Bosnia: heal thyself
I did this interview yesterday for Edita Gorinjac of Klix.ba, who published it today in whatever you want to call the language of Bosnia and Herzegovina:
1) What is your general opinion on recent protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were the biggest since after the war?
A: I certainly understand why citizens in Bosnia are disappointed in the services they are getting from their many governments. Protesting seems to me a healthy reaction, so long as it remains nonviolent.
2) Parallel to the protests, during which citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mostly of BiH Federation, asked for government’s more responsible approach to solving of their issues, additional political questions arose, such as more serious approach to constitutional reforms, even territorial reorganization of the state. How realistic is it to expect such changes? And are Bosnia and Herzegovina and international community ready for this? What is, in your opinion, the best solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina?
A: The international community, if by that you mean principally the United States and the European Union, has been ready for constitutional reforms and reorganization of the state for at least 10 years. But it is up to Bosnians to decide what they should be. It is absolutely clear that Bosnia in its current configuration cannot become a member of the European Union. The Venice Commission long ago outlined the constitutional changes required, and the EU is now cutting funding to Bosnia because it doesn’t have the kind of coordination mechanism at the state level necessary to negotiate and implement the obligations of EU membership. The best solution is any solution the people of Bosnia want that meets EU requirements. That means no division of the state or third entity, but it leaves much to the imagination.
3) Is it realistic to expect (and can it be expected at all?) stronger engagement of United States of America in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s constitutional reforms?
A: The US has tried before: the April package and the Butmir effort. Give the US some reason to believe a new effort would be successful and it might try again, though not with the level of government commitment it made on those occasions.
4) Recently, there was an open discussion in the Croatian Parliament about the establishment of third, Croatian, entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. What do you think about it? Is this option realistic and will international community allow such third entity?
A: Croatian Foreign Minister Pusic said in Washington this week that it isn’t going to happen. Why should it? The Bosnian Croats got an excellent deal at Dayton: half the Federation and one-third of the state. It seems to me the real interest of Bosnian Croats, though not of their nationalist political leadership, is to strengthen the Sarajevo government so that it can qualify for EU membership, while devolving as much authority as possible for other things to the municipal level.
5) Possible conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina are mentioned more and more. Is Bosnia and Herzegovina country in danger and from where do these sources of danger come?
A: There are precious few people ready to fight in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but that didn’t stop things from getting out of control in the 1990s. Without Milosevic and Tudjman around to feed the flames, the fire could likely be put out quickly, but not without causing significant damage.
6) Talk about the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is all over the region. In your opinion, how realistic is this dissolution and will USA and international community allow it?
A: It won’t happen. Not only because the US and EU won’t allow it, but also because there is no one to recognize the products of the dissolution. Serbia can’t recognize Republika Srpska as sovereign and independent without wrecking its chances for EU membership. Croatia can’t participate in the dismantling of Bosnia and Herzegovina because it is already an EU member. Neither Croatia nor Serbia would want to have as a neighbor one or more rump Islamic states in central Bosnia. Dodik is bluffing about independence. He knows RS has to stay a part of Bosnia, but he wants it to be as independent as possible within that framework.
7) Is international community tired of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its problems? How much did the international community contribute to constant crisis and political instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
A: The international community is definitely tired of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is not a priority for either the US or the EU today. Bosnia’s problems are largely self-generated, but certainly the international community has contributed far too much money and far too little intellectual clarity to trying to fix them.
8) Elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina are scheduled for October. National parties are trying to use recent protests in order to strengthen positions inside their ethnical groups and unite until October. In reality, we are running in circles. Can elections bring changes, without serious reforms of, amongst other, constitution?
A: Sure elections can bring changes, provided Bosnians vote differently. But if they continue to return the same tired nationalists, reform is unlikely. Democracy doesn’t guarantee change. It only provides the opportunity for it.