Bosnia update: political crisis, partition proposals and property claims

by Rhodri C. Williams

Bosnia continues to elude complete stabilization in both large ways (such as unquiet territorial debates) and small ones (such as unresolved property claims). A recent run of analysis and reports on Bosnia provides examples of both:

First, a typically engaging piece by Tihomir Loza on TOL updates us on Bosnia’s tormented struggle toward a government after last October’s elections. This article focuses on the way that the Social Democrats – heirs to the ethnically inclusive but authoritarian pre-war Yugoslav political mainstream – have alienated Bosnia’s minority Croats by using a curious loophole in the postwar constitutional framework (and one that was originally pointed out to me by old friend and eminent constitutional expert Gianni LaFerrara when I was a green young intern at OHR).

Specifically, the presidential election rules unintentionally (Gianni?) give non-Croats a decisive vote in electing the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency, an opportunity which they appear to have seized. In reaction, the Croats have begun to demand greater territorial autonomy, asserting (in Bosnia’s curious constitutional parlance) that “the only way for Bosnia’s Croats to protect their interests and dignity was to shape the territories on which they form the majority into a third entity.” Stay tuned…

Second, Gerard Toal has highlighted an interesting exchange of views on the fuure of Bosnia published in the most recent edition of European Affairs. The series starts off with an extraordinarily breezy call for the partition of Bosnia by Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute. Aside from getting at least one basic Bosnia fact wrong (the “high representative” in Bosnia is distinctive precisely because it is not a UN mission), he appears to conflate the ‘forced unity’ of Bosnian nation-building with a recent history of civil wars fought over the entirely distinct phenomenon of post-colonial inheritance of colonial boundaries (posted on here).

The central policy prescription given is that international actors should ‘withdraw objections’ to the secession of various bits of Bosnia; given that such objections are founded on international treaties, the Bosnian Constitution, the aspirations of a probable majority of Bosnia’s citizens and the regional plan for EU accession of at least three countries, I myself would have a hard time figuring how to campaign for that one, let alone implement it.

In any case, Daniel Serwer provides a considered response (though one that gives a bit more credence to an ‘Islamic Republic in Europe’ nightmare scenario than I think may be strictly warranted) and Gerard Toal notes in an interview that partition is not only morally problematic (ethnic cleansing is such an ugly word…) but also more likely to profoundly destabilize the region than to do any good. The last piece in the series – by Stratfor – hints intriguingly that Angela Merkel may now be warming up for yet another round of wooing Bosnia’s hard-headed politicians to the discreet charms of constitutional reform.

Third, my former Bosnia colleague, Peter Bofin (now blogging at Swahili Street) recently pointed out some interesting reports on corruption and NGO aid work by the ‘Anti-Corruption Resource Center’ U4. One of the most recent reports looks at the issue of NGOs and corruption in the reconstruction of destroyed housing in Bosnia. Such reconstruction was conceived of along with restitution of intact properties as one of the pillars of international policy in support of the return of the displaced. The U4 report suggests that this heavy policy bias may have engendered similar distortions to those observed in restitution policy before the latter was largely decoupled from return (for more on the latter, an article I wrote a few years back may be useful starting point).

Fourth – and most piquant – TN regular and Bosnian media observer  Massimo Moratti has pointed out reports in Oslobodjenje that last May’s Dokic ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (posted on here) may have only been the tip of the iceberg. According to the well-known Sarajevo daily, the Court will rule soon on similar claims filed by 61 former employees of the Yugoslav People’s Army who, like Mr. Dokic, are seeking redress for their exclusion from laws allowing legal remedies for the wartime loss of apartments in Bosnia. The paper alleges that the families currently using the apartments include 14 families of fallen soldiers and six high-ranking Bosnian Army officers.

Subsequent articles report on a somewhat panicked-sounding roundtable on the issue, during which charges were aired that some such apartments were funneled to the mistresses of local potentates rather than the war victims meant to inhabit them. If there is a basis to the latter charge, it will support the Court’s concern, expressed in Dokic, that there is precious little evidence of the veracity of the public intrerest use asserted for failing to return the claimed apartments. In light of Oslobodjenje’s estimate that up to 2,000 Dokic style cases may be in the works, we may shortly be seeing Bosnia’s first Demopoulos-style pilot-judgment proceedings.

4 responses to “Bosnia update: political crisis, partition proposals and property claims

  1. That’s a great update on B&H, especially for one such as me who is so out of touch with the place.

    The paper on ‘corruption’ in return and reconstruction that you mention is an interesting one. Most people in the R&R game at the time were stores of gossip but most never got around to framing that in any coherent analysis of the political economy (or maybe it was just me: always possible) and how that may affect our work.

    The R&R project was sub-contracted to NGOs on short term contracts so the greatest incentive was to get the funding followed by intensive implementation and pressure to get the papwerwork in order. The scope for misdirection of funds was great. If return – and changing the balance of power, hamlet by hamlet – was the imperative, maybe that was inevitable and so acceptable. But too many of us never grappled with these issues. Corruption was something we all knew about and mostly tolerated. But I’m not sure too many of us went beyond the gossip and dug into the politics too much.

  2. Massimo Moratti

    Indeed very interesting the piece by Tihomir Loza and the parallelisms between now and the socialist times. Once more, Sarajevo politicians seems to deliberately ignore that the different realities in BIH and thus it is simply normal that it is considered by them as an external force, trying to impose its views. The piece reminded me of Danis Tanovic’s latest movie, Cirkus Columbia which is a portrait of Herzegovina immediately before the beginning of the war.

  3. Pingback: ‘Bosnia Remade’ and beyond | TerraNullius

  4. Pingback: If it’s broke, destroy it? The partition debate arrives in Syria | TerraNullius

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