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Bosnia: What Is To Be Done?

By Morton Abramowitz and Daniel Serwer

Bosnia is stuck. Its Bosniak Muslim leader, Haris Silajzic, stridently calls for abolition of the Serb entity (Republika Srpska), whose prime minister, Milorad Dodik, wants increased autonomy and threatens a referendum on independence.

By taking extreme positions, Dodik and Silajdzic polarize voters, frightening most Serbs and many Muslims into lending their support. The Dayton Constitution's ethnic veto provisions allow each to block the rival's policies. Neither has the votes needed to amend the Constitution, which ensures Republika Srpska a large measure of autonomy but also requires that the Serbs participate in the central government. Deadlock obstructs much-needed constitutional change.

Politics is "war by other means" for both leaders, with a risk that the situation could degenerate into instability and even renewed violence.

The Europeans, to whom Washington has passed responsibility for the Balkans, have been unsuccessful in using their leverage to end the bickering between Silajdzic and Dodik. It doesn't help that the EU's growing membership renders consensus-building difficult. This has contributed to the erosion of the powers and influence of the international community's "High Representative," also the EU Special Representative. A new one due to be named soon will fail unless something is done to strengthen his position.

The closest Bosnia has come to constitutional reform was an effort in 2005-6 led by the U.S. Institute of Peace. The proposed constitutional amendments came within two votes of a two-thirds majority in the Bosnian parliament, in which Silajdzic's party--despite participating in preparation of the package--voted against.

Ideally, the Bosnians themselves would undertake to amend their own constitution, which fails to measure up to European standards, according to the Council of Europe. But they are more interested in political posturing and cosmetic changes than in trying to Europeanize their government structures.

The international effort to promote constitutional reform needs to be revived, this time with European leverage and American resolve. As a start, the EU and the US should declare that the present constitutional situation in Bosnia is unacceptable and must be changed. If that produces no results, the Dayton conference should be reconvened, with all its original participants: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and its two entities (Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation) as well as the EU, UK, France, Germany and Russia. After consultations with all participants, the U.S. and the EU would prepare a draft new constitution that meets European standards.

The EU would make potential Bosnian membership contingent on agreed constitutional change. Conditional EU membership is the single greatest point of leverage for stimulating productive change in Bosnia.

Croatia, which has substantially advanced towards EU membership, can help pull Bosnia in the right direction. Serbia, which has sometimes encouraged Dodik's posturing, would be put on notice that a successful conference is a condition for its own progress towards the EU.

Such a conference could only be called if the parameters were clear: no partition of Bosnia would be permitted. Only its internal governing arrangements, specifically the ethnic veto provisions, would be at issue, with the goal of meeting the Council of Europe requirements. Other Balkan issues--in particular Kosovo--would be left aside, as at the original Dayton conference.

This Dayton II would remain in session until solutions are reached. Once the conference had concluded, the required constitutional amendments and any implementing legislation would be submitted to the Bosnian Parliament for approval. The parliaments of Republika Srpska and the Federation would also have to approve any required amendments to their constitutions.

Granted, an effort of this sort faces serious risks of failure, both at the conference itself and in the legislative moves required thereafter. But continuing to allow Bosnia to drift entails greater risks. The last war in Bosnia displaced half of its four million people and cost the Americans and Europeans tens of billions of dollars to repair.

Success of another Dayton would mean an end to the long-running international intervention in Bosnia and to the powers exercised by the High Representative. EU forces would be gradually removed. Bosnia would be on the path to EU membership, hopefully following close on the heels of Croatia, which is already a candidate. Serbia would have an opportunity to accelerate its progress towards the EU, which has been lagging. In the end, only the promise of EU accession will end the deep-seated nationalist frictions among Balkan countries.

Dayton ended a war but did not create a durable state. Fourteen years of trying to implement the Dayton agreements has not produced a Bosnia worthy of EU membership. If President Obama and EU leaders believe that "aggressive diplomacy" can be used to prevent conflict and build a state, Bosnia would be a good place to start. Its membership in the EU would a fine place to finish.

Comments (6)


Please don't add to confusion with over simplified attempts to "explain" what's going on in Bosnia.
We, Bosnians,appreciate your concern and attempt to "help" but please leave us alone. We got enough of your "expert" opinions.We are sick and tired and almost strangled to death by your "friendly" advices.
So called International Community,UN,EU,USA had had chance to help Bosnia,to stop agression and genocide between 1992-1995. They didn't. Instead in Dayton in 1995 at something called peace conference they gave us piece of garbage and another apartheid system


And yet again you fail to see the reality. There will never be a so called Bosnian state. Too much blood has been spilled.Thru centuries. And, as you mentioned Kosovo briefly, it is an integral part of the problem which arose with the unlawful NATO bombing in 1999. The West hasn't achieved democracy there even after 10 years and has also failed in Bosnia. The West has lost all credibility in the Balkans long time ago. Try to understand, you can't force nobody to live together if they don't want to. Why hasn't the West tried that with the Serbian government and the Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija? Why does the West try so much in Bosnia? What is the difference?

Ibrahim Halilovic:

In Dayton in 1995. there was suspended the legal Constitutional Act of the Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnia/Herzegovina state territory was divided. It was a unacceptable violence against Republika Bosnia and Herzegovina's Constitutional act that is done by domestic politicians under international community umbrella (USA at first place!) Bosnian Serbs whose paramilitary and militia committed genocide and many other war crimes were awarded by Republika Srpska.It means that genocide and war crimes are worthwhile.

The Dayton's Peace Agreement Annex IV is considered as Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional Act. But, it has never been translated to Bosnian, Croatian and Serb's language (sic!) and has never been accepted in the B/H Par lament so that this document is not valid. It is illegal.

I think that B/H does not need a Annex IV reparation or improvement because this goal could not be achieved regarding the current politicians in power who are corrupted and like to have own states into B/H states.

I think that international community should interfere asking to return the Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional act that was suspended in Dayton.

This document is a good foundation to establish Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina as a modern European state.

If it happens, there will be erased the results of the genocide war crimes and it will be a good signal that genocide and war crimes are not worthwhile.

If the reality achieved by genocide and war crimes reminds, there will always be a place for new confrontations. It will be a bad signal to the peoples around who will take possibility to commit war crimes and genocide.

EU and USA could help B/H to become a normal state only if they insist to return to Constitutional Act that was valid before aggression and genocide. Going this way will be corrected many mistakes they committed in the past regarding Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina.


how you comment fact to Republik Srpska is created on genocide and war crime, how you comment fact there is no citizen in present constitution, we can only be serbs,croats or bosniak .... like in constitution in ex state!


It is dead wrong to believe that prospects of EU accession will lure Bosnian Serbs to give away their entity or their veto powers. Serbs were and are scared of being dominated by muslim and Croat votes. The amendment No.70 of the Bosnian constitution from 1991 was introduced exactly to prevent two ethnic groups imposing their will over the third. Breaching of that provision by muslims and Croats caused Serbs to withdraw from Bosnian bodies in late 1991 which set Bosnia on the road to conflict. In Lisbon in the start of 1992, all three sides agreed-Serbs accepted what was inconceivable for them (that Bosnia will leave Yugoslavia) and muslims accepted what was until then not acceptable (internal decentralization of bosnia into ethnic entities). Lisboa agreement could have prevented the war. It was muslim withdrawal from the agreement that pushed all sides into an armed conflict. The first "sparks" that created horrors of civil war were massacres of Serbs in Sijekovac, NW Bosnia, in Kupres (SW Bosnia) which were commited by regular troops of Republic of Croatia. Because of the alliance between muslims and Croats, Serbs thought that the old alliance from WW2 is back on track, though most muslims were not at all interested in fighting the Serbs in the beggining. After a muslim criminal closely associated to Alija Izetbegovic had killed a person and wounded another one in a Serbian wedding in Sarajevo, only because there were Serbian flags at the wedding - Sarajevo Serbs erected barricades in Sarajevo. Muslims and Croats followed. Land grab started soon, with Serbian cruel campaign in eastern Bosnia that was matched soon by muslim actions around Srebrenica. Serbs were eradicated from some parts of Sarajevo like Pofalici. The war errupted in all its terror. So, the creation of Republic of Srpska was the result of muslim - croat breech of both Bosnian Constitution and Lisboa agreement. Abolition of Srpska on the grounds that it was created by ethnic cleansing (what about Croatia, Kosovo, and even Sarajevo and Mostar then - Serbs were eradicated from there) fails to answer the first question - why muslims and Croats breached Serbian rights in 1991 and 1992?

Nerina Cevra:

I wholeheartedly support the many comments above. Thank you Mr. Abramowitz for your and everyone else's seemingly relentless pursuit of the "best solution" for Bosnia. It is now time for you to look inwards, to do some self-reflection and recognize how wrong your approach is?
WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE?!?!?! I ask. What about the people? As someone above commented, in 1995, nobody asked the people what they thought about the Dayton constitution. And again, 15 years later, what are you doing - looking once again for solutions with the politicians, NOT the people. It is necessary that the US and the "international community" understands that ALL Bosnians have a stake in making the constitution and their country best it can be. Not Croatia, not the EU, not Serbia, the Bosnian PEOPLE!!!!
So, instead of taking the future of the country back to Dayton to massacre it, like you did in 1995, bring it to the people of Bosnia, and engage them meaningfully directly, in the making of the new social contract between the Bosnian people and the Bosnian government.
It seems to me Mr. Abramowitz that
1)you shouldn't call yourself an expert, your proposed solution would only perpetuate the status quo and leave the Bosnian people in the same limbo they've been in since the war, and

2)you need to start getting into the 21st century - participatory constitutional reform is the only way to truly give the people the voice to claim their country.

So, stop talking FOR the people and start talking TO the people. Elitist attitudes have no place in the discourse on the creation of a new social identity, a key aspect of constitutional reforms, and so urgently needed in Bosnia.
We have experts, we have voices and we have the power to make the future of BiH better and the constitutional reforms are a great way to show that. All we need is access, accountability, and responsibility and commitment, and we will thrive, we will take the lead in molding a new way of life in our country.
If you can't do that, please choose a different area of "expertise." Maybe Richard Holbrook could offer you an alternative....

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