Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 130 - (26/03/08)
The independence of Kosovo, declared on February
17, is the gripping issue in the Balkans. Bosnia in particular is intimately
affected. Is UDI now inevitable by the Serb Republic there?
The presidency of Bosnia-Herzogina has naturally refused to recognise Kosovo's
independence. But events can get out of control.
The pivotal moment
Bosnia is a very significant country. It is right in the heart of the Balkans.
It is attempting to achieve the near-impossible, to form a confederation of
disparate peoples, divided by race and religion.
This is after all the fundamental problem with Iraq, and indeed Afghanistan.
There are surely lessons to be learnt here.
The three diverse communities fall into a most interesting pattern. Two are
Christian, one Catholic, the other Orthodox, the third Muslim. It is a curiosity
that the Catholics and the Muslims live in comparative harmony in the
Croat-Muslim Republic, while the Orthodox Serbs are an eternal irritant to the
body politic as a whole and to themselves in their own Serb Republic, the other
constituent republic of the federal state.
The Serbs opt out?
The outcome of the elections in Serbia in February and the fall of the Kostunica
Government in early March are going to have a huge impact in the Bosnian Serb
Republic. If the Serbs defy the world by refusing to accept independence for
Kosovo, as even moderate President Boris Tadic does, then there is something to
be said for the Bosnian Serb Republic defying the world by leaving Bosnia and
joining up with Serbia. There will be plenty of Bosnian Serbs to say as much at
Let us heed the wise words of Lord Ashdown, the previous International High
Representative of Bosnia-Herzogovina, as he lay down his burden last year.
Leaving the work unfinished
by Paddy Ashdown
After the tearing down of Saddam Hussein's statue, arguably the most iconic
image of the Iraq conflict is that of President George W. Bush's 'Mission
Accomplished' speech on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. Hubris
has often proved a close companion to international intervention - and never
more so than when it comes to announcing success and losing interest too early.
One of the relatively few international interventions that we can point to as
successful was the one in Bosnia. It also was the only one - so far - that has
been both US-led and conducted in a country where Muslims form the largest
proportion of the population.
I say 'so far' not because the field is crowded, but because Bosnia's success is
not yet assured and can still be lost if the international community takes its
eye off the ball. I fear that is what some of the Western capitals most engaged
in Bosnia's reconstruction are in danger of doing.
Peace has returned to Bosnia. One million refugees have returned to their homes.
Two armies, three intelligence services and two customs services have all been
welded into single state institutions. A broadly effective state government,
funded by a single VAT taxation system, has been established. All three ethnic
groups are cohabiting peacefully, if not yet cooperating enthusiastically, and
the economy is growing, albeit from a very low base.
Troop numbers in the country are dropping fast as the job of foreign
peacekeepers is now largely done. But the work of the international politicians,
charged with creating a sustainable state, is not finished.
Below the level of state institutions, the bureaucratic monster created by the
Dayton Agreement to govern a country of 3.5 million people still exists. The
US-led attempt to reform this dysfunctional muddle of interlocking bureaucracies
failed last year, chiefly because the European Union was not prepared to make
constitutional reform a condition for EU membership.
Now the predominantly Serb entity, the Republika Srpska, emboldened by the
international community's concentration on Kosovo and apparent nervousness about
offending Belgrade, is seeking to reverse some of the key state reforms of
NATO is perceived in both Belgrade and Banja Luka to have relaxed its conditions
on the capture of General Ratko Mladic and the former Bosnian Serb leader
Radovan Karadzic as a price for membership in its Partnership for Peace. These
two architects of wartime atrocities now look to be further away from justice
Meanwhile, police reform - the final but essential stone in creating the edifice
of state institutions - is in danger of descending into a series of Potemkin
compromises that will hobble the country's capacity to ensure its own rule of
Bosnia is held on the road to reform by the magnetic pull of the European Union
and NATO and the tough push of the power of sanctions vested in the High
Representative by the Dayton Agreement. In the last year, the pull of the EU has
visibly weakened as European capitals have become more sceptical about further
enlargement. The push of threatened sanctions has all but vanished. In
consequence, local politicians have felt free to return to old habits rather
than grasp new opportunities. The forces of radical Islam are showing renewed
interest in the country, having been comprehensively rebuffed by the determined
moderation of Bosnian Muslims in the past.
At best, Bosnia's remarkable progress over the past 10 years has come to a
shuddering halt; at worst, things are actually beginning to go backwards.
The danger here is not a return to conflict - that is now well nigh impossible
with a massively downsized single-state army. The danger is that the opportunity
to finish the job is being lost and that Bosnia will be left as a dysfunctional
space that we do not have the will to reform, but cannot afford to ignore.
The problem of Kosovo will not be easy to solve. But in the long term, Bosnia is
the fulcrum of peace in the Balkans. Compromising on standards in Bosnia in the
hope of achieving a quiet life in Belgrade will cost us much more in Bosnian
dysfunctionality and an unanchored peace in the future. The international
community needs to be much clearer about the standards it seeks and - especially
in the case of the European Union - more muscular in demanding the conditions
needed to achieve it.
Success is within our reach. A new high representative will soon be appointed in
Bosnia. It is vital that he or she arrives with a clear plan and the full
backing of international capitals to carry it through and finish the job.