Bosnia and Herzegovina 6 Months After Elections: Far from Normality

, by Sören Keil

Bosnia and Herzegovina 6 Months After Elections: Far from Normality

On the 1st of October 2006 the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina voted for a new parliament, a new presidency, a new assembly in the Republika Srpska, a new parliament in the Bosniak [1] - Croat Federation [2] and new cantonal parliaments in the Federation.

Half a year after the elections, the worst scenarios have been realised. Especially the Bosniak Party for Bosnia (SBiH) and its leader Haris Silajdzic (who is now a member of the Presidency) and the Serb Social Democrats (who hold the post of the Bosnian Prime Minister with Nikola Spiric) are blocking and radicalising Bosnian politics.

Two important policy issues demonstrate this deadlock. On the one hand the discussions about a police reform failed and Bosnia’s ambition to sign a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union in 2007 will likely to be postponed until at least 2008.

Failed police reform

Although the major Bosnian parties agreed to a formal police reform in November 2005 (and therefore opened the door for the start of negotiations with the EU about a SAA) the practical implementation of the reform was to be discussed after the elections in 2006. While the EU gave the guidelines for the reform, which especially included the centralisation of the financial and instrumental command of the police, and the creation of a new organisation to make the police more efficient; the SBiH and the Party for Democratic Action, the second major Bosniak Party, are demanding the abolishment of the entity police force, and a new order among more or less historical lines.

In difference to this, one of the main election demands of the Serb Social Democrats and their leader Milorad Dodik was the continued existence of the police of the Republika Srpksa.

Neither the pressure from the EU, nor the mediation by the Office of the High Representative helped to find an agreement. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, demanded results of the debate by the beginning of March and even EU representatives spoke about an agreement by the end of March.

However, an agreement is far from being reached with the Bosniak delegation walking out of the last round of negotiations. Once again it is the Bosnian citizens that will pay for the consequences.

Aftermath of the ICJ rulling on Srebrenica

On the other hand, there is the political discussion that resulted from the decision of the International Court of Justice in the case Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia. Previously in 1993 Bosnian leaders accused Serbia of conducting genocide during the conflict in Bosnia 1992-1995. Although the court decided that Serbia had not conducted genocide, it named the killing of 8000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica as genocide and charged Serbia with the lack of fulfilling its international obligations, because it failed to undertake all measures to avoid genocide.

Politicians and representatives of the Republika Srpska stated even before the judgement, that they will not fulfil the court’s demand in the event the court would decide in favour of Bosnia. After the judgement, although the assembly of the RS passed a declaration stating its regrets for the events during the civil war, Bosnian Serb representatives missed the opportunity to highlight their support for the International War Crimes Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

Instead, they demanded the apologies from all groups who fought in the war and denied a collective responsibility of the Serbs. It is true, that all three Bosnian peoples, (Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks) committed cruel crimes against each other. Nevertheless, the brutality and the number of crimes committed in the name of the Serb / Bosnian Serb nation top the crimes of the others by far.

Bosnian Serb leaders therefore missed the opportunity to accept the collective responsibility for what happened in the name of the Serb nation. This would have been a hard but a very important step towards reconciliation in Bosnia. Instead, Dodik and his colleges send out the message, that everybody committed crimes against everyone else, but individuals commited crimes and it is time to forget those crimes instead of dealing with them and analysing the recent Bosnian history.

Bosniaks, who were once again represented by Mr Silajdzic, demanded the change of the geographical status of Srebrenica. Since the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995 Srebrenica has been a part of the Republika Srpska and therefore is more or less a result of successful ethnic cleansing and the occupation of territory. To change this symbolic combination of occupation of land combined with genocide, Mr Silajdzic and local Srebrenica Bosniaks demand the change of the city’s status so it would become a district under the authority of both entities, following the Brcko district example.

While emotionally the arguments of the Bosniaks might influence the objective analysis, it has to be understood, that such a status change would jeopardize the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA). This argument cannot be denied and has to be considered, since the consequences might be in a softening of the DPA and therefore the beginning of new rivalries of land, people and power.


All in all, what can be said about Bosnia, 6 month after the last elections? For the first time Bosnia has a Serb Prime Minister. This is a positive development and it might help to move on towards reconciliation in the country.

However, this seems to be the end of positive developments. The coalition parties in Sarajevo blockade each other; the police reform, the constitutional debate and the process of European integration have stopped. Instead, nationalist rhetoric has emerged, the questioning of the Dayton Peace Agreement and the status discussions about Kosovo have greatly influenced Bosnia’s stability.

It can be concluded, Bosnia is unstable again, for the first time, in a long time.


 Sarajevo - the wounded city, source: Flickr


[1Bosniak is the name of the Bosnian Muslims; it refers to their national identity rather than to their religious identification

[2Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of 2 entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also called the Bosniak- Croat Federation; and the Republika Srpska (RS). The district of Brčko is under the administration of both entities.

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