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  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
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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 representation.

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 Serbs.

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 appropriate measures."

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 state presidency. 

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 UN.

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 internal matters.

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 Presidency. 

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 culprits.

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 the same. 

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 Balkans." 

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.

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