ICG’s unfortunate Bosnia finale

I feel an obligation to explain my tweet from last week:

’s Future shows again analytical prowess does not entail good policy judgment, or even clarity.

One hundred forty characters really does not allow for a full explanation. So here goes, in 900 words.

The ICG report is correct in fingering the Dayton constitution as the culprit responsible for the country’s current dysfunction. But when it comes to discussion of what to do about the dysfunction, it meanders into a thicket of ill-defined options, premised on this key phrase: “the Croats are a fundamental difficulty”:

In Dayton, they were forced to merge with the Bosniaks in the FBIH [Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina], partly due to the West’s effort to expatiate its sense of guilt for allowing a genocidal war of ethnic separation to go so far.

This is wrong factually, historically and (contrary to what I tweeted about prowess) analytically.  No one forced them, there was no “merger,” it did not happen at Dayton and it was not done to expiate guilt feelings.

The Federation was created more than a year and a half before Dayton, in order to stop the fighting between Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims to Americans). The Bosniaks were winning that war against the Croats but needed to stop it because it prevented them from success in the war against the Serbs, which raged simultaneously. The Croats were having their clocks cleaned, with disastrous consequences for their presence in central Bosnia.

The Americans and the UN convinced Croatian President Tudjman that continuing the Muslim/Croat war would result in a “non-viable, rump Islamic state in central Bosnia that would be a platform for Iranian terrorism in Europe” (I’m quoting from many memos to the Secretary of State).

Tudjman saw the danger of such an entity on his border and decided it would be better to form a Federation, provided it offered absolute equality between Croats and Bosniaks (and he wanted it confederated to Croatia, something that was never done). The Bosniaks, who numbered at least twice and likely close to three times the population of Croats, agreed to this patently disadvantageous formula because a) it would enable them to focus on fighting the Serbs, b) Tudjman controlled the flow of arms from the Adriatic into the Bosniak-controlled territory.

At Dayton, the Croats were anxious–even determined–to maintain the Federation, because it gave them a large measure of self-governance in a structure they thought would guarantee–through its group rights provisions and ethnic quotas–dominance of Croat nationalists. They also insisted on one-third of the central Bosnian “state” government and got what they asked for. I know because Kresimir Zubak, then the (Croat) President of the Federation, came to me and asked that the Americans reduce the six (or was is seven?) member presidency to just three, one seat reserved each for a Croat, Bosniak and Serb.

The ICG report thus goes badly wrong when it suggests that the Croats need to get a better deal in the future than they got at Dayton, when they got an excellent deal that reflected their strong wartime cards. Today, they no longer have a stranglehold over central Bosnia, which is accessible from the north and east as well as the south. When asked, Croats are hard-pressed to cite specific examples of disadvantage in a Bosnia that does largely leave them to govern themselves, at least in those cantons of the Federation where they are the majority. Their one consistent complaint is that the current Croat member of the the presidency is not a nationalist and may have been elected by a margin smaller than the number of Bosniaks who voted for him.

That makes him an interethnic hero in American eyes, but it makes him insufficiently Croat in nationalist Croat eyes. The nationalists want no serious competition for that seat from non-nationalists. It is interesting to note that the analogous thing happened when Vojislav Kostunica beat Slobodan Milosevic in the Yugoslav election of 2000, by a margin smaller than the number of non-Serbs who voted for him.  I never heard Serbs complain about that.

But I wander from the ICG report, which takes the Croat question as fundamental and then spins four possible options. The first is a vague muddling through that takes as its starting point a proposal from several years ago that blew up over boundaries. The second proposes a third, Croat entity, without worrying about its boundaries. Even Zagreb’s fantasists think the time for that has passed. The third proposes three non-territorial communities, cover for creation of a “virtual” Croat entity.  The fourth simply dissolves the Federation, which under today’s conditions would mean independence for Republika Srpska and three-way partition of Bosnia.

Only in the fifth, shortest option does ICG doff its thinking cap to “federal but liberal Bosnia”:

The simplest solution is also the most radical: abolish entities and cantons and build the state anew without reference to community rights, protecting only individual rights.

The eleven lines devoted to this proposition betray it as a throw-away, meant to satisfy those of us in the international community thought to harbor it as our preference, but not worthy of more than cursory attention.

Oddly, ICG never does discuss returning to the 2006 “April package,” which it describes as “the nearest BiH got to comprehensive constitutional reform.” Not surprising, as the April package would not satisfy Croat nationalist ambitions, which is the not so hidden agenda lurking in this unfortunate finale to ICG’s long series of reports on Bosnia, many of which are far more worth reading than this one.

More on the April package option in a future post.

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