Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 123 - (31/08/07)
The new International High Representative
Bosnia's peace overseer. Miroslav Lajcak, is an imposing man with a very strong
face. He will need it to be for real. He has the advantage of being a slav
himself. He knows the region and its problems. He is shaping up as the ideal
successor but one to Paddy Ashdown, another tough customer who got things done.
On August 22nd Lajcak warned Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik to tone
down his nationalist rhetoric or risk sanctions.
The 1995 Dayton accords that ended the 1992-95 war divided Bosnia into two
autonomous parts, the Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat federation, overseen by
an international high representative.
Western efforts to strengthen the central government and move away from ethnic
politics are constantly rebuffed by the Serb Republic. Dodik, its outspoken
prime minister, has said the notion of Bosnia as a unitary state was only
"temporary", and based on foreign "political interests".
Lajcak, who took over as high representative in July pledging to bring Bosnia
closer to Europe, said Bosnia's Western backers "will not remain passive in
the face of provocative statements and acts. Prime Minister Dodik should
consider carefully whether he wishes to challenge the international community by
statements that question the constitutional order of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the
Dayton peace agreement," Lajcak said in a statement.
Lajcak, who can impose laws and sack officials seen as obstructing the peace
process, said Dodik signed a declaration ahead of his election committing
himself and his party to upholding Dayton and "accepting sanctions if he
fails to abide by its terms. (Dodik's) statements questioning the sovereignty
and territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina are detrimental to the country's
ongoing efforts to continue reforms and integrate into Euro-Atlantic
institutions," Lajcak said.
For Bosnia to sign the key Stabilisation and Association Agreement and start its
long path to EU membership, it must unite its ethnically separate police forces
and strengthen the central government so it can deal with the EU administration.
Both moves are hotly opposed by the Bosnian Serbs, who see them as an erosion of
their autonomy. Dodik dismissed Lajcak's criticism, saying that by insisting on
retaining the rights of the Serb Republic he was actually strengthening the
Dodik does not want to "challenge the international community", his
office said in a statement. "But he also asks the international community
to obey the reality and Bosnia-Herzegovina constitution and not to constantly
violate it by the permanent insistence on reforms, which take authority away
from the Serb Republic."
Lajcak Passes His First Tests in Bosnia
The formation of a government in the Hercegovina-Neretva Canton on August 1st is
the latest sign that Bosnia and Herzegovina's new High Representative has what
it takes to overcome roadblocks in Bosnia's politics.
Exactly ten months after the last general election, the Canton's feuding
politicians finally agreed to form a government in Mostar on the last possible
day. Lajcak had personally met the officials the previous week and his office
was ready to impose financial sanctions had the deadline not been met.
This success comes just two days after Lajcak's office got Bosnia's state
parliament to adopt a Framework Law on Higher Education, which allows for
greater student mobility within the European Union.
While neither development can be put down entirely to the actions of the new
High Representative, it was significant that both had been blocked for months
during the tenure of Lajcak's predecessor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling.
Seasoned observers of the Bosnian scene ascribe Lajcak's early successes to
three factors: strong international support, the respect of local politicians
and an approach that appears forceful yet pragmatic.
Since the end of the devastating war in 1995, Bosnia has been governed according
to the terms of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which divided the country into two
entities, the mostly Bosniak and Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska.
The international community has appointed a series of High Representatives with
wide-ranging powers to enforce the peace agreement and following the UK's
dynamic Paddy Ashdown, the role was handed on to a more conventional diplomat,
Germany's Christian Schwarz-Schilling in January 2006.
He deliberately scaled back on the use of the so-called "Bonn powers"
in order to encourage local politicians to show more responsibility. In the
event, the experiment failed. The Republika Srpska Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik,
and the Bosniak member of the state Presidency, Haris Silajdzic, merely mustered
their respective constituencies behind opposing nationalist platforms.
Miroslav Lajcak took over in a dangerously polarized political situation. At 44,
he was the youngest figure appointed to the post and as a Slovak, the first to
come from the former Communist bloc. He spoke the local language fluently,
however, and was expected to be more pro-active than his predecessor in
achieving progress on Bosnia's main goals: reform of an overly complex political
structure and, further down the line, EU accession.
A month into his term, analysts are cautiously optimistic that Lajcak can speed
up the pace of reform. Srecko Latal, a political analyst in Sarajevo, said:
"One key factor in Lajcak's favour is the strong support he receives from
both the EU and the US".
Voicing an opinion shared by many foreign diplomats, Richard Jones, of the
British Embassy in Sarajevo asserted: "He's made a very good start".
The strength of the backing Lajcak has received is seen as much stronger than
that given to Schwarz-Schilling. Sead Numanovic of Dnevni Avaz newspaper, noted:
"Lajcak has managed to take full control of the international community -
Local politicians do not yet appear ready to confront a High Representative who
is generally viewed as a serious opponent. Vanja Malidzan, a political analyst
with the National Democratic Institute in Banja Luka, said: "The first
impression is that he's a tough person, not easy to get around".
Speaking of Bosniak leaders such as Silajdzic and Sulejman Tihic, Numanovic
added: "They've seen he's a tough guy. What's more, they know that he has
the full support of the international community".
Lajcak is forthright in his opinions. Numanovic cites Lajcak's response to a
question about whether a Croatian TV station would be able to become a public
broadcaster in Bosnia: "He said 'I will never, never allow that'. He is
Lajcak has already used his Bonn powers to sack officials on July 10, when he
removed 36 police officers in the Republika Srpska, suspected of involvement in
the 1995 massacre of Bosniaks in Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia.
Whilst Dodik had urged the new HR not to resort to Bonn powers before assuming
his duties, his party did not respond when Lajcak actually used them.
Malidzan says that in the Serbian entity, "An active HR wouldn't be seen as
a good thing. But I don't see many bad comments about Lajcak - or good ones.
They're still making their mind up about him". As for the Bosniaks, Latal
said their silence was simpler: "They fear him", he said.
Michael Weichert, director of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Sarajevo, believes
Lajcak will take on the issue of constitutional reform sooner rather than later:
"Everything indicates that he will want to demonstrate some progress in the
next few months".
The Office of the High Representative has confirmed this. "The HR is
looking for the first steps in this process to be taken in the coming
months," it told Balkan Insight.
However, Bosniaks looking for a radical overhaul of the Dayton deal -and the
dismantling of the Serbian entity altogether - look set to be disappointed.
Lajcak ruled out such a major rearrangement on July 24, when he told television
viewers: "This can be changed only by changing the constitution, and to do
this we need a consensus among all political leaders, including the leaders of
the Republika Srpska".
Beyond the question of constitutional reform, Lajcak faces a monumental
challenge in addressing the sense of hopelessness about their country that is
still prevalent amongst ordinary Bosnians of all stripes.
Furthermore, analysts stress that Bosnia is in the early days of Lajcak's
mandate and as Weichert asserts, some of his policies are "still in
Numanovic finds reason for caution from a different angle. "What I'm
worried about is that we'll expect too much of him," he said. "If we
do this, it will abolish the responsibility of our own elected