Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 116 - (25/01/07)
Bosnia is still dysfunctional; no model for Iraq
Of all the ironies of the American misadventure in Iraq, perhaps none is larger
than holding up the so-called success of Bosnia as a model to solve the
sectarian violence now raging in Baghdad. The Dayton Agreement, which just
marked its 11th anniversary, did indeed end Bosnia's bitter war (which remains,
per capita, more lethal than that of Iraq.) Thanks to American-led diplomacy,
under Richard Holbrooke, Dayton has provided an opportunity for the country's
three peoples to bargain within institutions and not on the battlefield. As a
model of success it is more appropriate to what is needed in the Israel -
Palestine conflict, given the firmness with which the USA as moderator brought
matters to a conclusion at Dayton, rather than a solution to the Iraqi shambles.
But after 11 years of intensive international effort, it is time to face up to
the sad reality. Bosnia's Serbs, Croats and Muslims simply do not share a common
vision for the country. The Dayton legacy of balancing power at the central,
cantonal and local levels is hopelessly dysfunctional. And the notion that
European Union membership will serve as the panacea for Bosnia's ethnic
struggles and institutional complexity is increasingly a pipe dream.
As with Iraq, the first step toward a solution in Bosnia is owning up to the
magnitude of the problem. Bosnia, a country with a little over four million
citizens, has no less than 13 different assemblies and governments. Elections
were held in October, but not one government at any level has yet been formed.
The unwieldy structures impose a severe cost on the country's struggling
economy. Inside the semi-autonomous Serb "entity," there has been some
progress, but rather than moderate Serb attitudes towards their neighbours, it
has had the opposite effect. Serbs are as adamant as ever about their autonomy.
With neighbouring Serbia now poised to lose Kosovo in early 2007, there are
threats from the Bosnian Serbs to secede outright from Bosnia. While secession
is most unlikely, the Kosovo decision is sure to exacerbate tensions.
Painstaking negotiations began early last year to reshape the Constitution - an
absolute must to lift the country out of stagnation and put it on track to
become even a potential EU member. For the first- time since the peace agreement
was negotiated in November 1995, the parties were again discussing - among
themselves and with limited international direction - how they wanted to improve
and strengthen the central government.
The US embassy eventually took over the process and the parties reached a
consensus. But in a narrow vote last spring, the package of constitutional
reforms failed to pass Parliament. And now, following an acrimonious election
campaign in which Haris Silajdzic, the chief opponent of the deal, triumphed,
the prospects for constitutional reform have slipped markedly. Indeed,
opposition to the reform package has emerged as a bellwether issue in the
struggle to form a government in the country's Croat-Muslim Federation.
For foreign diplomats, now preoccupied with containing the potentially
destabilizing situation on Kosovo, the temptation to paper over the problems in
Bosnia is strong. It is also fraught with risk. With Serbia's democracy in
question and the coming burden of having to nurture a fledgling, unstable new
state in Kosovo, the last thing the region needs is to be blindsided by crisis
But the United States, which has traditionally been the clear-eyed stalwart in
the region, is inviting just that. Accepting the argument of European
ideologues, Washington has agreed to dismantle the Office of the High
Representative next summer in the hope that the EU accession process will solve
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that this strategy will work. Left to their
own devices, Bosnians are far more likely to feud than they are to institute
critical reforms. Washington and its allies need to wake up to the risks and
make it clear that an engaged High Representative is going to stay on as Bosnia
continues negotiations with the EU.
Even with a continued, activist international presence, the truth is that Bosnia
cannot become self-sustaining until all its people accept a shared vision of
their country. Holding on to the illusion that they have already done so is, in
fact, the greatest obstacle to progress in still-polarized Bosnia.
It is imperative that the United States, which led the way to peace, confront
the artificial "consensus" that dogs Bosnia today as well as its
counterpart, the obsolete Dayton structures. Only reform of the Constitution can
forge a workable national compact for coexistence. This must become, in tandem
with EU accession, the chief priority for the international community and for
Bosnia. Achieving it will not be easy, but there is no reason to believe the
task is impossible.
The following is another considered view, reaching much the same conclusion:-
Bosnia: a house divided
Author: Katherine Boyle, The Hague
According to a recent IWPR analysis, whereas one of the Hague tribunal's aims is
to promote reconciliation, in fact ethnic divisions in Bosnia show little sign
Overnight people became beasts
Seida Karabasic can think of no other explanation for the beginning of the
Balkan wars, which in 1992 turned neighbour against neighbour in her
municipality of Prijedor. 'Because it happened so quickly, a lot of people don't
trust those of other ethnicities anymore,' said Karabasic, who is ethnically
Muslim, or Bosniak. 'They feel [the fighting] could happen again at anytime.'
Across Bosnia, this distrust is evident not only in people's attitudes, but also
in the ethnic makeup of communities. Many areas that were ethnically diverse
before the war are now home to homogeneous communities. The shift has been
facilitated in part by the large number of Bosnians who were killed during the
war or fled the country. But another significant contributing factor has been
the relocation of many Muslims, Serbs and Croats to different areas of Bosnia.
Since the wars of the nineties, Bosnia has been divided into two entities, the
primarily Bosniak and Croat Federation and the mainly Serb Republika Srpska
(RS), in which Prijedor is located. Strong Muslim communities are located in
Travnik, Bocinja/Zavidovici, Tesanj, Maglaj, Bugojno and Zenica, while prominent
Serb areas include Banja Luka, Trebinje and Bijeljina. Ethnic and religious
differences between the territories are quickly apparent.
As travellers drive into the RS, they are greeted by a sign proclaiming 'Welcome
to Republika Srpska' in Cyrillic letters. Underneath the words is the RS coat of
arms - two warlike eagles wearing an elaborate crown topped by a cross, likely
symbolic of the Serbian Orthodox Church.
In Prijedor, the population after the war was almost entirely Serb. Now, it is
the most ethnically mixed municipality in the RS, with the highest number of
Bosniak returnees. Yet despite this progress, only half of the pre-war Bosniak
population of 49,500 has returned, according to the US State Department's 2006
International Religious Freedom Report. However, even in areas that are only
partially mixed, ethnic conflict occurs. In Prijedor during 2005, a Muslim
graveyard was desecrated and mosques were vandalised three times during the
month of Ramadan. And most Bosniaks in the municipality maintain that Prijedor
will never be the same as it was before the war. They claim the area was once a
model of tolerance where many ethnic groups peacefully co-existed, but say it is
now fiercely divided along ethnic lines.
It is difficult for some Bosniaks to forgive and forget Serb persecution that
occurred in the municipality, particularly when they think of those who will
never be able to return to Prijedor. Karabasic is the president of the Izvor
Association of Prijedor Women, an organisation dedicated to finding out what
happened to Prijedor's 3,228 missing and killed persons. Her own father was
murdered by a sniper during the war, and her brother, a member of the Bosnian
Army, was paralysed. As she leafs through a thick, heavy book, hundreds of
black-and-white snapshots stare out from its pages, including 123 children and
228 women. Above some names there are question marks. They were unable to find
photos of these individuals, said Karabasic, explaining that any pictures were
likely burned along with the person's home during the war.
Many of these people are thought to have died in the concentration camps that
surrounded Prijedor in 1992: Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm. The camps were
closed in August 1992 when journalists released photos of Omarska's gaunt
inhabitants, but an unknown number of detainees had already been executed. The
International Commission for Missing Persons, ICMP, has been active in
advocating the exhumation and identification of their bodies from mass graves
around the area. With their help, a number of victims have been identified
through DNA testing.
But a decade later, the atrocities committed still haunt the friends and
relatives of the missing and confirmed dead as well as the survivors of the
camps. And many Bosniak residents of Prijedor claim that the Serbs refuse to
acknowledge what happened. 'The crimes need to be discussed openly,' said
Karabasic. 'Serb local people don't want to hear about it.'
But for others, such as Lejla Arifagic, it is something that cannot be
forgotten. Her father's body was exhumed from a mass grave near Omarksa camp
last year. 'The last time I saw my father was May 25, 1992,' said Arifagic, who
is now a 23-year-old journalism student in Sarajevo. Later, after they were
separated, she heard he was in Omarska. No word came until a decade later, when
her mother received a phone call requesting that they both give DNA because a
mass grave with 200 men in it had been unearthed near Omarska. After his body
was identified, a funeral was held in July, which she said has provided her with
some sense of closure. 'I'm always dreaming of him,' said Arifagic. 'That's a
normal thing for me, but now, after the funeral, the dreams are nice. I have a
feeling he is fine now.' And knowing where he is may also provide a sense of
healing, she said. 'I have a place I can go and pray, a place I can go and talk
and a place I can go and cry if I want to,' she added.
But despite the notoriety of the camps and the large number of Muslims killed,
visitors to Prijedor will find no memorials for their dead. In the town, there
are only memorials for Serb civilians and Serb soldiers. Karabasic points out
that a civilian memorial would have been much more inclusive had the government
erected it for all civilians rather than just Serbs. Now, she said, it only
causes resentment. Azra Pasalic, the Bosniak president of Prijedor's municipal
council, agreed, but noted the municipality is working to erect a new sign or
statue that would honour members of all ethnic groups who lost their lives in
Many Muslim returnees to Prijedor are also deeply upset that they have been
unable to go back to their former jobs, added Karabasic, despite laws stating
that they must be reinstated to the positions they held in 1991. 'The local
government says they can't and won't [reinstate them],' said Karabisic, noting
that the government is now primarily made up of Serbs. 'They say they won't fire
someone in order to hire someone else.' If the difficult economic situation
improved, she added, it would likely improve relations between ethnic groups.
For now, however, she said she believes Serbs hire only Serbs, unless they are
forced to maintain a percentage of Muslim employees in order to receive money
from an NGO.
Judge Nusreta Sivac has been unable to regain the judiciary post in Prijedor she
held before Serbs overran the town and took over all its legal positions in
1992. Afterwards, she was put in Omarska camp, along with many other detainees
who had leading roles in the community. When Sivac returned to Prijedor she
found a former co-worker squatting in her apartment. Although the man refused to
leave, with the help of the authorities she was eventually able to force him out
in 2002. When neighbours realised she was back to stay, she said she returned
home one night to find the word Omarska spray-painted across her door, dredging
up chilling memories. Because Sivac is unable to regain her job in Prijedor, she
is forced to work in Sanski Most, about 30 kilometres away.
These kinds of problems mean many Muslims and Serbs have left Bosnia to seek
work elsewhere. For other Muslims originally from Prijedor, their home base has
shifted to Kozarac and Sanski Most, nearby communities that are almost entirely
Muslim. Sanski Most is located inside the Federation. Karabasic, who used to
live there, said Bosniak families feel safer surrounded by other Muslims, and
since moving to Prijedor she feels 'unwanted'. The Arifagic's moved to Sanski
Most for the same reason after spending the war in Croatia.
In Kozarac, visitors are confronted with the eerie sight of bombed buildings
next to large, new houses, many of which are empty. In the cold light of winter,
the town looks nearly deserted, although it boasts a number of discotheques,
restaurants and even an internet café. During the summer, however, things are
brighter and Kozarac is filled with the sounds of children playing, adults
chatting over coffee and, of course, young people flirting.
But here, summer romances are more than just flings. Some of the teens are
spending their summer holidays in Bosnia, but live in other communities abroad.
Many come back to Kozarac in the summer months with the idea of finding a
husband or wife, said 32-year-old Sudbin Music. The situation seems to benefit
everyone: the young person who is able to leave and find new opportunities, the
family at home who will benefit from the pay check earned abroad and the member
of the Diaspora who has found a mate with a link to their country.
Music, a slight, blonde man who looks older than his years, is, like many other
Bosnians, supported by a relative abroad. His brother in Chicago regularly sends
him money because it is so difficult for him to find work in Prijedor. His
community, Carakovo, within the municipality of Prijedor, used to be a largely
Muslim area, but now is nearly all Serb as the Muslim residents were killed or
forced to flee. 'The political influence of Bosniaks here is zero,' he said.
Although Prijedor has become more diverse again, Karabasic fears it will never
be the same as it was before the war. 'Now everyone knows which coffee shop is
for which nationality,' she said. 'Before the war, everyone went wherever they
wanted, lived right next door to each other and were close. Now they are deeply
Another key cause of division is the controversy over the prosecution of war
criminals. The trials and their sentences seem to satisfy no one. Many Bosniaks
feel the sentences handed down are inadequate. Serbs seem to have more
conflicted feelings. Some say the trials are important for justice and
reconciliation while others believe many of those on trial are innocent or even
war heroes. Karabasic cannot see these divisions being overcome any time soon.
'Never again in Prijedor will Muslims have the position and status we once had,'
she said. 'We will always remain a minority.'
Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, which sits nestled in between the dark mountains,
has also become more homogeneous since the war, although here it is the Bosniak
population that has increased. Before the war, the city hosted the 1984 Winter
Olympics and was known for its multiculturalism. In 1991, the population was
approximately half Muslim, a third Serb and just under a tenth Croat, according
to an official census. But after the fighting began, the city known as the
'Valley of Dreams' instead became a place of nightmares.
Rizah Smailbegovic was 12 when the fighting started in Bosnia. Born in Sarajevo,
he grew up in an atmosphere where marriages between Muslims, Serbs and Croats
were common. All of that changed when the war broke out in 1992. 'Every time you
wanted to go and get bread you would run across the street,' said Smailbegovic.
'Someone was shooting at you - it was like in the movies.' Smailbegovic said his
parents never wanted he or his brother, who was six when the war started, to
leave their apartment. In some areas, sniper fire and shelling caused schools to
be closed and teachers came to an alternative, safer location where their
students could gather.
Essentials such as electricity, food and water became scarce commodities as the
siege lengthened. And evidence of the era's violence, in the form of scarred
buildings, pockmarked by bullet fire and ravaged by shells, continues to serve
as a constant reminder of ethnic divisions. Now, said Smailbegovic, his peers
are suffering the consequences of a childhood spent under siege. 'A whole
generation is messed up,' he said. 'In a sense, they've lost direction. They
were raised on a whole new set of values. The people who came to power [in
Bosnia] have not been the nicest.' Smailbegovic described a 'shady' political
system based on money - both during the war and afterwards. 'It created a lost
generation,' he said. Around 1999 or 2000, the money from NGOs began to dry up,
he added, noting that some of the ethnic conflict in Bosnia would disappear if
the employment rate and income levels rose.
According to a 2002 estimate by Sarajevo officials, the city was nearly 80 per
cent Bosniak, many of the Serbs having fled to more ethnically homogeneous Serb
areas of the country. However, people from every ethnic group have left not only
the city but the country as well, hoping to find jobs elsewhere in Europe,
Canada or the United States. Many seem to have left for purely economic reasons
rather than to escape current ethnic strife, although the war is largely
responsible for the devastation of Bosnia's economy. 'If Bosnia joined the EU,
some would come back,' predicted Smailbegovic. He is one of the lucky ones,
having obtained a job with Civitas, an NGO that works to promote healing and
tolerance in war-torn Bosnian communities.
Dejan Drobac, a 23-year-old Sarajevo native, is studying forestry and hopes to
find a job in that industry once he graduates. Unlike many of his friends,
Drobac is a Serb but said he was able to overcome ethnic divisions in Sarajevo
because his family was one of the few Serb families that stayed throughout the
siege. Drobac described how nationalist parties dredge up ethnic hatred across
Bosnia. He said politicians and cultural leaders use scare tactics, such as
claiming that their people are on the brink of destruction, to promote
nationalism and clannishness among their own ethnic group.
In a new era of largely mono-ethnic townships and regions, the ethnic violence
in Sarajevo does seem to have subsided since the nineties. But, as 23-year-old
Adnan Nuhodzic, a Bosniak from Sarajevo, explains, there isn't much opportunity
for inter-ethnic clashes now. 'Of course there shouldn't be dislike between
groups,' he said. 'But there aren't many Serbs in Sarajevo, so there's not much
material for [conflict].' Nuhodzic is a friend of Drobac and said he trusts
Serbs who remained in Sarajevo throughout the siege. 'One of my first neighbours
was Serb, but he stayed here for the whole time,' he added. 'Between people who
lived through the siege there aren't problems.' Yet, despite this trust,
Nuhodzic still believes war could break out again, and said when his passport
recently expired he took his mother's advice and renewed it. 'You never know
what's going to happen or could happen,' he said. 'Now if [war] does happen, I
have someplace to go.'
To others, this state of uncertainty is indicative of a greater problem - the
clear divisions between ethnic groups that are still present a decade after the
war's end. 'I think, in a sense, the war still goes on, because the situation in
Bosnia and Herzegovina has never been solved,' said Music. 'The Dayton Accords
were like the foundation for something that either needed to heal or separate. I
live in hope that it will reunite or heal.'
Katherine Boyle is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. This report appeared in IWPR'S
Tribunal Update No. 484, 12 January 2007, see www.iwpr.net
EIB lends 103m Euro for energy rehabilitation
The European Investment Bank (EIB) has lent Bosnia 103 million Euro for the
rehabilitation of hydropower plants and electric power distribution systems, a
press release said, New Europe reported.
The EIB loan will finance measures leading to a more rational usage of energy
through the reduction of losses, improvement of energy efficiency, reducing
operation and maintenance costs, as well as increasing quality and reliability
of power supply of the energy system across the country. The project consists of
the design, supply and installation of facilities in the power distribution
system and in eight hydropower plants with a total installed capacity of about
2,800 megawatts of energy, where it will raise the safety of respective dams.
The promoters are the country's three electric power companies EPRS, EPBiH and
EPHZHB, and the Independent System Operator ISO. This is the second EIB loan
provided to the energy sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2000, the Bank
granted a loan of 60 million Euro for the rehabilitation of electricity power
networks in the country.
FREE TRADE ZONE
Balkan states create "new and improved" free trade zone
Southeastern European countries signed on December 19th the new Central European
Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), extending the zone into the Balkans ahead of the
advancing European Union boundary, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) reported.
Under the agreement signed at a regional summit in Bucharest, Moldova,
Montenegro, Bosnia and Serbia are set to become new members, pending
ratification by national parliaments by June 2007.
Serbia and Croatia have been given a deadline of June 2007 to settle a dispute
over cigarette tax rates. The multilateral agreement, creating the new market
with nearly 30 million consumers, is widely seen as a stepping stone for the
area's deeper economic integration within the EU. The outgoing CEFTA comprised
Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Macedonia, but Bulgaria and Romania would remain
as members only for the 12 days until their EU entry on January 1. Kosovo,
Serbia's breakaway province which hopes to win independence from Belgrade in
2007, also joined, induced by the United Nations administration which has
governed it since 1999.
The "new and improved" agreement was the "culmination of six
years work," said the Balkans Stability Pact, which has fomented bilateral
free trade talks for that long. CEFTA harmonises trade rules across the region,
home to nearly 30 million people, and incorporates new provisions such as trade
in services, intellectual property rights, public procurement and investment
promotion, all in line with the World Trade Organisation.
The new CEFTA has been backed by EU and, as in the past, is widely seen as a
preparatory step of member states for deeper economic integration. The EU
enlargement gradually pushed the CEFTA zone southwards from Central Europe. The
founders - Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, as well as Slovenia, added in
1996, have moved on to join EU in 2004. Romania and Bulgaria have been CEFTA
members since 1996 and 1997. The oldest of the new batch, Croatia and Macedonia,
are also candidates for EU membership, but have no accession target date yet. EU
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, speaking at CEFTA summit, said that the
European Union would keep the door open for Turkey, Croatia and other countries
to join the EU and would also consider its own ability to integrate new members.
Rehn said that CEFTA made "an important contribution to economic
development and regional cooperation." "For the candidate and
potential candidate countries CEFTA is a stepping stone towards the closer
economic cooperation that is an inevitable part of membership of the European
Union," he added.