The ever-busy International Crisis Group have written quite a good paper about the current Bosnia and Herzegovina interlocking impasses (so to speak).

Here it is.

One point of interest. Back at Harvard in 1998 I wrote a long paper about the Dayton Peace Process which posed a challenging question: is the Dayton BH constitution itself unconstitutional?

It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that certain provisions of the new Constitution accepted by the Balkan nationalists at Dayton introduced a new apartheid-like discrimination in Europe. Article V laid down that “The Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall consist of … one Bosniac and one Croat, each directly elected from the territory of the Federation, and one Serb directly elected from the territory of the Republika Srpska”. 
This bizarre provision meant that, for example, no Bosniac returning to live in Republika Srpska could run for the highest office in his/her own country, and that Jews or people of mixed ethnicity choosing to call themselves Bosnians were barred from candidacy wherever they lived. It also arguably ran counter to the European Convention on Human Rights which elsewhere was incorporated directly into the BH Constitution and given “priority over all other law”. Is the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution unconstitutional?

Prescient words.

It looks from the ICG paper that action at last is in hand to do something about this ridiculous state of affairs.

All this new whirring stems from the fact that Republika Srpska has challenged the Bonn Powers as exercised by successive High Representatives.

What, you cry, are the Bonn Powers?

Here is a piece from Spiked back in 2003 about them.

What happened was (roughly) this.

Back in 1997 as UK Ambassador in Sarajevo I became convinced that it made no sense to try to build a new Bosnia with defiant obstructionist local leaders running things. So I talked to my colleagues in London about finding a way to ‘sack’ key local people who had showed themselves to be unwilling to make reasonable compromises, and so were wrecking the impact of the international investment pouring in to Bosnia to try to rebuild the country.

London and I came up with a scheme for radical action in this sense to be announced at an international Bosnia meeting in Bonn. They ran it past senior US officials in Washington who dismissed it as being too aggressive.

The State Department nonetheless showed the British ideas to Madeleine Albright (then Secretary of State), who was delighted with this robust approach and approved it.

Thus the Bonn Powers were promulgated by the BH Peace Implementation Council (a self-appointed grouping of some 50 countries who had taken an interest in the BH problem) in mid-1997.

The impressive thing was that as far as I could see the Bonn Powers had no real legal basis at all. They amounted to an international political power-play bluff which successive High Representatives wrapped up in legal language to make the whole thing look imposing and inevitable.

And they worked, for many years. Senior BH politicians and officials were indeed sacked. Yet the perverse if unsurprising result of sacking people whose elections we had proclaimed to be free and fair was only a diminished sense of local responsibility for real-life outcomes, rather than enhanced effort. Inat?

Thus familiarity bred contempt. Sooner or later a direct legal challenge to these ‘powers’ was going to be mounted somewhere.

Hence the current dilemma addressed in the ICG paper. Has the idea of a ‘High Representative’ with quasi-colonial authority at last run out of steam? Better to push the whole Bosnia problem into an EU enlargement channel and use the sticks and carrots in that channel more deftly? ICG:

Closing the OHR would clearly signal to the Bosnian parties that their apprenticeship is over, and responsibility for BiH rests primarily with them.

Alternatively, the parties could agree to another interim arrangement for dispute resolution in advance of constitutional reform. A new EUSR would not claim to have Bonn-type powers, especially to impose legislation. Rather he/she would facilitate political talks between the parties, as well as monitor, report and assist in bringing Bosnia’s legislation into compliance with the acquis communautaire.

This allows the EUSR to serve as a witness and/or referee for Bosnian political negotiations, a role especially important to Bosniak leaders…

That sounds right to me.

For too long we internationals have ended up appearing to care more about Bosnia than the Bosnians do. And our Tough Love has ended up in untransparent (and, worse, ineffective) bossy paternalism.


For Bosnia devotees only.