Bosnia: Exit the Doctor

Here’s the short version. Bosnia has this thing called a “High Representative”. The High Rep is not a Bosnian. He’s a European charged with overseeing implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (the 1995 treaty that has kept the various Bosnian groups from each others’ throats), and also with “representing the international community” in Bosnia.

The High Rep is much more than a diplomat. He’s really more like a colonial governor. He can pass laws and fire Bosnian politicians. If he flexes his muscles, he’s really the final authority in the country. You might think this is strange in what’s nominally a sovereign European state, but Bosnia is a strange place.

For four years, 2002-6, the High Rep was a British fellow named Paddy Ashdown. Paddy took his job seriously and did not hesitate to use his powers. He didn’t like nationalist politicians and he wanted Bosnia to act like a real country. So he banged some heads and stepped on a lot of toes.

Many, both in Bosnia and in the international community, did not like this. Paddy was accused of being an old-fashioned imperialist, high-handed, divisive. Furthermore, said many, he was stunting the political growth of the Bosnian state. As long as Paddy was there to twist arms, the Bosnians would never learn to solve their own problems.

So when Paddy left, the job was given to an elderly, mild-mannered German politician, Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling. Dr. Schwarz-Schilling made it clear in advance that he did not plan to use the powers of the High Rep’s office. In fact, he saw his job as overseeing the position’s liquidation. He “didn’t believe in colonialism for Bosnia,” said the good Doctor. The High Rep’s office would gradually ramp down, aiming for a complete shutdown within a year or two. The Bosnians would assume responsibility for their own destiny. Polite clapping all around.

That was a year ago.
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Elections in Serbia: Oh, Well

So Serbia had parliamentary elections yesterday.

Short version: could have been better, could have been much worse. There will be a new government, but probably not much will change.

A bit more below the flip.
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Tinderbox

Spark?

A missile fired from a hand-held launcher damaged a mosque in the southern Bosnian town of Mostar on Tuesday just before worshippers were due to gather for a pre-dawn Ramadan meal, officials said.

The mosque is in the Jasenica area, a Croat-majority suburb of the town which is split evenly between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. It was built last year on the ruins of an Islamic building destroyed in the fighting in 1993-1994 between the two groups.

The missile was fired from a “Zolja” hand-held grenade launcher at around 4:30 a.m. (0230 GMT), local police said. Nobody was hurt.

Wow, was I wrong

It’s just three weeks since I wrote this entry about the prospects for EU expansion in the Western Balkans. And in that short time, several of my predictions have been proven wrong.

— Croatia’s has been allowed to start negotiations for candidacy.

— Serbia has been allowed to start negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Pact.

— And, most unexpectedly of all, Bosnia has also been allowed to start SAA negotiations.

I titled that entry “Slowed or Stalled?” It turns out the answer was, “Neither! Damn the torpedoes, and full speed ahead!”
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Slowed or stalled?

Taking a break from the German elections, I ran across this recent article over at Radio Free Europe. Short version: EU accession for the Western Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia and Albania) is stalling.

All of these five states would like to be part of the EU, but — with the partial exception of Croatia — none of them are particularly welcome. The EU appears to be going through a period of “accession fatigue” in general. The “No” votes in France and the Netherlands, though not directed specifically at these countries, have definitely created an atmosphere of doubt and uncertainty.

Furthermore, many of the countries of the Western Balkans are — there’s no way to be polite about this — unpopular. A recent Eurobarometer poll shows that more people oppose membership for Bosnia (43%) than support it. Only 40% of Europeans support EU membership for Serbia, while 44% oppose it. And for Albania, those numbers are a depressing 36% for, 50% against.

Obviously this could change over time. Again with the exception of Croatia, all of these countries are at least a decade away from membership. So opinions might shift. Still, the poll numbers suggest that there’s not much popular support within the EU for even starting the process.

Looking at the potential members one by one, below the flip.
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Venice Commission on Bosnia-Herzegovina

Teekay was looking forward to the Venice Commission’s report on Bosnia-Herzegovina last week. (The Venice Commission, for those of you who don’t lie awake at nights in excited anticipation of its next publication, is the constitutional reform advisory body of the Council of Europe, which in turn is not to be condused with the European Council.)

Well, the report’s out – not yet on their website but they’ve sent me a copy. It’s not as radical as some in Bosnia-Herzegovina might have liked, but given the Venice Commission’s normally relatively anodyne pronouncements it’s pretty strong stuff.
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