Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 126 - (26/11/07)
Under a United States-brokered peace deal that ended the
1992-95 war, Bosnia is divided into two entities, the Republika Srpska and the
Bosnian Federation. The entities maintain their own parliaments but participate
in the tripartite state presidency and the central government and parliament,
under a complex system that ensures proportional Croat, Serb and Bosniak
The High Representative of the Office of the same name is key to the operation
of the state, overseeing both entities and the federal government on behalf of
the international community.
HR Lajcak at bay
The key countries and organizations engaged in implementing the Dayton peace
agreement on Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH, have reiterated their backing for
their chief official in Sarajevo whose authority is being challenged by Bosnian
The renewed support for High Representative Miroslav Lajcak at a two-day meeting
in mid-November of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, PIC,
was accompanied with an expression of the PIC's "utmost concern" over
what is generally seen as one of the worst political crises Bosnia has faced
since the end of the war in 1995.
But while the PIC's statement, issued on November 14, amounts to sending out a
strong message that it will not allow further destabilization, it has stopped
short of specifying concrete measures that would halt and reverse the crisis,
which escalated over the previous month.
Resignation of Bosnian PM
In a dramatic illustration of that crisis, Bosnia's Prime Minister, Nikola
Spiric, handed in his resignation on November 8, in protest at Lajcak's actions.
His resignation came within hours of the PIC issuing its statement of firm
support for its High Representative.
"The Peace Implementation Council Steering Board underlines that the
international community retains all instruments needed to curb destabilizing
tendencies, and will not allow undermining of the Dayton agreement, be it in the
country or abroad," Lajcak told media, quoting the PIC's statement, on
November 15. "Any political leaders or institutions in BiH which defy the
High Representative and the PIC Steering Board will be the subject of
Observers see the PIC's strategy of making threats without, for the time being,
taking action, as intended to provide some breathing space and allow the
situation to calm down. Yet regional and global issues, which have become
entangled with Bosnia's internal problems, make this crisis extremely complex,
potentially dangerous and very difficult to resolve.
While the international community seems to have been put somewhat on the
defensive, further developments in the situation will now depend to a great
extent on the actions of local leaders. Their first reactions after the PIC
meeting were, as expected: lukewarm support from Bosniak (Muslim) and Croat
leaders and continued defiance from the Bosnian Serbs.
Aftermath of fraught elections
The current crisis follows on from the heightened ethnic and political tensions
which accompanied the 2006 general elections, and have continued to escalate
this year. Despite strong international pressure, local leaders missed a
September 30 deadline to agree on police reform, which is the only remaining
obstacle to the signing of Bosnia's Stabilization and Association Agreement with
the EU, needed for further European integration.
Frustrated by the failure, Lajcak was reportedly contemplating various sanctions
against those considered to be obstructing reform, including the possible
sacking of leading politicians - Milorad Dodik, Prime Minister of Bosnia's Serb
entity, and Haris Silajdzic, the Bosniak representative on Bosnia's three-member
Lajcak has refrained so far from making such radical moves, but on October 19 he
announced his first set of measures, aimed at breaking the political deadlock.
To simplify the decision-making process in the Bosnian government, he reduced
its ethnically-based quorum, and warned that he would apply similar measures to
Bosnia's parliament, unless lawmakers did so themselves.
Bosnian Serb leaders saw this as the further strengthening of central
institutions at the expense of the two autonomous entities, including their own
Republika Srpska, RS. They demanded that Lajcak rescind his decision and stop
using his broad governing powers.
To back their leaders, several thousands Bosnian Serbs took part in
demonstrations, and threatened further acts of defiance, such as blockading
state institutions. The RS National Assembly warned that if Lajcak failed to
respond, it would raise the issue with the RS Constitutional Court and even the
The crisis has been further complicated by what is widely seen as the increased
meddling of politicians from Serbia, and the linking of the Bosnia and Kosovo
issues. On October 25, Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica announced
Serbia would "decisively defend" both Kosovo and RS, describing them
as Serbia's "most important goals."
Zeljko Komsic, the Croat member of Bosnia's tripartite Presidency, responded
using robust language. Recalling the war-time TV footage of Kostunica visiting
Bosnian Serb forces around besieged Sarajevo with a Kalashnikov rifle in his
hand, Komsic stressed that Kostunica "should keep his hands away from BiH
or he could get his fingers and nose rapped."
Bosnian Serb officials also entered the fray. Dodik's Party of Independent
Social Democrats, SNSD, issued a statement saying that Komsic's comment was
"part of anti-Serb hysteria" which produces "a wartime atmosphere
in the Balkans and is damaging Serbia's and Bosnia's relations."
Facing the prospect of a growing regional crisis, the French, German, Italian,
British and US embassies on October 30 presented Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk
Jeremic with a demarche over Serbian officials' alleged interference in Bosnia's
The demarche was particularly critical of Kostunica's attempts to draw a
parallel between the Dayton peace agreement and UN Security Council Resolution
1244 on Kosovo, therefore likening Bosnia's internal relations to relations
between Serbia and Kosovo. Belgrade rejected the demarche.
Serbia's position has been encouraged by Russia's growing political and economic
presence in the region. Earlier this year Russia blocked the resolution of the
Kosovo status issue in the UN Security Council. It has been using its place on
the PIC to oppose attempts by the international community to take a more
assertive policy in Bosnia to deal with obstruction of reforms.
As a testimony to Russia's increasing role in Bosnia, on November 12 some
Bosnian Serb protesters in Banja Luka carried portraits of Russian President
Vladimir Putin. At the subsequent PIC Steering Board meeting in Sarajevo, Moscow
took a somewhat different position from its fellow-board members. While its
carefully crafted statement did not openly contradict other PIC members, Russia
nevertheless expressed its "deepest concern" over the content and
timing of Lajcak's measures.
Despite this complex situation, and encouraged by strong EU and US support,
Lajcak put a brave face on his troubles at the end of the PIC meeting. "I
want to stress that all delegations, without exception, agreed that my measures
were legitimate, within my mandate and in line with the Dayton peace
accords," he told the media, adding that local leaders should advance the
reform agenda through responsible behaviour and compromise.
Yet a compromise remains elusive. While Bosniak leaders cheered the PIC's
reaffirmation of Bosnia's sovereignty against the challenge from Belgrade, the
Bosnian Serbs maintained their defiance and branded the PIC's declaration as a
sign of continued interventionism in the country.
Although the RS strongman, Milorad Dodik, said there was still a chance for
Lajcak's office and the RS to find a solution acceptable to all, his party
colleague, Bosnia's state Premier, Nikola Spiric, said the situation was like
"a dead-end street." After declaring that Lajcak's measures had made
his work impossible, Spiric tendered his resignation to Bosnia's three-member
Who replaces him, is the question that is likely to be answered as part of the
bargaining between Lajcak and Dodik, who as the outgoing prime minister's party
leader, had arranged his original nomination. In any case, Lajcak reacted to
Spiric's pre-resignation comments, by describing them as a disappointment and
blackmail. "Blackmail doesn't work with me," he added.
While the High Representative may be rejecting this "blackmail", what
many observers see as the Bosnian Serbs' aggressive tactics have managed, at
least temporarily, to divert attention from the long-delayed police reform. They
have also reduced the likelihood, for now, of further sanctions that were
looming over Dodik and his SNSD.
However stern the PIC's latest declaration may be, it avoids taking steps that
would trigger an immediate confrontation. Analysts see this as a mixed blessing.
On one hand, they argue that this is good because there is no need to add
ammunition to an already explosive situation.
On the other hand, while these tactics may be giving Bosnian Serbs the upper
hand for the moment, they may also have a more lasting negative impact.
Observers point to the fact that while only a month or so ago Dodik and
Silajdzic were seen as equally responsible for heightened tensions and blocked
reforms, now Bosnian Serbs are once again seen by the US and the EU as the main
Although a good image was not something Bosnian Serbs paid much attention to
over much of the past two decades, in recent years the prospect of European
integration encouraged them to be more conciliatory. Now the Bosnian Serb
leadership is facing a dilemma, whether to use this opportunity to finally get
on the track leading to the EU, or escalate the crisis further, and put at risk
Bosnia's European prospects.
There is at all times a powerful loyalty to the concept of reunification with
Serbia, which is pursuing policies, which may disqualify it for EU membership
for at least a longish period. That would enhance the prospect of a closer
relationship for Serbia with Russia, which is now clearly quite a likely
outcome. Whatever Serbia does, the Bosnian Serbs are quite likely to want to do
New Bosnian premier sought
Consultations to choose a new Prime Minister of Bosnia and Herzegovina began on
November 13, a day after the country's tripartite presidency accepted the
resignation of Nikola Spiric. If a new Prime Minister is not designated within
30 days, parliamentary elections will be called.
Speaking on the same day to both houses of the Bosnian Parliament, Spiric said
he had resigned as Chair of the Council of Ministers because he believed that
the Decision issued on October 19 by the country's international supervisor,
Miroslav Lajcak, made it impossible for him to perform his duties. Lajcak's
Decision, which has the force of law, simplifies the decision-making process in
the Council of Ministers. Spiric appealed to delegates of both houses of
parliament to do their best to "find an exit" from the current crisis
and put the country back "on the right path."
Claiming that Lajcak's Decision means that Serbs can be out-voted by the other
two ethnic groups, Bosnian Serbs have threatened to boycott all state
institutions. Spiric is the first to resign from his post.
After failing to persuade Spiric to withdraw his resignation, Bosnia's
Presidency began consultations to choose a replacement. A new Prime Minster had
to be designated within the next 30 days. In this period Spiric and his
government had to operate under a technical mandate.
The Republika Srpska Premier and leader of the ruling Alliance of Independent
Social Democrats, SNSD, Milorad Dodik, announced that he and his party would
participate in these consultations only after Lajcak hasd changed his Decision.
Lajcak said that he would not do this.
Appointing a new premier without the SNSD would be difficult if not impossible.
"Once out-voting is eliminated, we will be a constructive part of an
agreement on the BiH government, but until this happens, the SNSD will be in
opposition," Dodik said on November 13. "If they can form a government
without us, let them."
Renewed war not ruled out by EU
Meanwhile, the dangers of the turmoil in the region have been reflected in
remarks by the commander of the EU peacekeeping force in Bosnia, Hans-Jochen
Witthauer. In an interview for the Mostar-based daily Dnevni List on November
13, he said the 2,500-strong EUFOR troops in Bosnia were ready to intervene in
case of another war in the troubled country. "Instability is visible not
only in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but in the entire western Balkan region which is
why we are continuing to keep in place a minimum number of troops so that they
can intervene, and so that we can be certain that we can again intervene in case
a new war breaks out," said Witthauer. "Resolution of the Kosovo issue
is creating certain problems that are being reflected in the entire western
Rear-Admiral Witthauer's comments marked the first time in recent years that the
possibility of a new conflict has been publicly discussed by such a senior
figure from the international community. It appears to reflect growing concern
about stability across the western Balkans.
As the political crisis in Bosnia continues and the talks on Kosovo's future
show no signs of agreement, leaders in and outside the region are bracing
themselves for more turbulence.