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Homepage > Publication Type > Media Releases > Federation of Bosnia And Herzegovina – A Parallel Crisis

Federation of Bosnia And Herzegovina – A Parallel Crisis

Sarajevo/Istanbul/Brussels  |   28 Sep 2010

Whether the Federation - the mostly Bosniak and Croat part of Bosnia and Herzegovina - can solve its government crisis after 3 October elections will go a long way to determining whether the country can survive.

Federation of Bosnia And Herzegovina – A Parallel Crisis , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines how the dysfunctional administration of the larger of the country’s two entities has paralysed its decision-making, brought it to the verge of bankruptcy and triggered social unrest. If the newly elected local leaders continue to postpone reforms, hoping that country-wide constitutional change will happen soon and resolve most of the Federation’s problems, their entity risks a complete breakdown. The report examines a number of steps, however, that if taken could make the reformed Federation a cornerstone for broader improvements at national (state) level.

At all levels of the Federation, balancing collective rights with majority rule has created an unwieldy power-sharing architecture that frustrates Bosniaks and fails to protect Croats. Efforts to reconcile protection of individual citizens’ rights with the collective rights of the constituent peoples often do not work. Since 2009, the government has been unable to take basic decisions, such as making appointments to the Constitutional Court.

As long as the Federation remains functional, Bosnia is viable. Yet, the opposite is also true: “Bosnia cannot last if its larger entity is not in good working order or loses the support of Croats and Serbs”, says Marko Prelec, Crisis Group’s Balkans Project Director. “Federation reform would create momentum for state-level change and strengthen Federally-based parties vis-a-vis the Serb entity, Republika Srpska”.

The highly decentralised Federation is made up of ten cantons, to which the Croats cling but the Bosniaks would like to do away with. It has only a few areas of exclusive jurisdiction and shares most of its competencies with lower levels of administration. The result is a bulky bureaucracy, whose various parts are in competition or open conflict with one another, and a suffocating thicket of confusing and often contradictory legislation and regulation that stifles investment and degrades services. The entity government’s large share of the economy creates a nexus of political and economic power that the political elite exploit.

Long dominated by two large parties, the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action (Stranka demokratske akcije, SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Union (Hrvatska demokratska zajednica. HDZ), the Federation political scene has fragmented, making decisions and reform even more difficult. The new government must urgently confront economic and social woes, and the new parliament should immediately establish a reform commission to recommend, with international assistance, constitutional amendments and other legal and structural improvements. Major Federation reform would give impetus to state-level reform, while improving the livelihoods of the entity’s populatio.

“Revitalising the Federation is essential for Bosnia’s survival”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “A well-functioning Federation would be more attractive to Bosnian Croats and Serbs, while further deterioration and continued political infighting may inflict irreversible damage on fragile ethnic relations”.

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