Rethinking needed after Bosnian elections

October 10, 2010

In my earlier article – Bosnia on the road to the EU, sorry to Dissolution – I described a bit the background and made some small forecast about outcome which seems to be not so far away from reality. Now elections are held and most votes counted. Turnout in the vote — the sixth general elections in Bosnia since the end of the 1992-95 war – was some 56 percent, the highest since 2002 (in 2006 the turnout was 55.3 percent).The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has assessed that the elections were generally in line with international standards for democratic elections, although certain areas, including ethnicity and residence-based limitations to active and passive suffrage rights, require further action.

Bosnia is created according Dayton agreement and split into two semi-independent entities – the Serb dominated Republika Srpska (RS) and Bosniak-Croat populated The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) federation which together form the basis of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).



In Croat-dominated areas, parties that have called for the establishment of a separate Croat entity performed strongly but the winner for the presidency’s Croat seat anyway was Social Democrat Zeljko Komsic, known as a strong fighter for a unified, multiethnic Bosnia. However, his victory was disputed by Croat nationalists who said he earned it thanks to Muslim, not Croat votes.


The Bosniak seat went to Bakir Izetbegovic of the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action. Bakir is the son of SDA founder and Bosnia’s wartime president Alija Izetbegovic, who invited al-Qaeda into Bosnia and was the main organizer in smuggling of illegal weapons into Bosnia. Anyway the new Bosniak leader stated repeatedly during the campaign that finding a compromise between the Bosniak, Croat and Serb communities was the only way to achieve necessary reforms in the country and push it forward on the path to European Union membership. His position is in stark contrast to the uncompromising stance of Haris Silajdzic, the leader of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, SzBiH, who continues to insist on greater centralization under terms rejected by a large majority of Bosnian Serbs. This time moderate Izetbegovic won.


Serb incumbent Nebojsa Radmanovic of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats won the Serb seat in presidency; he backs the idea of Bosnian Serb secession from the rest of the country. Indeed RS is already a de facto independent country, establishing diplomatic and investment relations overseas, and largely ignoring day-to-day national-level politics. Regardless, independence and even unification with Serbia are popular causes. Even the entity’s two main opposition parties staunchly favor autonomy along Dayton lines.


Results from The Central Election Commission pages here!


Democracy vs. EU

“After WWII, we were full of enthusiasm and confidence in our strength, which demonstrated itself in the recovery of the country. Conversely, the war in the first half of the 1990s is still going on. It might be without weapons, but features all the elements of hatred, division and rift,”

“The United Nations were caught with their pants down, because their forces were only passive observers of the events. Similarly, the European Community limited its activities to providing humanitarian aid. It showed utter incompetence, which still continues,

(Raif Dizdarević a retired Bosnian politician who held senior positions in the Yugoslavian regime)


The EU has demanded that if Bosnia wishes to join to EU, it must create a stronger central government. Negotiations – led by EU and U.S over constitutional changes to strengthen the central government have been long and unsuccessful were frozen in Summer in hopes that it would be easier to find a compromise after last Sunday’s elections.

First reactions from West about results were badly mistaken. After elections in West has estimated that in FBiH disputes among and between Bosniak and Bosnian Croat leaders and a dysfunctional administrative system will continue as well paralyzed decision making; the entity is on the verge of bankruptcy and all this can trigger social unrest. Same time in RS Serb officials will try to undermine federal structures. BiH itself is already nearly “failed state” not only due to political divisions, but also because of rampant corruption and organized crime.

In EU’s fears the realized final results reflecting the status quo will set the stage for another four years of drift, diminishing the possibility of a path to the EU. Economic hardship and political uncertainty will continue and the country or at least FBiH could develop more as a potential jump-off point for Islamic radicalism.

However in democracy and e.g. now in Bosnia people may want different aims, conflicting views and they elect their representatives accordingly despite EU’s wishes.


Strange minority rights

One peculiar aspect in BiH administration is discriminatory election process based to Dayton scribble. Bosnia’s constitution allows only the members of the Constituent Peoples – ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) – to stand for election to either the three-member Presidency or the House of Peoples. Non-constituent peoples – defined in the Constitution as ‘Others’ like Jewish and Roma people – can only stand for election to the lower house, being denied their right to full participation in the political process.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) helped to bring situation before the European Court of Human Rights, which in December 2009 ruled that the country’s current constitution violates the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court ordered the abolition of discriminatory restrictions against the Jewish and Roma people.


The tripartite Presidency, as well as positions in the upper house, are equally distributed among the three Constituent Peoples, among Bosniaks and Croats from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbs from Republika Srpska. Although the case did not specifically address this issue, Croats and Bosniaks in the Republika Srpska and Serbs in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are also excluded from standing for office.


Defeat of EU strategy, win for local democracy

“stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities; the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; and the ability to take on the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic and monetary union.” (EU membership criteria)


Outcome of Bosnian elections was crushing defeat for EU’s efforts to strengthen BiH central government, EU’s stick and carrot strategy failed and now international community should revise its earlier aims. EU attempts to draw power from the entities to the center have been unsuccessful and now rejected at the elections by Serbs and Croats.


From my point of view there is no reason for defeatism in Bosnia, totally opposite I see now possibilities to create a new “lighter” administrative system, election results may give a boost to more decentralized outcome which also can be kept more democratic. Indeed this could serve fullfilling EU membership criteria even better than implementing the used EU-led strategy.

Relatively moderate winners may find pragmatic solutions inside FBiH. The ten Cantons of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina are already serving as the second-level units of local autonomy. Five of the cantons or counties (Una-Sana, Tuzla, Zenica-Doboj, Bosnian Podrinje, and Sarajevo) have a Bosniak majority, three (Posavina, West Herzegovina, and West Bosnia) have Bosnian Croat majority, and two (Central Bosnia and Herzegovina-Neretva) are ‘ethnically mixed’, meaning there are special legislative procedures for protection of the constituent ethnic groups. The Bosnian Croats might well see enforcement of cantons on cost of centralized governmental structure, they might also see creating a third entity possible.


As earlier noted the other political entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska, has a great autonomy, it has a centralized government and is divided directly into 63 municipalities so the “extra” second-level administration is already missing.


Possible solutions

“(Bosnia’s government) is the most complicated, most absurd system I know as a political science professor,” (Jacques Rupnik from the Paris-based CERI Centre for International Research and Study)

EU and Bosniak population had wishes for the state to be centralized, eliminating the Federation, as well as the Republika Srpska. Officials in the Republika Srpska naturally resist this idea. Many Serbs assume that if Kosovo achieves independence, Republika Srpska will separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, eventually joining Serbia.


A new middle way could be found from decentralization at local level. Instead of strong federalist state the new state level solution could be a confederation made up from newly formulated and more autonomous entities – from RS and to Bosniak and Croat entities splitted FBiH.










A confederation union of sovereign states or in Bosnia’s case entities or common action in relation to other states. If compared to today’s federation a confederation would have lighter administrative structure, it has very limited direct power as decisions are externalized by member-state legislation and changes of the constitution or a treaty, require unanimity. Confederations are “looser” structures than federations and based more on co-operation than coercion.


(My) conclusion


The BiH elections show a heavily divided non-state: Srpska wants out, the US-imposed federation of Croats and Bosniaks is divided with the voters voting largely for their own kind. And that is what it is all about: they want to be governed by their own kind, and outside forces deny them even the right of self-determination in a referendum.” (Johan Galtung)


EU’s solution for Bosnia has so far been to force people to accept a form of governance that they don’t want and be part of a state that they don’t want. Now it is time for rethinking in international community; forced centralization should be replaced with more pragmatic ways, such as decentralization and ethnic self-determination. Confederation might be one solution. One true example of a confederation was a very loose political union called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro (2003-2006). This union peacefully came to an end after Montenegro’s formal declaration of independence , and Serbia’s formal declaration of independence on June 2006 .


I conclude my viewpoint with words of Henry Kissinger, one of the most important politicians in the U.S. international politics from 1969 to 1977 and respected analyst since then. In a recent interview Kissinger stated that Bosnia must be split into three parts and then those parts be annexed to the neighboring countries. “There is no such thing as a Bosnian language. No such thing as Bosnian Culture. Bosnia itself is an administrative country which has three groups of people: Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks artificially created in the former Yugoslavia who the western diplomats stupidly recognized as a ‘country’.” Kissinger believes the Muslims in Bosnia should be given a piece of land they would call a ‘country’ while the majority Serbs and Croats in Bosnia would either create their own states or would join Serbia and Croatia respectively. According to Kissinger, this sort of solution would work best and will satisfy the three groups in Bosnia. I do not oppose these thoughts, indeed I see quite big wisdom with them.


Some sources:

Bosnian elections: The Central Election Commission and their webmodule
and my earlier post
Bosnia on the road to the EU, sorry to Dissolution

Analysis: History invites itself to Bosnia elections and EU-Bosnia and Herzegovina relations

Bosnia on the road to the EU, sorry to Dissolution

October 2, 2010

Young people, they are starting to think that ethnic divisions are normal … if something doesn’t happen to change this, there will be no change.” (Emin Mahmutovic, civic activist)

Despite international community’s state building efforts in Bosnia the country is splitting parts Since war 15 years ago foreign aid has exceed USD 80 bn for artificial creature designed in Dayton agreement aiming multi-ethnic state with EU perspective. As a result Bosnia is now even more divided, with less national identity, 20 percent of population living under the poverty line, with a nightmare triple administration plus international supervising making the country as worst place in Europe to do business west of Ukraine, even as it seeks to join the European Union. (Bosnia this year ranked 116th in World Bank’s ease of doing business index.)

Some historical background

Bosnian war (1992-95) included massive transfer of populations so it was possible to draw new boundaries according ethnic groups. Armed conflict between Yugoslav, Croatian and Bosnian forces and militias, accompanied by massive human rights abuses and violations, led to the displacement of over a million people and the creation of ethnically homogeneous areas within the newly independent – or better say international protectorate – Bosnia and Herzegovina (later Bosnia or BiH).

Dayton Agreement was made 1995 after bloody war had almost finished ethnic cleansing/transfer of populations so that it was possible to draw administrative boundaries according ethnic groups. The agreement split Bosnia into two semi-independent entities – the Serb dominated Republika Srpska (RS) and Bosniak-Croat populated The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) federation. The Croat-Bosniak federation is further divided into 10 cantons, each with its own parliament and government responsibility for local issues.

Administrative nightmare

In general elections on 3 October 2010 will be elected Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three presidents—a Bosnian, a Serb and a Croat—and its two houses of parliament. The Federation (FBiH) alone has three levels of government (federal, cantonal and municipal) each of which has executive, legislative and judicial authority; 13 prime ministers and 14 legislatures. The result is a dense bureaucracy, whose various parts function in competition or open conflict with one another, and a suffocating thicket of confusing and often contradictory legislation and regulation.

The three points of the triangle represent the nation’s three ethnic groups: Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. The triangle itself represents the geographic shape of the nation itself. The colors represent neutrality and peace, whereas the stars represent Europe.

Each part (RS and FBiH) has its own parliament, government and president but the two are linked by weak central institutions. The Serb Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation and three ethnic groups – Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks – are trying to lead state together and separately. And one could also add, that international supervision is still effective through “Office of High Representative” (OHR).

Ethnic tensions still alive and increasing

While earlier dispute was between Serbs and Bosniaks, last years have showed serious dissension between Bosniaks and Croats and ethnic divisions are deepening at time when Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the stage of transition from an international protectorate to one responsible for its own reform dynamics. Instead of developing its “European perspective”, Bosnia-Herzegovina going backwards remaining an unwelcome, dysfunctional and divided country, with an aggrieved Bosniak (Muslim) plurality, a frustrated, increasingly defensive Serb entity, and an anxious, existentially threatened Croat population.

Before Bosnian war the region was quite secular and multi-ethnic, mixed towns and even marriages were common. Now people live in segregated Muslim, Croat and Serb communities, even in same town the pupils are going to schools of their own ethnic origin. Education, which should foster a multicultural society, has instead been manipulated by each ethnic group. There are separate education ministries, and each draws up its own ethnically based curricula and textbooks. Now it’s common to see young Muslim girls with scarf which earlier was common only by older Muslim women.

While most Bosnian Croats already have Croatian passports and since Republika Srpska residents can apply for and obtain Serbian passports with access e.g to Schengen area, the Bosniaks with passport of Bosnia-Herzegovina can travel visa free only to half of countries compared to their country men with foreign passports.

Radical Islam as issue

One aspect making Bosnia unstable is religion. The question is not only divisions between Catholics, Orthodox and Islam views, but at the center of the issue is the Wahhabi sect, an austere brand of Islam most prevalent in Saudi Arabia and practiced by bin Laden and the Taliban. Wahhabis have been establishing a permanent presence in Macedonia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Croatia and even in Bulgaria. The presence of radical Muslims in Bosnia is linked to the advent of mujahedeen foreign fighters who joined Bosnian Muslims in their battle against the Serbs in Bosnia’s 1992-95 independence war. After Dayton Saudi-backed charities were funding the movement as well investments.

Al Qaeda organized El Mujahedeen Unit in Bosnia in 1995 consisted of 1,700 troops and was part of the Bosnian Muslim Army.

In Bosnia, the issue of Wahhabi influence is one of the most politically charged debates, with Bosnian Serbs maintaining there is a huge presence of Wahhabis in the country and Muslim Bosniaks downplaying the issue and at times claiming it does not exist. Bosnia’s official Islamic Community has been successful in curbing Wahhabi influence saying that even Wahhabi influence reached its peak in 2000 it has since started falling e.g. with measures taken by Bosnian authorities after 9/11.

On the road to Dissolution

During last 15 years international community has squandered more than USD 80 bn to build a multi-ethnic state with some European standards, a country which would have clear perspective to become EU member-state. War-damaged buildings have been replaced with new glass and steel high-rises. However, as I described earlier, divisions and even tensions are increasing between ethnic groups, the war memories are still fresh, the common understanding about history is missing as well any national identity. In Sunday’s elections, the voters will include 18-year-olds who have no memory of the war, but many of them live in segregated Muslim, Croat and Serb communities, they have maybe never met anyone from the other two ethnic communities. A dysfunctional administrative system especially in FBiH has paralysed decision-making, put the entity on the verge of bankruptcy and triggered social unrest.

Rival nationalist parties of the country’s three ethnic groups have a firm grip on power without any real perspective of national consensus. The international community has long insisted that more powers be transferred to central institutions in order to make the country more functional, but Bosnian Serbs strongly reject such moves and insist on retaining their autonomy and even gaining independence with same standards which western powers used in Kosovo case. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik took the discussion a step forward recently, saying that Bosnia was surviving only due to international intervention and that the time had come to discuss its peaceful dissolution. Also leaders of FBiH’s Croatian parties have over the past few months renewed calls for a separate Croat entity in BiH.

Lessons learned for elections

I know that we are in a difficult campaign for elections. But after the elections, Bosnia’s political leaders, the new government ….will have to make important choices to prepare themselves, to reconcile with European standards and requirements,” (Spanish FM Miguel Angel Moratinos)

Related to European standards Bosnia is applying already some practices from newest EU member-state Bulgaria. Or what can one think about following quote from Sofia News Agency Novinite:

An “innovative” vote-buying practice crafted ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s general elections on October 3 has been described as “Bulgarian train” by the press in Sarajevo. The vote-buying scheme called “Bulgarian train” includes a party activist who hands out filled ballot papers to votes before the polling stations. The voter is supposed to cast the filled ballot, and to bring out an empty ballot from inside the polling station; upon handing the empty ballot to the activist of the political party, the voter receives the promised payment for selling their vote. Then, the political activist fills the empty ballot paper, and hands it to the next willing voter, and the “Bulgarian train” keep rolling throughout the entire election day.

It is unclear exactly why this vote-buying technique described in the Bosnian press has been named “Bulgarian train” but the general association of vote-buying with Bulgaria is easy to explain as Bulgaria’s 2009 EU and national elections were plagued with vote-buying allegations, though only a couple of sentences.


According European Commission’s last country report (e.g. in my Document library ) Bosnia and Herzegovina urgently needs to speed up key reforms. The country’s European future requires a shared vision on the overall direction of the country by its leadership, the political will to meet European integration requirements and to meet the conditions which have been set for the closure of the OHR.

Both in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo many local stakeholders see implemented rules illegitimate and foreign-imposed – and they are right. Internationally imposed solutions are not sustainable, to get real progress the inter-ethnic agreements must be made at local level.

In my earlier article Bosnia collapsing? I concluded following:

Can any country survive without some minimal mutual self-identification across its citizens as a whole? If the shared non-ethnic Bosnian identity is taking steps backwards does this not mean that this artificial western desk-drawer plan is doomed to fail? I am afraid so but maybe it is loss only for those top level designers not for local population.

International Crisis Group estimates that continued worsening of relations among Bosniak, Croat and Serb leaders, compounded by a fiscal meltdown after the 2010 elections, could transform public dissatisfaction into ethnic tensions and violence. I am not so pessimistic the possible outcome could be peaceful dissolution. This should be facilitated also by international community if it is ready to accept de facto situation on the ground more than sticking to old dysfunctional agreements.


International Crisis Group report 28.08.2010

WSJ article

Some of my earlier articles:

Bosnia collapsing?

Srebrenica again – Hoax or Massacre?

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