It was a big disappointment for many Western leaders. American diplomats and the European Venice Commission had put a lot of effort in uniting the Bosnian political parties. And then rejection by radical parties on all sides made it miss the quorum.
Some commentators are nostalgic for Ashdown who would have pushed the Bosnians until they did what he wanted. But others note that any reform will only work if the people really want it.
Some arguments for reform are valid: Bosnia needs for example a ministry of Agriculture if it wants to receive EU subsidies. But I find the argument about too many officials always a bit risky: there are more reasons for that than Dayton.
But changing a constitution is a dangerous process. It provokes radicals from all sides who believe that the fight for control is open again. And so we see Serb radicals who want to block every centralisation and Bosniac radicals who see their chance to attack the RS.
The Bosniac argument is rather tricky. They deny the legality of the Dayton agreements as a constitution for Bosnia because it didn't follow all the procedures for constitutional change. And they see the reform as some cosmetic improvements that would force them to accept something very similar to Dayton - including the hated Republika Srpska. By rejecting Dayton they reject the very basis for a dialogue. They know that a second and a third phase of reform are planned but they don't trust that it will really happen.
Bosnia's independence was not a product of Bosnian nationalism but a product of Muslim nationalism. It's core document was the Islamic Declaration by Izetbegovic that promoted the traditional Muslim beliefs about Islamic states. And allthough it didn't stress that point most Bosnians knows their Ottoman history and are well aware of the inferior "dhimmi" status of the Christians in that period.
It is not that Bosnia was in danger of becoming fundamentalist. The secular tradition is strong enough. But the document provided an ideological basis for Bosnia's Muslim elite to aim for independence.
The danger is for the other ethnic groups to become second rate citizens who are discriminated against on the labor market and elsewhere. A Croatian party that voted against the reform mentioned discrimination as their main reason.
It is very seductive for a nationalist party that gains control and independence to follow a policy that pushes the other ethnic groups out. Croatia could not resist this tendency: that was a major reason for its war. In Bosnia with its bloody past one sees tendencies to follow a similar path.
Dayton was meant to be a guarantee against such discrimination. The entities as a territorial solution it is a clumsy solution for a mixed population. But for the moment it is the best there is. The canton model as proposed before the war already looks a lot better. So it would be logical to decentralise to the district level so that the entities become more or less superfluous.
The road from here seems clear to me. Each of the ethnic groups should work on improving the situation in the territory under their control. And as that procedes trust will increase and the ethnic borders become less important. The question is whether all groups want to do this.
As I argued before in a previous post, the basis for minority rights is respect. That is the reason why discriminated minorities want their own institutions. Even if these institutions are inefficient and corrupt they form a better basis for emancipation than plain integration. There is a lot of conflict between those institutions. But I think that we should see those conflicts are a reflection of the general distrust between the communities. So the solution is not to impose a unitary structure where one side has all the power, but a tedious process of dialogue where the differences are worked out into a solution that is acceptable for all.
In the beginning the Serbs were the most recalcitrant. But more and more the Muslims are taking over. We see a continuing propaganda that tries to assign a kind of collective guilt to the Serbs and the Croats. The does not bode well for the future. You cannot have a fruitful dialogue when you use the word "genocide" in every other sentence.
There was a war and many Serbs and Croats committed war crimes. But Bosniacs committed war crimes too. And from all populations most people are innocent.
In my opinion the West should give the Bosniacs an ultimatum: if they don't stop this propaganda and don't accept the Serbs and Croats as equal citizens there is no common future for Bosnia and the West will support partition. It is impossible to have a real democracy where half the population consists of second class citizens.
At the moment there is still some ethnic balance in Bosnia. But the Muslim population is growing faster than the others. And discrimination and propaganda is driving Croats and Serbs away. Some publications already estimate the Muslims above 50%. The CIA World Fact Book has an estimate of 48%. Whatever the real figure, it is clear that guarantees for the Serbs and Croats will become even more important in the future.
It is also interesting to note that opinion polls show that the Bosniac population generally supports the reforms while the Serbs and Croats have more reservations. Yet with the politicians it was exactly opposite: the largest group of opposing politicians were Bosniacs. This suggests that - in contrast to what the international community often wants to believe - it is the Bosniac politicians who play the most active role inciting ethnic polarisation, while the Serb and Croat give a moderate version of what their voters believe. If the international community wants to reverse the ethnic polarisation in Bosnia it definitely should pay more attention to the Bosniac politicians.