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BOSNIA AND
HERZEGOVINA

 
  
  

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 6,963 5,249 4,800 104
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,540 1,270 1,240 123
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 164 - (26/05/11)

Bosnia has, to quote the country's high representative, Valentin Inzko, recently traversed "the most serious crisis since the signing of the Dayton agreement" which ended the war of 1991-1995. The country has been in disarray since elections in October ended in deadlock, leaving it with no central government. This already fragile situation has been exacerbated by the actions of the sabre-rattling Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, who proposed a referendum on whether to reject Bosnia's state war crimes court and special prosecutor's office, established in 2005 by international decree. A political crisis loomed as it was feared that this could spark the break up of the already frangible state.

Since the Dayton agreement, Bosnia has been divided into two parts, the Serbian Republika Srpska, and the Muslim Croat Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, each of which has their own parliament and government. Serb secessionist policies have dominated the political climate in recent months, with the Serb parliament overwhelmingly approving the idea of the referendum. Inflammatory rhetoric from the Serb leadership continues to stoke tensions. The relationship between the Bosnian Serb leadership and the High Representative, who is mandated to oversee the Dayton agreement's implementation, has been particularly fraught of late. Valentin Inzko, who has the power to impose laws or fire elected officials who breach the peace accords, announced vocally his willingness ready to annul the referendum if Dodik did not back down. International sanctions against the leader, along the lines of those placed on Muammar Gaddafi, were also mooted, with Inzko receiving backing from the UN Security Council.

Fortunately, it would seem, the crisis was averted at the last minute. Dodik called off the referendum after a meeting on May 12 with EU foreign-affairs chief Catherine Ashton in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska. Dodik was quoted as saying he believes that the judiciary of Bosnia and Herzegovina will be brought into line with European standards, and it is for that reason that “dialogue will continue”. Talks are expected to begin in early June. The meeting with Ashton did not however, represent a climb-down on the part of the bellicose parliamentarian; it was significant that it was Ashton who made the trip to Banja Luka and appeared alongside Dodik in photographs taken in front of a Republika Srpska flag, which precipitated outrage among Bosniaks and Croats. The crisis served Dodik's long-term goals, in the sense that it attracted international attention and undermined the role of the High Representative, who was entirely excluded from proceedings. Indeed, it has been argued that Dodik has no real interest in dismantling the state court, which is know for its incompetence and primarily prosecutes his political adversaries from the Serb Democratic Party, in power during the war. Analysts have suggested that Dodik is in fact hoping for a kind of domino effect: his attacks on the court will ripple out to encompass other state-level institutions such as the Indirect Taxation Authority and the State Border Service.

Dodik has managed to pursue a secessionist agenda partly because tensions between Bosniaks and Croats haven given him free rein to consolidate power within Republika Srpska, untroubled by the need to accommodate the country's other ethnic groups. The President employs tactics and indeed advisers drawn from rule of his predecessor, convicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, by yoking all politics to ethnic identity, thus undermining the healthy functioning of the state at every turn. It helps of course that the Muslim Croat half of the country is also intensely dysfunctional. Relations between Bosnian Croats and Muslims in their shared Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are tense. The former have spoken of frustration with their minority status in both the Federation and Republic, going as far as demanding their own separate federal entity. Meanwhile it has been suggested that the latter have exploited their predominance to call for a more unified country, one which, some say, would privilege European democratic values at the expense of both Serbs and Croats. This split was reflected by the reaction to the referendum - whilst being condemned widely by the Federation, major representatives of the Croat parties were not in attendance. Bosnian Croat leaders, based in Mostar in the south-west, are in effect boycotting the federation government and parliament after losing out in coalition negotiations, in violation of the constitution. They have also voiced grievances about being ignored by the larger Bosnian Muslim community. The creation on April 19 of the Croatian National Assembly by the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, to co-ordinate policy-making across ethnic Croat majority areas has also been seen as a crystallization of a desire to self-govern.

Milorad Dodik has of course welcomed these developments as a way of accelerating the break up of the state, prompting diplomats in Sarajevo to fear a posthumous victory for Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader who had led the war effort to destroy the country. Even though social relations between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks may be relatively pacific, political relations remain thorny. Republika Srpska has attempted to maintain its autonomy at all costs, while Sarajevo has endeavoured to centralize its authority. Proposals in recent years to break BiH’s two federal entities into smaller non-ethnic provinces have been greeted with violent opposition, and prompted many Serbs to believe that Sarajevo and the international community are intent upon the destruction of Republika Srpska. This, in turn, has fuelled demands from Banja Luka for more autonomy from Sarajevo and impaired the role of the International High Representative in Bosnian politics and its legal system.

What lies ahead? As the state teetered on the brink of collapse, observers noted anxiously that unlike in the 1990s when the US decided to take a leading role, primarily through the efforts of Richard Holbrooke, now there seems to be no foreign party which is interested in intervening. Whilst the plan to integrate into the EU at some point remains on the agenda, it seems from Baroness Ashton’s visit that the Union is hardly in a position to exert pressure. Russia and Turkey are enjoying greater influence in the region as a whole but neither seems intent upon gaining a foothold. Some have also argued that the cancelling of the referendum has simply postponed an inevitable crisis, on the basis that the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina in its current incarnation is built along many a fault line. At some point, a seismic shift will have to occur. Brinkmanship seems to be the preferred style of by RS’s current leader. He will no doubt welcome the crisis next time it comes.

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