Sunday, November 04, 2007

What Lajčák is doing wrong in Bosnia

On 25 april 2006 a proposed reform of the Bosnian constitution did not reach the required 2/3 majority. Most votes against came from the SBiH led by Silajdžić.

Silajdžić was one of the negotiators at Dayton and his signature is under the treaty. Yet he does not recognize the treaty and he says that he only signed it to prevent further killing. He compares it to signing with a gun at your head. According to his view Bosnia's constitution of 1992 is still valid. This has given him the freedom to call for the immediate abolishment of the Serb Republic and to denounce it as a product of ethnic cleansing.

Signing the new constitution would have meant that he committed himself to a constitution that recognises the Serb Republic and most of Dayton. He could still call for the abolition of the RS, but he would have committed himself to rules that make it very improbable to happen. (I attended a meeting of his supporters before the vote: the most heard complaint was that they didn't get enough back in exchange for giving up their rejection of Dayton.) After torpedoing the new constition Silajdzic has increased his rethorics against the RS and won the next elections on that theme.

The attitude of the international community to the rejection of the new constitution was amazing. There was only some soft protest and after that it became silent. Given that Silajdzic is well connected in international diplomatic circles one wonders whether some diplomats condoned or even encouraged his sabotage. The open way in which Silajdzic rejects Dayton would have never been accepted from a Serb leader.

But what I find most problematic are Silajdzic' claims that the RS is the product of ethnic cleansing. This has become a "political correct" way to utter a blatantly racist message. The implicit message (and sometimes Silajdzic has been quite explicit about it) is that all Serbs are ethnic cleansers and murderers and that as such they don't deserve equal treatment and minority rights.

Now Lajčák is rewarding Silajdzic for his obstructionist behaviour. He is going to impose reforms that weaken the Serb position without asking anything from the Muslim side in return.

Parliamentary veto rights
There are two different ways to guarantee minority rights. One is assigning autonomous areas like the Serb Republic. The other is veto rights, like the double majority requirement (the Badinter principle) that guarantees the rights of Macedonia's Albanians.

The rule that Lajčák now abolishes is a very weak version of the Badinter principle. It had been introduced to seduce the Serb Republic to cede some competences to the central government.

Lajčák now claims that exercising these rights amounts to obstruction. But higher houses like the senate in the US and the House of Lords in the UK and the fillibuster represent the same principle: they give minorities the right to block a decision. This makes negotiation necessary but that is part of the political game. That this does not work in Bosnia would rather suggest a lack of willingness to compromise and that comes to a large extent from the Muslim side.

Lajčák claims that he wants to normalise the situation in Bosnia. But he seems not to realise that Silajdžić's rejection of Dayton is hanging as a huge black cloud over Bosnia and that normalisation is not possible as long as it stays there.

Bonn powers
In 1997 the Western countries gave Bosnia's High Representative the "Bonn powers". These were meant to help him overcome obstruction. They have mainly been used to fire some majors who blocked refugee returns.

Now Lajcak is using these powers in a completely different way. The possibility to block decisions with the quorum rule was given to the Serbs by the international community and so one can hardly blame them for using it. If Lajcak believes that the Serbs abused this possibility - and that it was not Muslim stubbornness to compromise that caused them to do so - he should have built a case first - for example by denouncing individual laws that were blocked this way.

The Bonn powers were meant to be used against a few "bad apples". By using it against the Serb community as a whole Lajcak takes a dangerous step. It will certainly not help Bosnia's democracy.

Another strange aspect of Lajcak's ruling is the overkill. His predecssors imposed very specific measures. They might fire some majors but they didn't change the way majors were appointed. Lajcak is doing the opposite: he could have imposed those disputed laws (like the police reform), but he chose to use those specific complaints to change some very fundamental rules.

Christian Schwarz-Schilling
Lajcak's precessor Christian Schwarz-Schilling is often blamed for being too lax. But he nearly achieved a new constitution that would have done much to normalize the situation in Bosnia. With more international support he might well have achieved it.

But it looks like some Western diplomats don't like it when ethnic conflicts are solved the way they should be: with compromises and small steps that - when successful - create trust for the next step. They prefer to have good guys to support and bad guys to pummel.

With Lajcak this type of diplomat is back in charge and they may well push Bosnia again in the abyss, just as they did in the early 1990s when they at several stages encouraged Bosnia's Muslims not to sign compromises but instead to hold out for something better.

The ethnic balance
Ethnic relations are based on trust. Outside interventions that favor one side above the other can easily destroy that trust. On the losing side it generates a lot of distrust, while on the winning side it gives ultra-nationalists a feeling of invincibility that easily leads to racism and ethnic cleansing.

Bosnia lost that inter-ethnic trust with the Wests rashed recognition and refound it with Dayton. Now Lajcak is out to destroy that trust again with possible disastrous consequences. We should not let this happen.

The role of the USA
In recent years the visible American role in Bosnia had been rather minor. But while European diplomats have generaly reacted rather puzzled to the recent crisis the Americans have reacted resolutely in support of Lajcak's measures. In a short time we saw supporting statements for Lajcak from the US ambassadors in Bosnia and Serbia, Gregorian and several State Department officials. At the same the ambassador in Serbia attacked the RS for separatism and a Soros funded foundation lanced a rabid attack on the Serb psychiatric system.

See also the rather misleading statements by Lajcak's deputy - the American Raffi Gregorian - for the US Helsinki commission. Gregorian is acting here as if the US government is his second boss: it would be unthinkable to see Lajcak before a Slovene parliament commission.

This all makes me believe that this is a well orchestrated campaign of some American diplomats with Lajcak and Silajdzic to change the balance of power in Bosnia once and for all.

My expectation how this will play out is as follows:
- Lajcak will continue to ignore all criticism and questions about the effects of his actions on Bosnia's ethnic balance. Instead he will adopt a "presidential" attitude and repeat that he is acting in the interest of Bosnia's integration into the EU. This is a man who just like Ahtisaari has sold his soul in exchange for an international carreer.
Lajcak's ultimatum ends on 1 december. Bosnia's Serbs have anounced to withdraw from parliament if he imposes his decisions. Lajcak will not budge.
- the American diplomats (Gregorian, English, Burns, etc.) will continue to act as the attack dogs. They will interpret any criticism of Lacjak as an attack against the international community and criticize any Serb move as another manifestation of their evil nationalism.
US policies are very much driven by interest groups and my guess would be that there is some oil money behind this policy.
- The big question is what Europe will do. American Balkan policies typically consist of a lot of propaganda and pressure after which it lets Europe do the irreversible steps. We saw this with the recognition of Slovenia and Croatia and the Badinter commission. The recognition of Kosovo will probably be played in the same way. For the moment Europe is just confused about what is happening in Bosnia. But when Lajcak keeps seeking the confrontation they will have to chose sides at some time.

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