How to stop Bosnia and Herzegovina from further deteriorating? Time for a new transatlantic initiative

Teaser Image Caption
Landminengefahr in Bosnien und Herzegowina
September 17, 2010
By Kurt Bassuener and Bodo Weber

Download the entire proceedings as PDF. (11 pages, 94,8 KB)

Executive Summary

On May 20th, 2010, the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation and the Democratization Policy Council organized a policy roundtable in Berlin: “How to stop Bosnia and Herzegovina from further deteriorating? Time for a new transatlantic initiative”. The expert meeting brought together policy makers and analysts from Europe and America, including representatives from international organizations in Bosnia, with their counterparts from Germany.

The aim of this meeting was to determine what international strategy - particularly that of the Peace Implementation Council’s Steering Board - could best confront the downward spiral in the country’s political climate and backsliding on reform, and to develop concrete policy recommendations. Special focus was given to the role of transatlantic relations.

A majority of participants agreed that there is a serious ongoing political crisis in Bosnia-Herzegovina, resulting primarily from the international community’s lack of strategy and paying insufficient attention to the country since 2006.

Many asserted that the international community’s stated aim to “transition” away from its own executive peace implementing institutions in Bosnia, the Office of the High Representative (OHR), and its military counterpart, EUFOR, toward a non-executive “reinforced EUSR” has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end, and that their weakening has reduced international leverage within Bosnia. At the same time, the European Union is struggling to apply its standard integration approach to a country and region where it meets a substantially different reality from previous waves of enlargement. A serious analytical assessment as to whether peace in Bosnia is self-sustaining should be a prerequisite toward changing the international architecture on the ground, a number of participants argued.

Numerous participants expressed concern that Western government representatives have repeatedly demonstrated weakness in addressing Republika Srpska (RS) Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, his divisive nationalist rhetoric, secession threats, and challenging of the authority of international institutions in Bosnia. Many also noted that while the default assumption is that Dodik is invincible in RS politics, policymakers ignore signs of his power base eroding.

Regarding the security situation, a large number of those assembled rebuffed the dominant international assessment that the country’s security situation is stable, drawing attention to the huge grey area between full-fledged war a la 1992-1995 and a lack of violence. The discussion identified a considerable number of security threats, including, a number of violent and contentious interethnic incidents, rise in hate speech, and a consequent rise of fear among citizens – a condition which some fear makes further violent incidents more likely. Participants warned that due to the international community’s willful ignorance (manifest in such decisions as to cease routine EUFOR patrols), there is little reliable information on the security situation in its totality.

Concerning the future policies of the EU and US in Bosnia, numerous participants insisted that while upcoming elections in October leave little space for substantial democratic reforms, international actors can still affect the dynamic to allow for future progress. Reducing the level of ambient uncertainty and fear among citizens prior to the elections through sending strong messages to citizens and elites alike, as well as identifying those politicians blocking reform and EU integration and the costs their policies incur were among the suggested possibilities.

In more general terms, strong EU-US leadership and cooperation toward the strategic goal of Bosnia’s ability to be self-sustaining was considered essential by many participants, as was the need to engage other international players like Russia from a position of unity. The essential nature of US engagement and of Germany in forging an EU consensus was noted by several participants.

The idea of “decoupling” OHR and EUSR generated heated debate among participants, and it clearly has a number of competing interpretations. One participant voiced concern of having “two captains on one boat,” while others raised concerns that such a division of functions could precipitate greater transatlantic friction. The conflict between a peace enforcement role, aimed at defending Dayton and post-Dayton reforms, and an EU integration role, which will require changes to the Dayton construct, was also raised. No consensus was reached, but a widely expressed view was that changes should be undertaken without due consideration to preventing further deterioration in the situation. Most viewed “big bang” solutions as unlikely, and expressed the view that the international commitment to Bosnia would need to remain for the long-term, with an aim of fostering a durable and organic system.

Most speakers stated that substantial constitutional and governance reform had to be the central focus of international policy in Bosnia, and that the EU must play a key role in this long-term process. Several participants insisted the international community must facilitate the reform process in such a way that citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina are engaged in devising a solution that could serve their needs and interests. Others noted positive experience with the municipal level of governance, and reform of the current state structure should take the needs of local government into account.