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Friday, 25 May 2018

Bosnia and Herzegovina: What’s happening now… and what’s next?

On 23 May 2018, SEESOX hosted Valentin Inzko (High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina). Discussants were Richard Caplan (Linacre College) and Jessie Hronesova (Aktis Strategy Ltd), with David Madden (St Antony’s College) chairing.

Inzko discussed the past and the future of the country, focusing on the role of international actors in Bosnia, their past achievements and future potential, and the pervasive role of corruption, captured institutions, civil society, the poor economy and the rise of extremism in the country.

Aiming to draw lessons for other contexts, Inzko reviewed the main obstacles international actors have dealt with in Bosnia both during his time in office (since 2009) and before, stressing particularly the lack of political will among the incumbent political elites to implement reforms, and the state of the rule of law, of reconciliation and of the economy. He stressed the unprecedented progress made in the first post-war years and the achievements of the office under Paddy Ashdown, implementing most of the state-building reforms by 2006 (e.g. one army, judiciary, tax system, flag&anthem). Despite the limitations of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which created a very complex and cumbersome state, the first ten years provided hope. However, the following period had only demonstrated the extent of the frozen conflict in the country and how ”local ownership” in Bosnia had mutated into state capture. Despite the vast amount of external support and funding, the peace that exists in Bosnia is far from secure and entrenched – instead, Bosnia remains a socially fractured state where the achievement of long-term societal peace may take generations. Encouraging more pro-active external policies, he stressed that it would be a mistake to take peace in Bosnia as a given; instead it needed to be used as a basis for development. He felt the need for the international community to be more robust and prescriptive in its approach, in order better to monitor external activities and the wide range of actors present in the country. His scepticism towards the philosophy of local ownership was evident from his stress on the need to introduce international standards that would instil in local populations some general rules and principles to follow. Whilst painting a rather bleak picture of Bosnia today, he maintained that it had great potential based on its human resources and its cultural richness. When asked about the one key thing he would like to place most emphasis on, he re-emphasized the need for effective rule of law. He concluded, saying that most progress in Bosnia stopped in 2006 but that peace has so far been successfully preserved, which should be treated as a great victory.

Hronesova stressed that there have been many sound analyses of the Bosnian conundrum but too few solutions. She suggested that there is a need to change the approach of international actors in Bosnia through three key principles:

1. Inclusiveness for non-elite gatekeepers in key decision-making processes, as local solutions are rarely adopted beyond urban and elite stakeholders;

2. Partnership with local counterparts and their treatment as equal partners, rather than subordinate and second-class actors, who are then prone to seek alliances with other actors such as Russia and Turkey;

3. Coordination of international community efforts, to avoid duplication and wasted potential in programming that only increases frustration among local stakeholders.

She further listed some of the key weaknesses in Bosnian governance, drawing particular attention to the over 90 decisions of the Constitutional Court that had been ignored, the cumbersome procedures for setting up business (some of the worst in the world) and the fragmented state of civil society. She concurred with the previous analysis that local political actors had limited incentives to change the current system; while few external analysts believed that Milorad Dodik, Bakir Izetbegovic and Dragan Covic were ideological nationalists, most believed that their only ideology was self-enrichment and self-glorification.

Caplan discussed the Bosnian case from a comparative perspective, noting that the country was a hard case for peacebuilding from the start. All evidence suggests that it is easier to establish peace - in both the negative and positive sense - when there is an outright military victory; in negotiated peace settlements as in Bosnia, ”conflict recidivism” was more common. Due to the internal, regional and complex nature of the conflict, he contested the idea that the German model of reconciliation with the French could have been followed in Bosnia. However, despite the complexity of the Bosnian case, peace had so far been maintained; this was not a small thing.

However, he agreed that progress in the past ten years had been poor and disheartening, especially for the younger population, who had been voting with their feet. While vested interests of elites are common in post-war states, it is rare to see them so entrenched as in the case of Bosnia. He asked how a constituency for change could be created, and how incentives could be set that would mobilize the public and the political elites to change; he asked whether a European perspective was sufficient to effect reform.

While most of the discussion about Bosnia’s present and future offered only little hope that the current political stalemate could be resolved soon, he summarized the challenge of supporting Bosnia on its democratic path, by recalling that Bosnia was a tricky case.

Jessie Hronesova (Aktis Strategy Ltd)

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