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Report 40 / Europe & Central Asia

Impunity in Drvar

Croat extremists put Drvar into the spotlight in April 1998 with murders and riots against returning Serbs and the international community.

Executive Summary

Croat extremists put Drvar into the spotlight in April 1998 with murders and riots against returning Serbs and the international community. It was the most serious outbreak of violence in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia) for more than a year. Before the riots, Drvar -- whose pre-war population was 97 per cent Serb -- offered some cause for optimism: more Serbs had returned there than to any other region of the Federation outside of Sarajevo, and Serbs were looking to Drvar to help them assess the possibilities and risks for further return to the Federation and Croatia.

In the wake of the riots, key international officials flocked to Drvar, among them High Representative Carlos Westendorp and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, General Wesley Clark, as well as the heads of most of the international organisations in Bosnia, and even several US Congressmen. All stated emphatically that violence was unacceptable, that the right of Serbs to return would be supported, and that those responsible would be brought to justice.

Nearly four months later, small steps have been made towards getting the return process back on track. The number of Serbs in the villages, 1,800 before the riots, down to 1,600 after the riots, has climbed back up to 1,800. Some 30 of the 130 Serbs who fled their flats in town have returned. The municipal assembly met on 11 August 1998 for the first time since 3 April 1998, and selected a Deputy Mayor to replace Drago Tokmadzija, who had been dismissed by the High Representative for sustaining an atmosphere conducive to violence.

However, Tokmadzija retains de facto power and no real progress has been made in holding accountable the architects of the April 1998 violence, or those responsible for blocking the restructuring of the police and other concrete measures necessary for minority return. Hard-line officials of the HDZ in Canton 10 and Drvar continue to act with impunity. Moreover, Ante Jelavic, the HDZ candidate for the Croat member of the Bosnia’s Joint Presidency has stated in the Croat media that: “Drvar is and will remain a Croat town in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” These are dangerous messages to leave unchallenged, particularly during an election campaign.

The high-level visits to Drvar following the riots must be matched with a firm action plan backed by the necessary resources. Before the elections the international community must send a clear message that the instigators of the violence in Drvar will be punished, and that the international community is committed, over the next year, to work to:

  • root out the criminal network that has a grip on key aspects of governance, policing and the economy in Drvar and Canton 10, including with stepped-up measures by SFOR and increased efforts to bring Finvest, a Croatian company and Drvar’s largest employer, within the law;
  • create a multi-ethnic administration and police force;
  • help Croats return to their homes in Kakanj, Vares, Teslic and elsewhere with adequate security and funding for jobs and reconstruction; and
  • support continued, phased Serb return to Drvar, while assuring that any Croats who are thereby displaced will be found adequate alternative accommodation.

The international community must, before the elections, take a series of measures backed up by a co-ordinated strategy, to show that it is serious:

  • “Acting” Minister of Internal Affairs Batisa Letica, suspended in April 1998, and promptly reinstated for six months to supervise the police restructuring process, must be dismissed from office immediately. Steps he has taken recently to hire a few Serbs onto the police force and bring minor charges against perpetrators of violence in Drvar are inadequate.
  • Former Drvar Police Chief Ivan Jurcevic, dismissed in April 1998, must be stripped of all trappings of police authority, including his vehicle, badge, weapons and police bodyguards.
  • Donor governments should announce the creation of a special fund for Drvar, to be administered by the Reconstruction and Return Task Force, to (a) assist Serbs and Croats to return to their homes, and (b) repair homes and necessary services and promote sustainable economic recovery in Drvar, Kakanj and Vares (municipalities from which Croats now in Drvar fled). Donors should give increased funds not because of  the violence  but because progress in Serb returns to Drvar and surrounding municipalities is crucial for opening up Serb returns to the Federation and Croatia, and because increased Croat returns to Central Bosnia will strengthen the position of Croats committed to a multi-ethnic Bosnia.
  • International organisations, especially OHR, SFOR, IPTF, UNHCR and OSCE, should (a) devise a co-ordinated strategy to boost minority returns in and out of Drvar, (b) dedicate increased resources during the remaining 3-4 good weather months of the year to this end, (c) design and implement a security strategy aimed at preventing any further outbursts of violence, which may be anticipated as Serb returns increase and Croats move back to their homes in Central Bosnia and elsewhere, (d) and publicise this renewed, concentrated effort.

The Resident Envoy of the High Representative should gain agreement within the international community on the above points, and then lead and co-ordinate a public information campaign, in the Croat and Drvar media and via public meetings, to make these points clear to those in, and wishing to return to, Drvar.

Above all, what is needed is a shared commitment to a vision of Drvar, and Canton 10 generally, as genuinely multi-ethnic, governed by the rule of law and the will of the people, free of criminal influences in governance, policing and the economy, with equal protection for the rights of all. The international community must, before the elections, make clear that it has not been pressured by the hard-liners into backing down from this fundamental vision. This is necessary in order to give Serbs displaced from Canton 10 a reason to vote in the cantonal elections, and to reassure Croats throughout HDZ-controlled areas that, if they vote for any party other than the HDZ, they will not be risking their jobs, pensions, political futures or personal safety.

Sarajevo, 20 August 1998

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.