Thursday, January 06, 2011

Bosnia once again

Reading about the struggle in Bosnia to form a government, Inzko's predictable but unhelpful New Year's speech and the latest spat between Inzko and Dodik I will once again try to explain how the Netherlands evolved.

A century ago the Netherlands was strongly divided. You had fire and brimstone protestant preachers for whom the Pope was the devil himself. You had the Catholics who lived completely in their own world, showed slavish obeyance to the local priest and saw the outer world with fear. And you had the Socialists with their atheism and revolutionary zeal who looked down on those superstituous believers who were not capable of thinking on their own. Of course not everyone was a fanatic - just as in Bosnia not everyone is a nationalist - but when threatened the ranks tended to close.

We did not solve this by having some foreigner tell our preachers and priests that they should stop their inflamatory speaches. On the contrary, we adopted a system that we called "autonomy in the own sphere". And so - while the government provided neutral schools - every religion was allowed to establish its own schools and use its own educational methods. There were separate protestant, catholic and socialist trade unions, savings banks, sport clubs and many other organizations.

Did this strengthen the conflicts? No! On the contrary, by giving everybody what he wanted we more or less neutralized the conflicts. Nowadays religion hardly plays a role in the Netherlands. We still have many organisations and institutions that are in name Protestant or Catholic but often it is nearly meaningless and many of its customers don't share that religion.

The secret? The problem is not those extremist politicians and preachers. You have extremists and crazy people in every society. They only become a problem when the rest of their group starts to believe that they have a point.

The worldwide standard solution for minorities is remarkable similar to the solution we used in the Netherlands, but for some mysterious reason the West has decided that it should not be applied in the case of Bosnia.

In my opinion there is only one workable solution for Bosnia: a separate Croat entity. That way religion can stop to be a major theme and be replaced by more mundane things like corruption and the economy.

Might this lead to the breakup of Bosnia? Yes, it could. But in the long term Bosnia can only stay together when all its inhabitants want it. And the longer we wait with self determination and keep the conflict up the greater the risk that Bosnia actually will fall apart.

I can understand that some people still are nostalgic for Tito's solution of totally ignoring ethnic conflicts. But that won't work in an open democratic society.

It should also be noted that there is a big difference between autonomy on basis of religion and one on basis of language. The latter can lead to groups growing apart because they no longer understand each other's language.

Finally one note on language. All Bosnians speak more or less the same language but details do matter. Bosnia has now standardized as "Bosnian" a dialect that tries to distinguish Bosnia as much as possible from its neighbors. This is discriminating towards it Serbs and Croats. I believe it would be much better to chose something in between, like good old Serbo-Croatian, as a standard. That would also make it much more attractive to have mized schools. It would be a good start when it would become possible to start such schools.


iko said...

No one is nostalgic for Tito's Yugoslavia except perhaps for the Serbs as they held sway at every level of the government; army, party, banking, administration, police and foreign postings. What Bosnians are nostalgic for is peace in their time. Your analogy with the Netherland's resolution to inter religious conflict is not valid, the circumstances are far more complex. Consider your assessment in the light of Germany working to destabilize Limberg and Gelderland while Belgium through Antwerp becomes an active presence in Zeeland and North Brabant whilst the French reinstate their presence in the coastal regions.
It is not about religion, BiH had managed to develop parallel institutions for religious observance nor is it about language, nor what headgear the peasants wear, it is more grubby than that- it is about borders and land claim.
Netherlands attempted neutrality unsuccessfully, as it now knows that it is at the mercy of the support of others to defend itself from its neighbours far and wide. What would be your tolerance for a land distribution to your eastern and southern neighbors allowing a core part of Netherlands to remain in a symbolic state of unity? What price is your pride in your collective history and right to move forward in a way that continues to allow for coexistence of those members of your community that may appear different to you?
Your comments re Yugoslavia suggest a sympathy for the view that BiH exits as a Yugoslav construct- such is not nor ever was the case.

Wim Roffel said...

Iko, when I look at how the Serbs and Croats in Bosnia vote there and what their politicians do I can only conclude that many of them do believe that Bosnia's Muslims had become too overbearing and it was and is necessary to protect their community. Sure, they got support from Serbia and Croatia but those countries were not the origin of Bosnia's internal conflicts.

Religion as an ethnic construct is never about observance. It is always about power and discrimination. Go to Northern Ireland and look around. You will never find most of those Protestant and Catholic extremists in church. Yet they feel very strongly about their group being disadvantaged.

And yes, BiH is a historical construct. It is the part of the Serbo-Croat language area that stayed longest under Ottoman control.

At the beginning you state that "Bosnians are nostalgic for peace". Yet in the end you state that "What price is your pride in your collective history". Do you realize that the latter statement is a call for war?

iko said...

Wim, linking voting trends to conclusions of ‘overbearing’ Bos Moslem politicians and by association the general Bos Moslem population is a non sequitur. There may be, if you begin to look further, many other far more plausible interpretations. The term ‘overbearing’ is in itself more revealing of your sympathies than your critical assessment of the sad mess that Bosnia continues to slide into, particularly when you compare statements coming from RS and some of the now dismissed office-holders from ‘Herceg-Bosnia’.

There are distinct differences with Ireland and Bosnia, not so much with the historical interference of a neighbouring country in local affairs but more so in the tolerance of religious expression and intermarriage; in the latter there is a long history of such whereas in the former there are invisible but irrevocable demarcation lines. Observance is not merely superficial and begrudging acknowledgment it is one that means respect and tolerance. I suggest you visit BiH sometime in December for the Catholic Xmas or January for the Orthodox Xmas or later for Ramadan or bajrum and see what happens, even now when the horrors of the 1990’s still linger in memory and in everyday physical evidence. One term I think you’ll use less casually is ‘overbearing’.

I won’t begin to counter or rather dismiss your comment that BiH fate was all of its own making and that its neighbours mainly to the east were innocent bystanders as many far more patient than I have written extensively on this topic.

Cherry picking phrases out of context is again indicative of working to a closed agenda when you read. The questions I was asking were to you who seem quick to parade religious differences resolution through a policy of ‘ignore it and it will go away’. It was to see whether you would be swayed to support exclusively one part of your community over another if tensions dictated that such must be the case or would you be willing to speak out and defend the principles of coexistence or multiculturalism or human rights of free expression? Bosnians did and still suffer the consequences of such a belief yet still have as their fundamental policy that such a belief is still worth keeping. The operative terms used were ‘collective’ ‘coexistence’ the linking thread is ‘peace’ so to extrapolate ‘call to war ‘ reveals more of your bias.