Filling Bosnia’s reform gaps 2

Kurt Bassuener of the Democratization Policy Council replied to my Filling Bosnia’s reform gaps:

You’re right, Dan, about the fear element in voting. But fear and patronage are usually a package deal. For example, if a) you’re not sure your vote is actually secret (a commonly held concern) and b) Uncle Adnan has a public sector job and feeds a family of five, are you really going to vote for the powers-that-be? Doubtful. You may stay home, disgusted with all the options on the menu – 46% of the eligible electorate did precisely that. And voters have voted in the past for alternatives, but have usually been disappointed. Witness the SDP’s rise in 2010 and fall in 2014, after a massive proportion of its vote punished the party for perceived betrayal.

So the sense of disgust, despair and hopelessness around elections is justified – one’s vote, at least above the municipal level (where mayors are directly elected), doesn’t seem to matter a bit in terms of delivering meaningful change. The fact that the SDA and HDZ, two parties which have been at the trough since Dayton (with brief spells in the wilderness at the state and entity, but never cantonal, levels) got elected not in spite of what they are, but because of what they are: parties of power and patronage. All voters are rational actors acting within a perverse incentive structure that once was constrained by the “international community,” but hasn’t been for a decade. Voting is purely transactional for a large segment of the electorate, not votes of affirmation.

What’s telling is that even the self-described civic parties – SDP, DF, and Nasa Stranka – exerted no appreciable effort to seek Serb votes in the RS. I’m not saying that’s an easy task. This assessment of seven polls by Valery’s former colleague Raluca Raduţa demonstrates there is a lot of potential common ground with which to work. But to transform that latent potential into political and social power, an effort to develop a supermajority behind a positive agenda for a rules-based society would have to begin well before an election. The only way to change the system through the system would require a coherent 2/3 majority (including overriding the entity vote) behind a common agenda. Nobody is aiming that high right now.

There is no obvious political vehicle – and as you note, no international will to be a catalyst. The understandable but myopic focus solely on “CVE” [countering violent extremism] neglects the fact that by effectively paying for quiet (while thinking it is buying stability), the West is supporting the patronage structure and maintaining a system which can only generate violent extremism. So the current approach amounts to whack-a-mole triage to deal with effects after years of unwillingness to tackle the systemic root cause: institutionalized lack of accountability.

This isn’t a problem that can be solved programmatically; it’s a POLICY problem. Absent the will to be confrontational with the beneficiaries of the Dayton system, who are supposed to be partners in reform according to the EU’s enlargement theology, even the programs you suggest, Dan, won’t make a dent. The West has it within its power to painfully constrain the political class’ room to maneuver by reducing their ability to leverage fear, then their ability to employ patronage funded with external infusions. Then developing a partnership with citizens to squeeze them in the right direction is possible.

Finally, “holding perpetrators accountable” means getting them convicted and keeping them convicted in the second instance, which rarely if ever happens. Right now, it seems likely that the EU will surrender on a crucial element of BiH’s judicial architecture – the ability of the state to assume cases begun at lower levels if it is determined the crimes in question have sufficient impact on the state. RS Prime Minister Dodik has wanted this for a long time, but politicians in both entities would benefit from a retreat on this, getting de facto immunity.

If the US and EU were serious on criminal accountability – and on “CVE” – we’d maintain that extended jurisdiction, and furthermore return international prosecutors and judges to the state judicial systems organized crime and corruption investigation, prosecution, and adjudication continuum. The Organized Crime and Corruption  chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the body which tries violent extremism and terrorism-related cases, so if we’re really serious, that’s where it will show.

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