What to do about Bosnia and Herzegovina

Here are the notes I prepared for my participation in a conference yesterday on Jahorina, a mountain outside Sarajevo, on 2020 Vision for BiH:

Bosnia Vision 2020, Jahorina, December 3, 2015
Bosnia Vision 2020, Jahorina, December 3, 2015

1. I want to say first how glad I am to be back in Bosnia and Herzegovina after being absent for a couple of years and to thank the organizers and the US embassy for making it possible.

2. I’m also delighted to hear the very real enthusiasm that Bosnians are expressing for the Reform Agenda promoted by the EU, the World Bank and the IMF.

3. Nothing I say should be taken to suggest that they are not doing the right thing. They are.

4. But I don’t expect it to be sufficient.

5. Bosnia runs on a political economy that limits political competition, especially across ethnic lines, and enriches not the state but whoever controls its elaborate apparatus at various levels through political parties in which cronyism is the rule rather than the exception.

6. I don’t believe that is a state that can govern effectively and in accordance with European standards, so sooner or later broader political reforms are going to be necessary.

7. Let me be clear: whatever is done will have to be done by and with Bosnians. I do not anticipate that the internationals can do anything more than support those who are interested in creating more effective and functional governance.

8. Let me tell you what I would be thinking about if I were a Bosnian. In fact, I am cribbing shamelessly most of what I am about to say from Srdjan Blagovcanin and Boris Divjak, whose paper on the Bosnian political economy published by the Center for Transatlantic Relations I recommend highly.

9. I would be thinking there is no silver bullet: no single thing that can fix all that ails the political economy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

10. I would therefore be thinking about trying several things and seeing if they can’t be woven into a coherent strategy.

11. First, I would be thinking about building a constituency against corruption and in favor of accountability, one that would demand internal democracy in political parties, preservation of the open-list electoral system, single-member electoral constituencies, an end to political appointment of executives in state-owned enterprises and privatization and procurement conducted in strict accordance with EU rules.

12. Second, I would be trying to get parliament to cut red tape, freeze government hiring, and require state-owned enterprises to publish budgets and financial reports.

13. Third, I would be trying to convince the Europeans to condition future assistance on appointment of judges solely on the basis of professional qualifications.

14. Fourth, I would be encouraging prosecutors to focus on large-scale and high-level corruption cases, with asset freezes and travel bans implemented by the Europeans and Americans where need be.

15. Fifth, I would be encouraging nongovernmental and media exposure of malfeasance by requiring an end to media subsidies, open competition for government advertising and civil society funding, and strengthening of the role of ombudspeople, auditors and regulatory agencies.

16. Sixth, I would be asking hard questions about the size and weight of the government structures in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a view to clarifying responsibilities and eliminating as many duplicative bureaucracies as possible. The central state has to have the authority to negotiate and implement the requirements of EU membership. The coordination mechanism between the two Bosnian “entities” in my view is no substitute for proper authority at the state level.

17. Ultimately, I think there is no avoiding fundamental constitutional reform. In order to become a member of the EU and NATO, Bosnia will require a shift away from the Dayton order of group rights to a more Western concept of individual rights. There is no escaping the broad implications of the Sejdic Finci decision.

18. How can these things be accomplished? We’ve seen in Romania what a motivated citizenry can accomplish in a remarkably short period of time.

19. Bosnians are less inclined to large-scale street demonstrations, but unless the politicians hear directly and loudly from voters, either in the streets or at the polls, they are unlikely to risk Sanader’s fate.

20. The Reform Agenda is a good start. But it is not the end.

I heard quite a few ideas from others during the day-long conference. Here is a sample:

  • Public hearings on nominees to important government positions in order to emphasize merit over clientalism
  • Evaluations of the effectiveness of legislation, either by civil society organizations or a parliamentary body
  • Intensive voter education
  • Mandatory electronic voting
  • A more independent judicial system capable of quicker decisions

Towards the end of the day, one Bosnian emphasized big improvements since the war on two dimensions: freedom of expression and entrepreneuralism. The former is clear. I would add freedom of movement, which is now well-established throughout the country (or so Bosnians of all ethnicities tell me). The latter I still have my doubts about, but I hope it is true. More opportunity in the private sector and less focus on government would do wonders to improve the mood in a Bosnia at peace but still struggling with the issues that caused the war.

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One thought on “What to do about Bosnia and Herzegovina”

  1. 16 touches the main point. While we can hear voices “against the centralization” to centralize the BIH by good 50% toward common institutions, those on BIH level, would still make it highly decentralized country. It is all talk against established feuds. On the BIH level, whichever system, either Presidential or Prime ministerial government, with one President or Prime Minister, is at least what ought to be done and the instance from which the EU and BIH could negotiate ascension. One person one vote on the whole BIH for the things of a concern of BIH as one entity. Furthermore, unless a party has above certain census in either of entities that party cannot run. To make center of economical regions around the cities and not entity lines. These, and many more, are well established patterns for anything to function. Want to vote against the Supreme Court. All right then, all the votes in BIH have to be counted in. And at the end, enclose the EU borders, by which I mean bring the rest of the EU to the fold, by which I mean the rest of the ex-YU countries. It is to their benefit, and of the national security of the EU, the USA and in part Russia as well. Local oligarchs and their petty interest, which would be their undoing as well, ought not to stand in the way to the interests of all.

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