Bosnia tensions grow ahead of Balkan summit

Mostar bridge Bosnia.jpg

Officials from Bosnia and Herzegovina have traded accusations with representatives of the international community, who have been helping to manage the country since the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. The development came just days ahead of a Western Balkans summit in Sarajevo on 2 June, intended to reaffirm the region's EU membership prospects.

Bosnian Prime Minister Nikola Spiric has written to the UN accusing the international community's envoy of destabilising his country, the local press reported on 23 May.

Spiric urged United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to remove the international community's high representative in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, who has the power to pass laws and sack officials in the country's two semi-autonomous entities, AFP reported.

"Continuing foreign intervention in local political issues is destabilising and undermines the creation of a consensus […] as well as reform efforts," the Bosnian Serb leader is quoted as saying.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) "should be closed in order to enable Bosnian political leaders to achieve legitimate progress," he said, saying that Inzko, an Austian diplomat, was "contributing to non-functional governance in Bosnia".

In return, Inzko blamed leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina for what he called a "deterioration" of political dialogue.

"While regional prospects for reconciliation have improved, the language and logic of politics inside Bosnia and Herzegovina appears to have rather deteriorated," Inzko told the United Nations Security Council on 24 May.

The international community representative was presenting to the Security Council the thirty-seventh report on Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) following the Dayton Agreement, covering the period 1 November 2009 to 30 April 2010.

In domestic affairs, "Bosnia and Herzegovina remains afflicted by a lack of a basic – and fundamental – consensus about what sort of country it should be, or could be," Inzko said.

BiH did not know whether it wished to be a more centralised state or a decentralised one, and did not know how to achieve either option, he claimed. As a consequence, the country regrettably cannot take advantage of economic assistance, he added.

Inzko said the leaders of Republika Srpska continued to undermine state institutions and repudiate the authority of the High Representative and the Dayton Peace Agreement, while at the same time, the government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina had "limped from crisis to crisis during the reporting period".

Bosnian Serbs in the spotlight

Taking the floor next, Haris Silajdži?, chairman of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, attributed the current stagnation to the so-called "entity voting mechanism," which allows 10 Serb deputies from the Republika Srpska to block any proposed decision by the federation's parliament, comprising 42 deputies.

Silajdži?, who is a Bosnian Muslim, told the session that the entities "have no ownership rights whatsoever" over the country's assets, the Serbian press reported.

He said that Bosnia and Herzegovina is the only legitimate successor to the former Yugoslav Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and therefore owns all the assets of the former Yugoslavia contained within its territory. 

Bosnia's right to its own property, he continued, was being questioned by his political opposition but also by the international community's high representative.

A representative of the Russian Federation, Konstantin Dolgov, described the assessments of Inzko and Silajdži?as as unbalanced, saying that they suffered from anti-Serb sentiment and covered up BiH's destructive role in blocking consideration of Republika Srpska's compromise constitutional amendments.

Taking the floor again to respond to the remarks, Silajdži? pointed out that despite having signed the Dayton Agreement, the Russian Federation continued to uncritically support just one ethnic group in Bosnia and Herzegovina, namely, the Bosnian Serbs of Republika Srpska.

UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN Security Council (UNSC) Sir Mark Lyall Grant said his country supported Inzko's report. In particular, London regrets the lack of political will to deliver progress on key reforms and the challenges to the Dayton Agreement and to the High Representative's authority, he said.

Lyall Grant expressed his country's concern over plans to hold a referendum in Republika Srpska challenging the legitimacy of the High Representative's decisions.

"The European Union has made clear that a membership application from Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be considered while the Office of the High Representative remains in place. It is therefore essential that Bosnian leaders work constructively together to deliver the remaining objectives and conditions, which remain necessary for transition of the Office of the High Representative to take place," the British diplomat said.

US Alternate Representative for Special Political Affairs to the UNSC Ambassador Brooke D. Anderson shared Inzko's concern about what the report describes as a "deteriorating" political atmosphere, including challenges to the High Representative's authority.

"As we approach the October 2010 national elections, we are concerned that divisive and damaging political rhetoric may threaten regional reconciliation efforts, undermine progress on the country's Euro-Atlantic agenda, and distract attention from real national priorities. It's simply unacceptable to propose or speculate about the dissolution of the state - even a peaceful dissolution," the US diplomat stated.

The 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, negotiated with the USA, Russia and the EU, brought to an end a three-and-a half-year war in Bosnia that took the lives of more than 100,000 people and displaced 1.8 million.

Since then, the country's management has been propped up by the West, through the office of the high representative of the international community. Local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina held in October 2008 confirmed deep ethnic divisions within the Balkan country, which is seen as a natural candidate for EU accession (EURACTIV 06/10/08).

EU leaders have repeatedly warned Bosnia and Herzegovina that continued political in-fighting between Serb, Muslim and Croat nationalists is driving the country away from the closer relationship with the Union to which its citizens aspire.

Bosnia and Herzegovina will hold general elections in October.

  • 2 June: Western Balkans meeting in Sarajevo, organised by Spanish EU Presidency.
  • October: General elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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