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«SUMANTRA BOSE A decade on from the Dayton peace settlement, this essay sets out to examine two questions. First, is the consociational and confederal ...»

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The Bosnian State a Decade after Dayton


A decade on from the Dayton peace settlement, this essay sets out to examine two

questions. First, is the consociational and confederal paradigm established by the Dayton

agreement, and subsequently institutionalized, the appropriate framework for the

Bosnian state? It will be suggested that in the circumstances that prevail, this framework

does in fact provide the most feasible and most democratic form of government for Bosnia’s precarious existence as a multi-national state. My second question is inextricably linked to the first: since Bosnia is a state of international design that exists by international design, is this international engagement with state-building and democratization an example, indeed exemplar, of liberal internationalism at its best – or of liberal imperialism at its worst? I will suggest that, though this presence and activity has had many aspects deserving of serious criticism, on balance it has done more good than harm. Bosnian society would clearly have been worse-off without the international community in its midst.

Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities...It is in general a necessary condition for free institutions that the boundaries of government should coincide in the main with those of nationalities.

John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government 1 [State-building in Bosnia] was a watershed experience... Aware of the powers of the High Representative to impose laws and remove obstructive officials, both...Bosnian intellectuals and international observers...

demanded that I extensively use such powers... ‘You have to impose the right solutions’, I heard over and over again. But to my mind ‘imposing’ democracy and civil society seemed a contradiction in terms. However, during the first one-and-a-half years of my mandate I indeed had to act as the most interventionist High Representative ever.

Wolfgang Petritsch, High Representative in BiH, 1999 –20022 Will the Bosnian state wither away, a doomed victim of its foundational and fundamental contradictions? Or will it prove sceptics wrong and turn out to be sustainable after all? A decade ago a straw-poll on the question would have elicited predictably polarized answers, depending on the respondents’ views on several interconnected issues – the historical character of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) as a society and the nature of relations between its three major peoples, the relative importance of external instigation as opposed to internal conflict in the causation of the 1992 – 95 Bosnian war, and the legitimacy and efficacy of inter- national intervention in the most representative and most broken of the former Yugoslavia’s federal units. The debate continues of cour

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somewhat clearer, nonetheless, that the Bosnian state is not about to wither away, if only because its inherent weakness is compensated in part by the resolve of the ‘international community’ that a Bosnian state should survive, and the protracted effort invested by the ‘community’ of powerful states, regional European institutions and multilateral organizations to ensure that survival.

This being the case, I ask two questions in this essay. First, is the consociational and confederal paradigm established by the Dayton agreement, and subsequently institutionalized, the appropriate framework for the Bosnian state?3 The choice of this framework has been the focus of severe criticism and bitter argument, from Bosnians and interested foreigners alike, ever since it came into being. I claim here that this framework does provide, in the rather daunting circumstances that prevail, the most feasible and most democratic form of government for Bosnia’s precarious existence as a multi-national state. With the twin-benefits of some more time and limited rationalizing reform, its construct of layered sovereignties, porous borders and multiple citizenships may prove in the near-term future to be both model and bridge for the larger post-Yugoslav region in south-eastern Europe, and it may also gradually facilitate the conditions that will allow for a less segmented polity to emerge and function within BiH.

My second question is inextricably linked to the first. Bosnia is a state of international design that exists by international design. Is this international engagement with state-building and democratization an example, indeed exemplar, of liberal internationalism at its best – or liberal imperialism at its worst? In assessing this debate, I argue that while the rose-tinted view of a benign liberal internationalism dispensing democracy and human rights is deeply naıve, extra¨ ordinarily uncritical and, in some versions at least, blindly arrogant, its antithesis – the view that this is an essentially malign liberal imperialism at work – is also flawed, exaggerated and tendentious in that it does not take sufficient account of the context of post-war BiH and of some real benefits that have accrued to Bosnians from international presence and activity. This presence and activity has had many aspects deserving of serious criticism but on balance has done more good than harm. Bosnian society would clearly have been worse off without the international community in its midst.

Failed State or Multi-national Democracy?

John Stuart Mill’s pessimism about prospects of democracy in non-homogenous societies is dated. Contemporary scholars typically assert that ‘the possibility of...multiple identities’ – involving complementary loyalties to state and ethno-national community – ‘makes...a multi-national democracy possible’,4 and that multi-national states will merely face somewhat ‘different challenges in democratic transitions’.5 But BiH’s ‘stateness problem’ puts it in a different category from states which have substantially succeeded in democratically accommodating ethno-national difference and conflict, such as Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Spain or India.

According to political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, who coined the 324 INTERNAT IONAL PEACEKEEPING term, ‘a stateness problem may be said to exist when a significant proportion of the population do not accept the territorial boundaries of the state...as a legitimate political unit to which they owe obedience’.6 BiH is a fragment of a failed state, the former Yugoslavia, and itself fragmented violently as a result of the incompatible agendas of national self-determination unleashed by the collapse of the Yugoslav framework.7 Hence, international intervention in BiH after Dayton aimed at nothing less than ‘setting up a state on the basis of little more than the ruins and rivalries of a bitter war’,8 in the words of Carl Bildt, the first international High Representative to supervise the process. That is a challenge of such magnitude that John Stuart Mill might appear prophetic in retrospect.

It has been pointed out that clashing preferences regarding the legitimate boundaries of sovereignty tend to generate ‘the most intractable and bitter political conflicts’.9 The political theorist Robert Dahl argues that ‘we cannot solve the question of the proper domain of sovereignty’ where such disagreement exists over ‘the rightfulness of the unit’, although ‘a crisp, unimpeachable solution...

would be a marvellous achievement of democratic theory and practice’.10

However, Dahl also says that although:

It does not seem possible to arrive at a defensible conclusion about the proper unit of democracy by strictly theoretical reasoning, we are in the domain not of theoretical reasoning but practical judgment... To say that an answer cannot be derived theoretically is not to say that judgments need be arbitrary... We shall need to make complex and debatable empirical and utilitarian judgments... In the face of great empirical complexity...

[we need to] find reasonable answers. The result may well be a complex system with several layers of democratic government, each operating with a somewhat different agenda.11 It was precisely this type of institutional framework that was arrived at in Dayton after a series of ‘complex and debatable empirical and utilitarian judgments’.

The wisdom of that judgment has been the subject of heated debate ever since.

Some critics have forcefully emphasized the double standards inherent in the international community condoning and even sanctioning the partition of Yugoslavia and then insisting that BiH must be kept whole as a showcase of tolerance and coexistence.12 Others have reminded us of a popular saying in the former Yugoslavia, roughly translatable as: ‘Without BiH there can be no Yugoslavia, and without Yugoslavia there can be no BiH.’ For practical purposes, the Dayton settlement ran the risk of satisfying none of the three Bosnian peoples – the Serbs and Croats by denying them the right to either govern themselves in sovereign jurisdictions or to merge with their neighbouring kin-states, the Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniacs) by creating such a decentralized state that it became doubtful whether the ‘state’, even if juridically existent, could have any meaningful empirical reality. As one sceptic noted, ‘BiH is now the only state in the world composed of both a republic and a federation’.13 From its inception this improbable state – or rather the settlement that led to its creation14 – evoked calls for radical revision. One of the most persistent voices 325


for intrusive state-building by the international community with the strategic objective of ‘integrating’ BiH was the International Crisis Group (ICG), a policy advocacy group based in Brussels. The ICG paid lip-service to ‘Dayton’ but in fact advocated strategies and tactics which if implemented would lead to the superseding of the Dayton settlement, whose pillars are group rights and autonomy, by a unitary15 and even centralized state.16 In other words, the ICG’s preferred approach amounted to a radical and subversive critique of the fundamentals of the Dayton state. The ICG agenda had influential Bosnian proponents. The best known is the politician Haris Silajdzic who, while serving ´ as co-chair of the BiH Council of Ministers in January 2000, published a ‘memorandum on change’. This memorandum called for ‘preserving and strengthening all relevant positive elements’ of Dayton but also for ‘some reconstruction’. In fact, the memorandum went on to argue that it had become ‘essential to urgently and radically reconstruct those elements which are non-integrative, ineffective and even partly counterproductive’ (my emphasis). In particular, the memorandum complained that ‘the state institutions of BiH function more like international conferences than organs of state’, and demanded that the international community act to eliminate aspects of the political structure ‘that favour nationally exclusivist political options’. The document also called for steps to ‘bring about rapid, mass returns of refugees and displaced persons’.17 The core motive behind this memorandum – which of course never acquired the infamy of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences’ 1986 declaration in Belgrade – became clear in the autumn of 2000 when Silajdzic’s, Party for BiH ´ (SBiH) campaigned in Bosnian elections on the slogan ‘Bosnia Without Entities’.18 Stripping away the inessentials, the memorandum was at its core a demand for the liquidation of Republika Srpska (RS). The ‘multiethnic’ and apparently ‘civic’ vision of integration in post-war BiH is an attention-seeking device for some sectarian Bosniac political elements who want to appear ‘liberal’ to Westerners – distinguishing them both from ethno-nationalists in their own group and from the incorrigibly nationalist ‘enemy’ group(s) – and the preserve of either naıve or motivated Westerners who do not, and perhaps ¨ do not wish to, understand the historical context and institutional antecedents of the present Bosnian state.

By the late 1990s, the ICG’s reports, while often well researched and informative, had acquired a monotonous, predictable quality, filled with prescriptions for international action that looked like a radical interventionist’s fantasy. In autumn 2001, Wolfgang Petritsch implied the irrelevance of this revisionist perspective when he told a Sarajevo magazine that ‘the Dayton peace agreement is an international, binding agreement. There are no question marks hanging over it.’19 This was just as well, because opinion surveys conducted in 2003 by the UN Development Programme suggested that ‘a state of citizens’ – something close to the ostensibly civic, integrationist formula – was supported by only 52 per cent of Bosniacs, 17 per cent of BiH Croats and 9 per cent of BiH Serbs.20 In other words, this was an idea overwhelmingly rejected by two of the three Bosnian communities, and favoured by barely half of the third (and numerically largest) community. After the failure of the Yugoslav idea and the second 326 INTERNAT IONAL PEACEKEEPING Yugoslav state,21 and the 43 months of bitter violence in BiH that resulted, a unitary state based on a common Bosnian national identity is simply unrealizable, at least for the present and foreseeable future. But it would also be anti-democratic – against the wishes of the vast majority of Bosnians. By late 2003 the ICG effectively closed down its Sarajevo office and shifted its attention to other more current and presumably compelling crisis spots.

The other alternative to the unwieldy Dayton compromise – the partition of BiH into three sovereign ethno-national statelets or the incorporation of the Serb and Croat statelets as units of Serbia-Montenegro and Croatia respectively, leaving a Bosnian Muslim rump state – has largely faded from public view and debate over the past decade. This has happened mostly because it has been clear since Dayton that the international community is unanimous in ruling out partition.

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