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The Post-conflict Political Arena

There are only so many things you can do with a tank. You can park it at a corner and create a temporary sense of security, but when it comes to changing the mentality of people, tanks don't help.5

The above words sharply capture the situation that Bosnia and Herzegovina faced in 2001–2002. International organisations and military troops had addressed the urgent security issues after the conflict, ensuring the fragile peace was preserved and public security was maintained at sufficient levels. However, any further reforms necessary for strengthening democracy and rebuilding functioning state structures were beyond the domains of NATO and UN troops. These tasks required both civilian administration and greater involvement of domestic political actors, to design solutions that would answer the needs of the Bosnian population and restart the broken democratic political process on new power-sharing principles, which the DPA had laid out.

Again, the international community provided civilian support for the implementation of the DPA by creating the position of a High Representative (HR). The HR was accountable to an ad hoc body, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), composed of nations and agencies involved in the peace process in Bosnia.6 Initially, between 1995 and 1997, the HR had limited powers and his success was dependent on the domestic political elites' willingness to proceed with the implementation of the DPA. Such commitment was at times sorely missing, especially among the Bosnian Serb politicians. After the initial slow progress in implementing the civilian aspects of the DPA, the PIC significantly increased the powers of the HR at its Bonn meeting in 1997. It granted the HR the final authority to interpret the Dayton Accords and the power to impose measures necessary to implement them, which in practice included imposing legislation as well as changing and removing some people in political and administrative positions.7

These executive powers, better known as the 'Bonn Powers', elevated the position of the HR to one of the most powerful political actors in Bosnian politics. The Bonn Powers enabled the HR to influence the legislative and executive processes in Bosnian politics on a par with democratically elected domestic politicians. Consecutive HRs did not refrain from using them – with increasing frequency. In 1998–99 the then HR, Carlos Westendorp, had used the executive powers on average four times a month, but their use increased to three times as

5 Anonymous, Political advisor to the HR, 1996–97: personal interview with the author. 6 The PIC includes 55 members, while PIC Steering Board, which gives political guidance to the HR includes: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, the Presidency of the European Union, the European Commission,

and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which is represented by Turkey.

7 'PIC Bonn Conclusions', Bonn. PIC main meeting, 10 December 1997. Available at: (accessed 20 November 2010). much during Wolfgang Petritch's term as HR in 2000–2001.8 By the time Lord Paddy Ashdown took over the HR office in 2002, there were 153 actions based on the Bonn Powers.9 While some among the domestic politicians resented the powers at the HR's disposal, all complied with his decisions since they were backed by the support of the SFOR NATO troops.

Although the Dayton Agreement introduced substantial changes to the constitutional design of the Bosnian state, there was a notable continuity among the political elites who came to interact through the new institutional structure. All post-conflict elections until 2002, except the 2000 elections, were won by the parties that had won the 1990 pre-conflict elections and led the three ethnic groups throughout the war period, as Table 5.1 shows. The Party for Democratic Action (SDA), led by President Alija Izetbegović, won most votes among the Bosniaks; Radovan Karadžić's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) won most votes among the Serbs; while the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ BIH) won most among the Croats.10 Getting these parties to work together through the power-sharing mechanisms introduced by the DPA was a difficult task, especially in light of their undiminished nationalist rhetoric – which was their winning ticket on elections – and the availability of institutional tools for blocking accommodation.

Table 5.1 Major parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ethnic affiliation and terms in government

Party Leader/s Ethnic affiliation Government terms Party for Democratic Action (SDA)

Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) Alija Izetbegović, Sulejman Tihić

Radovan Karadžić, Dragan Čavić Bosniak 1990–2000;


Serb 1990–2006 Croat Democratic Union BIH (HDZ BIH)

Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBIH) Dragan Čović Croat 1990–2010

Haris Silajdžić Bosniak 2006–2010 Social Democratic Party (SDP) Zlatko Lagumdžija Non-ethnic/

Bosniak 2002–2002 Union of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) Milorad Dodik Serb 2006–2010

8  European Stability Initiative, 'The Bosnian Protectorate', in Return to Europe, June 2008. Available at:

ID=31 (accessed 6 November 2013).

9  European Stability Initiative, 'The Bosnian Protectorate'.

10 Central Electoral Commission of BIH, Elections statistics. Available at: (accessed 6 November 2013). In the initial post-Dayton years, SDS leaders not only resisted reforms that the DPA required, but were under the continued influence of former SDS leader Radovan Karadžić, who although indicted by the Hague Tribunal, was openly politically active and moving freely in Republika Srpska. It was not until the strengthening of the Union of Independent Social-Democrats (SNSD) around 2002, that any serious opposition challenged SDS's resistance and rejection of DPA. Among the Croats the dominance of the ethnic HDZ was even stronger. HDZ regularly won the majority of the Croat vote and no serious challenger for its electorate has emerged. While more accepting of the DPA than Serbs, Croats and HDZ political leadership often resented the fact that there was no Croatian entity in the country; since Croats are also numerically inferior to Bosniaks in the Federation, they also felt exposed to the threat of being outvoted. Among Bosniaks the support for the DPA was the highest, but SDA's programme and rhetoric did not differ much from its Serb and Croat counterparts in their reliance on ethnicity and war-time references to mobilise the electorate. SDA, however, faced better organised opposition, primarily from the Social-Democratic Party (SDP), the only party to openly reject ethnic labels and rhetorically stand for multi-ethnic Bosnia. Another contender for Bosniak votes has been Haris Silajdžić's Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBIH), a nominally multi-ethnic party with predominantly Bosniak membership, which has stood for centralised Bosnia and rejected the DPA's dividing of Bosnia in two entities.

The undiminished dominance of ethnic parties in Bosnia has caused concern among international representatives, who had hoped that their influence would wane in the face of moderate and multi-ethnic parties.11 External actors hoped that as Bosnian society recovered from the conflict traumas, more mundane issues of economic reform and welfare would divert voters' support from ethnic to non-ethnic parties, or would make ethnic parties change and adapt their platform accordingly. Some analysts of post-conflict politics explain these parties' longevity in power with their role in shaping the institutional landscape in postconflict Bosnia. DPA's basic principles were built around the interests of those politicians who were around the negotiating table in Dayton. Thus, DPA seems to have empowered the existing political class in the post-conflict period, by absolving them of responsibility for their actions and allowing them to capitalise on spreading nationalist fears among the population.12 Alternative explanations of the success of ethnic political parties focus on the electoral system, which includes

11 See Carrie Manning, 'Elections and political change in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina', Democratization, 11 (2004): 60–86. Also, Benjamin Reilly, 'Political Engineering and Party Politics in Conflict-Prone Societies', Democratization, 13 (2006): 811–27.

12 Anonymous, Head of a Sarajevo-based think tank: personal interview with the author, Sarajevo, 28 September 2010. no incentives for the success of moderate parties.13 The country's proportional representation electoral system is often cited to encourage parties to only seek single groups' support in elections.

Regardless of the reasons for their repeated electoral success, ethnic parties' dominance in the Bosnian political arena was undeniable. Over the decade following the DPA these parties failed to develop a way to co-operate and accommodate over important policy issues, or even over the structure and outlook of the Bosnian state. Bosniak politicians prefer a centralised state, while Serb and Croat leaders a decentralised one, where entities and cantons have as many competencies as possible. The lack of shared democratic values and priorities about the future of the Bosnian state makes accommodation across ethnic lines problematic, as is evident in the slow progress of post-conflict reforms and the extensive involvement of the HR in overcoming such deadlocks. Perhaps the only area where there is notable conversion in the attitudes of the majority among the Bosnian political elites is EU and NATO integration. Politicians from all three ethnic groups pledge support for Euro-Atlantic integration of Bosnia. This consensus was confirmed when, in July 2001, the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina issued a Declaration on the readiness of Bosnia to become a member of the NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme. The declaration served as the background against which NATO issued guidelines for reforming the Bosnian military in order to fulfil the requirements for joining the PfP.14

Since 1996, policy-making in Bosnia has been slow, but several strands of reforms have nevertheless been successfully implemented. Usually initiated by external actors, and financially and technically supported by international organisations, reforms in areas of monetary and fiscal policy, banking and indirect taxation, have been agreed between the political leaders of the three major ethnic groups. Even in more sensitive areas, such as organised crime and corruption, progress has been achieved; common customs services were created in 2004 and a state body for fighting organised crime was established in 2002. Against this political and security background military reforms were initiated in 2002, with few but important precedents for successful transfer of competencies from entity to state level.

13 Michael Humphreys and Jasna Jelisic, 'A Missed Opportunity: State-building in Bosnia and Herzegovina (October 2002 to October 2006)', in The European Union and Peacebuilding, ed. S. Blockmans, J. Wouters and T. Ruys (The Hague: TMC Asser Press, 2010).

14 Denis Hadžović, 'Defence Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina', in Security Sector Governance in the Western Balkans: Self-Assessment Studies on Defence, Intelligence, Police and Border Management reforms, ed. A.H. Ebnother, P.H. Flurri and P. Jureković (Vienna and Geneva, 2007).

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