estimate that only 7-10 per cent of 18-30 year olds exercised their
right to vote. Analysts say that the younger voters may favour moderate over
nationalist candidates in Bosnia, as the moderate opposition Social-Democrat
Party (SDP) won more votes than in the last elections, when fewer
Perhaps the only future for Bosnia is for the 18-30-year-olds to get out their
The extremes feed upon each other
It is clear that nationalist parties will have a majority in state and
entity parliaments. Ironically, these elections, like the previous ones, proved
that nationalist parties would not have a chance of winning without each other.
In parts of Bosnia where there is a Croat majority, the nationalist Croat
Democratic Party (HDZ) remains the strongest, while in parts of the federation
entity where Bosniaks are the majority, power will be shared by the nationalist
Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and its former ally, the Party for Bosnia and
In Republika Srpska, elections at all levels were swept by the Alliance of
Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), whose leader, Milorad Dodik, campaigned on
talk of seceding from Bosnia and Herzegovina should federation politicians
attempt to unite the two entities. Dodik, often warned by the international
community and threatened with suspension from politics, beat out long-time
nationalist leader, the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), founded by indicted war
criminal Radovan Karadzic, the wartime Bosnian Serb leader who is on the run
from international authorities.
Bosniak and Croat parties favour strengthening the weak central government,
while Serbs oppose any changes that would reduce their autonomy and eventually
spell the end of the entity's separate existence.
On the Bosniak side, the winner was the party that was loudest in campaigning
for the suspension of Republika Srpska. That party, the SBiH, was until now a
minor party that jumped on the nationalist bandwagon as a clear route to
Wartime Bosnian foreign minister and prime minister, SBiH leader Haris Silajdzic,
promised Bosniaks that if his party won, Republika Srpska would cease to exist,
despite warnings from the international community against such blunt talk. But
it clearly worked, and the SBiH was catapulted from a virtual unknown to win
some 20 percent of the votes, meaning that a government cannot be formed without
its cooperation. Silajdzic also won the Bosniak seat in the rotating state
presidency, beating out the incumbent, nationalist SDA leader Sulejman Tihic.
But even Silajdzic was willing to set aside opportunistic nationalist rhetoric
after the victory for a dose of reality: "We have ethnic representation,
not citizens' representation. There are obviously parties that have a different
concept so we'll have to talk," he said shortly after the results were
Silajdzic said on October 2nd that he was determined to start work on a Bosnia
in which institutions and politics were no longer based on ethnicity. Dodik
retorted that the support for his party showed that Serbian voters favoured
Bosnia's federal structure.
The new three-part state presidency
Silajdzic emerged as the clear winner of the Muslim seat on the presidency.
Nebojsa Radmanovic, a member of Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social
Democrats, won the Serb place on the central presidency.
The only fairly refreshing surprise of the elections was the victory of Zeljko
Komsic, who won the Croat seat on the state presidency. Komsic, from the
moderate SDP, won with 41 per cent of the votes, beating out the nationalist HDZ
candidate, incumbent Ivo Miro Jovic, who won only 21 per cent.
However, HDZ officials and Jovic refused to recognize Komsic's victory, saying
he had won with support from voters outside the ethnic group, and that even
though he was a Bosnian Croat, he could not represent the ethnic group because
he spent the war after in Sarajevo rather than in a Croat-majority area, and
served in Bosnian Army, which was majority Bosniak. In short, they criticized
him for his patriotism to Sarajevo when it was under siege by Serb forces.
HDZ alleges that Komsic won only five per cent of Croat votes, and that Bosniaks
who voted for him stole the victory from Jovic.
"I am the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, according to the will of
Bosnian Croats," Jovic said. "If this will is not respected, something
tragic may happen in this country. Everything is possible, including that Croats
might want out of such a Bosnia," Jovic said after the results were
Repercussions of the new parliamentary composition
The Serb-dominated Independent Social Democrats and Silajdzic's Muslim-
dominated Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina hold the most seats in the national
International officials worry that their political differences will set back
progress on reforms designed to make Bosnia function more easily and facilitate
the complete transfer of power from foreign officials to local politicians.
Silajdzic and Dodik have each advocated tougher versions of policies supported
by their ethnic groups. Bosnian Muslims, the largest group, support a more
unified country and give some support to their Roman Catholic Croat allies.
Their ultimate hope is that Bosnia will join the European Union once its
political and economic reforms are completed. But many Serbs hope their half of
the country can become independent, a position that sparked the war.
And so Silajdzic advocated a more centralized state. Dodik countered by saying
that such a move would result in Bosnian Serbs holding a referendum on
independence. Diplomats fear that such a move could spark violence, after a long
stretch of relative quiet.
The results mean that there is likely to be little progress toward boosting the
economy and moving ahead with EU integration. Instead, the next four years are
certain to be a repeat of the previous ones, spent squabbling and dealing with
decade-old ethnic divisions.
Bosnian politicians face the tests of simplifying their political structures and
creating a single police force, both of which the EU insists on before agreeing
to closer economic and political ties.