Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
Most Bosnians want to join the European Union and put their
fratricidal past behind them. But there are difficulties in the way, any number
Bosnia has no collective nationalism to speak of. Its people split three ways,
and the Serbs are especially recalcitrant to Bosnian national aspirations.
This is what is bedeviling a vital set of negotiations under way over police
reform. The Bosnian Serbs do not want to surrender the autonomy of their own
police in a common pool, because deep down they still harbour ambitions to go
independent, as Montenegro did last year. Actually, as we shall see, there is
another, less noble, motive at work.
The EU insists on police reform
The EU's foreign policy chief has told leaders of Bosnia that failure to agree
on crucial police reforms will mean a long delay for Bosnia`s integration into
Javier Solana's latest warning came four days before the deadline for reaching a
deal on the police, if Bosnia and Herzegovina is to conclude its talks with the
EU on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement in the near future. The deadline
was October 1st. "Bosnian politicians are gambling with the future of their
own country", Solana said in an interview with the Bosnian daily, Dnevni
Avaz, published on September 26th.
The EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy added
that Brussels would not change its requirements, and that Bosnia's further
progress depended only on its politicians and their readiness to fulfil the EU's
criteria. "The political situation in Bosnia has been deteriorating and the
EU is very concerned about it", Solana said.
In a last-minute attempt to facilitate a breakthrough, the top international
official in Bosnia, Miroslav Lajcak, on the same day addressed the assembly of
one of Bosnia's two entities, the Bosnian Serbs' Republika Srpska, RS, to stress
that Bosnian leaders should accept police reform.
However, no agreement was reached at the fourth round of negotiations on police
reform held on September 26th. The RS Minister of Internal Affairs, Stanislav
Cadjo, said that the participants agreed to resume negotiations on September
28th. The Bosnian negotiators clearly believe in going right down to the wire.
But there are Bosnian doves
Bosnia's international peace envoy/viceroy, Miroslav Lajcak, told Bosnian Serb
lawmakers to end their isolationist ways on September 26th. He was intervening
in the police reform negotiations.
He told the parliament that it should stop acting as a state within a state. He
reminded them that their republic was a constituent republic of a larger entity,
Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The real issue
These pious homilies fail to address the real issue, which is that the Serb
Republic is the most corrupt part of the Bosnian Confederation, itself rated
joint 84th for corruption by Transparency International in its latest Corruption
Perception Index in September. This is to be among the Africans, whom it is in
no way racist to point out are tribal in social character, a fertile ground for
corruption, because it presupposes trust.
Bosnian Serbs are tribal in affiliation themselves. There is a nexus between the
police force, largely corrupt, and the business community, which operates in a
shadow economy, hardly paying taxes. The scale of corruption is gargantuan. It
was aggravated by an immense inflow of Western aid and loans since 1995. The
scope for malfeasance was colossal in their distribution.
The Bosnian Serb police were and are up to their eyeballs in this affair. They
were bribed to look the other way by fellow Bosnian Serbs, whom they were as
often as not on friendly relations anyway. In such a small community everybody
knows everybody else. It is this nice, cosy network that is under threat in
Of course the EU knows this, but cannot out of politeness mention it in
negotiation, except in veiled form.
Perhaps the only way to correct the situation is to bribe them collectively to
reform themselves. A financial inducement to pool the police forces might just
do the trick. It is called immunisation.
Reneging on CEFTA
Yet another economic issue is perhaps partly related to the same problem.
Corruption takes many forms in the Balkans.
Bosnia is coming under renewed pressure from the EU after its parliament ignored
Sarajevo's obligations under CEFTA - the Central European Free Trade Agreement -
and imposed unilateral customs duties. Exemptions on these are an obvious
breeding ground of corruption.
The move, an EU official warned, could result in the loss of huge benefits and
lead Bosnia to economic isolation. "That would have a devastating effect on
the country's exports while it would remain heavily dependent on imports,"
the EU spokesman in Bosnia, Frane Maroevic, told Balkan Insight.
The EU warning came only a few days after Bosnia began to go back on its
commitments to CEFTA. After months of public debates, political deliberations
and delays, Bosnia's House of Representatives on September 6th finally ratified
Bosnia's membership in this regional free trade agreement.
Yet only one day later, in an apparent attempt to appease and protect local
farmers, it passed a new law that would keep in place 40 per cent of the full
customs duty on meat, milk and dairy products imported from Croatia and Serbia.
Neither the ratification of CEFTA nor the re-imposition of some customs duties
will come into force until endorsed by the Bosnian parliament's second chamber,
the House of the Peoples.
On December 19, 2006, Albania, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova,
Montenegro and Serbia signed CEFTA, which was intended to replace the existing
32 bilateral free-trade agreements. The main goal of this agreement was to allow
the western Balkans better access to EU markets, and attract much-need Western
Yet the agreement drew criticism, especially from farmers who feared for their
livelihoods while trying to compete with heavily-subsidized EU producers.
Since December 2006 CEFTA has been ratified by all its signatories, except for
Bosnia and Serbia. While Serbia is expected to ratify the agreement any day now,
its fate in Bosnia remains uncertain.
Bosnia has a history of reneging on trade agreements as a result of its being
caught between the interests of domestic producers on the one hand and regional
or international commitments on the other.
After enjoying beneficial status for three years, Bosnia turned its back on its
commitments arising from bilateral free-trade agreements with Croatia and Serbia
- signed, respectively, in 2000 and 2002 - when they were due to establish fully
Bosnian opponents of CEFTA - usually gathered around the biggest local
food-producers - argue that the country's agriculture and food industries are
not yet ready to compete with their neighbours. Their key argument is that
Croatia and Serbia annually subsidize domestic producers with hundreds of
millions of euros, around 10 times more than Bosnia.
Bosnian government officials say there are better ways to protect the local
economy. "We have to strive towards European integrations, the EU market,
and that we can do only by opening up our own market and strengthening
competition," said Slobodan Puhalac, Bosnian Minister of Foreign Trade and
Economic Relations, in his statement to Nezavisne Novine daily, after Bosnia's
House of Representatives passed the new trade law.
"This does not mean we should fail to take care of domestic production, but
that is not to be done in this way," Puhalac said. He stressed that Bosnian
producers should be supported through measures that would encourage the local
economy, and not by violating international treaties.
The new law envisages subsidizing 470 products rather than the original 92, and
the Bosnian foreign trade ministry has warned that such a measure would be
lacking legal foundations.
EU officials add that while CEFTA does have procedures and mechanisms to prevent
destabilization of local markets, Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH, has introduced
legislation without even properly analyzing and verifying the treaty's
potentially negative effects. "The EU will not punish BiH but other CEFTA
countries are entitled to take action if Bosnia-Herzegovina fails to implement
the international treaty. Should BiH impose customs duties unilaterally, its
CEFTA partners are entitled to do the same," Maroevic told Balkan Insight.
In addition to risking direct economic consequences, such unilateral decisions
could damage Bosnia's regional reputation and its relations with its neighbours.
Following the latest decision of the Bosnian House of Representatives, Croatia
has already demanded an official explanation of Sarajevo's attitude towards