Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Changing Dynamics in the Western Balkans
Report 150 / Europe & Central Asia

Building Bridges in Mostar

Making another attempt to unite the divided city of Mostar has become, unexpectedly but appropriately, a very high international priority in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) in 2003.

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Executive Summary

Making another attempt to unite the divided city of Mostar has become, unexpectedly but appropriately, a very high international priority in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH) in 2003. By late summer, it had come to be ranked by High Representative Paddy Ashdown among his four major projects for structural reform. In each case, the High Representative appointed a foreign chairman to lead commissions composed of domestic representatives and charged with finding state-building solutions in the symbolically or substantively important realms of defence, intelligence, indirect taxation – and Mostar. All aim to unify divided and dysfunctional institutions. The first three commissions, which have already reported and whose draft legislation is proceeding through the various parliaments, have also sought to empower the state over the entities and their respective national establishments.

The Mostar commission, which is due to report by 15 December 2003, has a seemingly more modest and less far-reaching goal: to devise a new statute for a single albeit emblematic city. In comparison with the other commissions, this might not seem so significant. Yet Mostar has long been a particular concern of the international community, representing a piece of unfinished business that cannot be ignored as the foreigners contemplate their withdrawal from intrusive peace implementation in BiH. Moreover, the right solution in Mostar may serve both as an example of and stimulus for local government reorganisation in the country at large – a hope underlined by officials in the Office of the High Representative (OHR) contemplating how to jump start the reform of public administration required if BiH is to make its way towards a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union.

The compromise peace that ended the war between those who had fought to defend the state and those who had sought to destroy it left BiH with, in places, up to six separate layers of authority and fourteen different governments with taxing and law-making powers. But what was necessary or even desirable to smother the embers of war in 1994-95 appears an intolerable and unsustainable burden nearly ten years on, even to some of those same political forces that once insisted upon and have since benefited from the power and patronage this system provides. As Lord Ashdown has observed, all these governments devour more than 64 per cent of public spending in BiH. A city of just over 100,000 inhabitants divided into six municipalities and an ostensible Central Zone, Mostar epitomises both the causes and consequences of such atomisation. And just because it is a special case, the rationalisation of Mostar’s governance could point the way towards overcoming the ethno-national barriers and redundant administrative structures that plague BiH.

In Mostar the international community is thus seeking to facilitate local remedies to the national-administrative partition that has characterised the post-war period, as well as to assuage those fears of relegation to minority status on which this partition has thrived. Yet just because Mostar remains one of the most divided cities in BiH – and has come to symbolise mutual intolerance, distrust and tribal politics – any genuine agreement on a new statute for a unified city administration would offer both a template for other segregated towns and encouragement for BiH in general. On the other hand, yet another failure in Mostar would also have disproportionate effects. Viewed in this light, the new attempt to reunify the city deserves to keep company with the other reform projects currently underway.

This report points out the crucial issues that must be settled in the current round of talks if Mostar is to be made whole. It provides a brief sketch of previous attempts to unite the city; discusses the major problems arising from its continuing fragmentation; seeks to offer an explanation of why Mostar has emerged once more as a problem requiring an urgent solution; and introduces the various proposals currently being canvassed in political and intellectual circles.

Its concluding section outlines the rudiments of an organisational solution, involving changes to the electoral system for the Mostar council and a reform of the legal concept of the city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This has the potential to ensure that Mostar can be reborn – both as a functional unit of self-government and as a multinational community in which all citizens feel themselves to be fairly represented.

Sarajevo/Brussels, 20 November 2003

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