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Report 164 / Europe & Central Asia

Bosnia's Stalled Police Reform: No Progress, No EU

The international strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina risks derailment. It consists entirely of preparing the country for eventual European Union (EU) membership in the hope that integration processes will overcome ethno-political divides and their intertwined economic and criminal interests. However, the police reform needed to begin negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU appears hopelessly blocked.

Executive Summary

The international strategy for Bosnia and Herzegovina risks derailment. It consists entirely of preparing the country for eventual European Union (EU) membership in the hope that integration processes will overcome ethno-political divides and their intertwined economic and criminal interests. However, the police reform needed to begin negotiations on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU appears hopelessly blocked. With integration stalled, the international community will have to maintain its High Representative in Sarajevo for at least two to three years, if not longer, to head off dangers of new conflict unless it acts decisively in the next several weeks to confront the chief obstacles to reform: the main Bosnian Serb political party and the Belgrade government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

Bosnia has long needed substantive police reform. During the 1992-1995 war, the police were a key instrument of ethnic cleansing -- particularly in Republika Srpska (RS) and the Croatian areas of the Federation. The war left Bosnia with three police forces: Bosniak, Croat and Serb, each with its own jurisdictions. The first two have since merged, at least nominally, but the RS has refused all efforts to reform structures or integrate them with those of other ethnic groups. Police throughout the country have remained highly politicised, acting at the behest of politicians to obstruct implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords, in particular refugee return, and heavily involved in organised crime. The RS force is filled with war criminals and actively supports persons indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) is attempting to gain agreement on sweeping police reform for the entire country to satisfy criteria established by the European Commission as preconditions for SAA negotiations. It has failed, due to obstruction from the Serbian side. The leading RS party -- the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) -- openly blocks all efforts at reform and receives active encouragement from the Serbian government, the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbia's security structures, which desire to annex RS as part of a Kosovo final status settlement.

The OHR and Bosnia's other parties have made significant concessions to the RS, watering down the reform proposal to the extent that it may not satisfy two of the three European Commission criteria, but in vain. The most recent idea floated by the Bosnian prime minister would merely delay the important decisions for at least a year or two and would not constitute serious reform.

If a 15 September deadline is not met, the European Commission will formally reject Bosnia's bid to negotiate an SAA, and the reform window will close at least for two years, because the country will be preoccupied with elections in 2006. The only chance to get police reform and European integration back on track is for the international community to decide now to put meaningful pressure on the obstructionists in Banja Luka and Belgrade, beginning with a decision to shake up RS politics by banning the SDS if its failure to compromise on police reform causes Bosnia to miss the deadline for EU negotiations. It should also reassess the disappointing performance of the EU Police Mission (EUPM) and use the expiration of its mandate at year's end to replace it with a more effective institution with a broader mandate.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 6 September 2005

Report 232 / Europe & Central Asia

Bosnia’s Future

While the physical scars of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war have healed, political agony and ethnic tension persist. Real peace requires a new constitution and bottom-up political change.

Executive Summary

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH, or Bosnia) poses little risk of deadly conflict, but after billions of dollars in foreign aid and intrusive international administration and despite a supportive European neighbourhood, it is slowly spiralling toward disintegration. Its three communities’ conflicting goals and interests are a permanent source of crisis, exacerbated by a constitution that meets no group’s needs. The political elite enjoys mastery over all government levels and much of the economy, with no practical way for voters to dislodge it. The European Union (EU) imposes tasks BiH cannot fulfil. A countrywide popular uprising torched government buildings and demanded urgent reforms in February 2014, but possible solutions are not politically feasible; those that might be politically feasible seem unlikely to work. Bosnia’s leaders, with international support, must begin an urgent search for a new constitutional foundation.

The international project to rebuild Bosnia has had success: war’s physical scars are largely gone, and the country is peaceful. The political agonies, however, show the intervention’s limits. Years of well-intentioned reforms, imposed or urged, have left a governing structure leaders circumvent, ignore or despise. May’s floods left scores dead and thousands homeless, exposing the price of poor governance. With growing frequency, Bosnians ask the questions that preceded the 1992-1995 war: shall it be one country, two, or even three; if one country, shall it have one, two or three constituent entities, and how shall it be governed?

The heart of the problem is in Annex 4 to the Dayton Peace Agreement, known as the constitution (and in several changes imposed by courts and international officials). It defines BiH as a state of two entities, in effect but not explicitly federal, but also the state of three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs), and yet, simultaneously, of all citizens. A suffocating layer of ethnic quotas has been added, providing sinecures for officials increasingly remote from the communities they represent. The tensions created by constitutional schizophrenia are pushing BiH to the breaking point. A new design is needed: a normal federation, territorially defined, without a special role for constituent peoples, but responsive to the interests of its three communities and the rights of all citizens.

The state administration’s need to reform is made acute by a 2009 decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) that in effect requires BiH to change the ethnicity-based way it chooses its chief executive and part of its legislature. Existing proposals try to squeeze the constituent peoples into an ostensibly ethnicity-blind structure on top of which a complicated network of indirect elections would allow party leaders to choose the executive with as little democratic input as possible. The EU and the outside world support this tinkering with Dayton to satisfy the decision, though such proposals have manifestly failed. Bosnians need to rebuild their political structure from the bottom up.

There is no consensus on where to start, but Bosnia may have to break from its political system based on constituent peoples and their rights. Crisis Group has not reached this conclusion lightly. It reflects long experience and observation that no one has been able to frame a broadly attractive vision on the existing flawed basis. With stresses and frustrations accumulating in all communities, Bosnia must conceive new foundations to survive. Agreement may take years and much experimentation and debate, but the search should begin.

BiH is home to three political communities: those primarily loyal to the Bosnian state, usually but not always Bosniaks; those loyal to Republika Srpska (RS), usually Serbs; and those desirous of Croat self-government, usually Croats. Giving the Croats what they want, their own entity to make a three-entity Bosnia, is absolutely rejected by Bosniaks. Building virtual representative units for the three communities, possibly with new emphasis on municipalities as basic building blocks, is intellectually plausible but requires a leap of faith few seem ready to take. A purely civic state is inconceivable to Serbs and Croats.

Neither leaders nor civil society have deeply explored alternatives to three constituent peoples in two entities; any consensus would take time. Nevertheless, the goal should be clear. The head of state should reflect Bosnia’s diversity, something a collective does better than an individual. The same body could be the executive government. Some decisions should require consensus, others a majority. All three communities should be represented, not necessarily in equal numbers. There should be no ethnic quotas; representation should reflect self-defined regions and all their voters. Poorly performing, unnecessary state agencies and ministries should be slimmed or abolished, with powers reverting to the entities; but the state would need new ministries and agencies required for EU membership. The ten cantons in the larger of BiH’s two entities, the Federation (FBiH), are an underperforming, superfluous layer. They could be abolished, their powers divided between the municipalities and the entity government.

Political culture is part of the problem; an informal “Sextet” of party leaders in effect controls government and much of the economy. A multi-ethnic coalition persists, election to election, with only minor adjustments. Membership is earned by winning opaque intra-party competitions in which voters have little say. Change in this system can only come from within: Bosnians should join parties and participate in genuine leadership contests. Sextet power is further buttressed by control of hiring, investment and commercial decisions at state-owned firms, a situation that chokes private investment and growth.

Bosnia is unimaginable without the work of international officials who did much to shape political institutions and implement peace, but the international community has become more obstacle than help. BiH is trapped in a cycle of poorly thought-out, internationally-imposed tasks designed to show leaders’ readiness to take responsibility but that put that moment forever out of reach. The only way to encourage leaders to take responsibility is to treat the country normally, without extraneous tests or High Representatives. The EU could signal a new start by stating it will receive a membership application – the first of many steps on the long accession road. It should then be an engaged, not over-didactic partner in Bosnia’s search for a way to disentangle the constitutional knot.