OHR 1, RS 0, everyone else ... 0

Widely expressed concerns about a deep crisis on the way in the Republika Srpska (RS) entity of Bosnia-Hercegovina are a tempest in a džezva. A lot of the reactions I have seen portray high representative Paddy Ashdown’s decision to suspend the autonomous police of RS as some kind of unjustifiable and dictatorial power grab. It wasn't, but at the same time, the action highlights some of the problems with his job.

First to the reasons why the action is not an unjustifiable power grab:

1. Why grab what you already have: Paddy Ashdown is the UN High Representative for Bosnia-Hercegovina, an office created by the Dayton Peace Agreement to oversee the federal government and the governments of the two entities. The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has extensive powers, including the ability to veto legislation and to remove public officials for violations of the Dayton Agreement. This has been controversial in the country, and Mr Ashdown has fueled the controversy further by using OHR’s powers more extensively than his predecessors. Nobody doubts that he has the power, if there is any debate it is over how politic it is to use it.

2. The entities and subentities create crises that need to be addressed: In theory, OHR should cease to exist once Bosnia-Hercegovina becomes functional as a state. But not all political actors in the country want it to become a functional state. From the beginning, authorities in RS have sought to weaken the authority of the federal government and behave as though their entity were a state. The other entity, the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina (FBiH), is periodically weakened by the efforts of political forces among Hercegovinian Croats to act as though federal and Federation control did not exist. The dominant political parties among both Serbs and Croats do not disguise the fact that they would rather be part of a different state.

3. The RS authorities invited a response: One of the requirements of Dayton is that authorities cooperate with ICTY. This is also a requirement if Bosnia-Hercegovina is going to be included in European regional arrangements, which offer the only opportunity for political or economic progress. How many suspects have been arrested and extradited by RS since RS began to exist (in a legal form) in 1995? I didn’t hear you. How many? That’s right, ZERO. It is a violation of Dayton and an obstacle to the progress of the country. Which is what the far right parties in power in BH want, and there is no reason to allow them to get it.

As to the threats of crisis: RS premier Dragan Mikerević resigned, as did federal foreign minister Mladen Ivanić. Mr Ashdown put it well in an interview with BBC: “If somebody wants to resign because they have to cooperate with the Hague, that is their problem.” RS president Dragan Čavić is threatening protest measures and a referendum in which ”RS would choose its own way.” Considering what happened last time his party tried to create an independent state by fiat, the threat is as empty as it is irresponsible.

The bottom line: Mr Ashdown acted within his legal powers. It is true that he made the ultraright Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) angry, but the price of keeping SDS pacified is far higher than any conceivable corresponding benefit.

Now to the down side. What this whole tempest shows is the underlying weakness of OHR as an institution: OHR will never run out of reasons to justify its continuing overlordship, and as long as it does the electorate in the entities will never stop providing reasons. People will continue to vote for extreme right parties to show their frustration with OHR, and then their elected officials will behave irresponsibly. OHR will use this irresponsibility to expand its own power to undo the work of elected officials. The reason is simple. One way to assure that politicians will behave irresponsibly is to create a system in which they carry no real responsibility. Dayton created a vicious circle in which the extreme right and the international administrators depend on one another. If there is a way out of this vicious circle, nobody has put on a light to show it yet.


Anonymous said...

Very good analysis!
The point is - and I am writing from the very heart of Bosnia - the international community is doing everything to keep OHR in Bosnia, no chance the people in Bosnia should vote, elect and be ruled by their local politicians.
But that is simply the history of this country. Bosnia always had to have SOMEONE to rule over it.

Eric Gordy said...

Yes, I think that is true, the internationals have a hard time thinking of alternatives to their presence. And again, it is a cycle that perpetuates itself -- as long as the political parties are free to act without any of the responsibility of governing, they will become less capable of governing (and they might experience this as a luxury)!

T K Vogel said...

I don't know who "Anonymous" is, but I suspect he/she might be a foreigner too. Isn't it interesting that this whole discussion -- witness the ridiculous ESI paper a while ago, and the reactions to it on Transitions Online -- is conducted between and among foreigners? I'm not sure what this is a symptom of, but it is a symtpom of something and I don't like it.

There is of course a local debate about OHR, but frankly, it tends to be at a very personal level that I find profoundly unhelpful.

And as Eric is saying, it's a vicious circle. OHR being here shields local parties from their reponsibility, and their irresponsibility is the strongest reason why OHR (in my view) is still neeeded.

I wrote about the latest RS frka over at my blog: Over at Teekay's -- check it out if you're interested.

Eric Gordy said...

So you are Teekay! I suppose the name should have been a giveaway. Whoever is reading this: visit Toby's weblog not just for excellent political analysis, but also for good Macintosh tips (which I could use about now myself). The piece he wrote on the RS business is especially good for the way it points out that resignations are cheap since authority resides elsewhere, especially in the control of patronage at the local level. All of these firings and other engagements by OHR continue the cycle, since they do not seriously affect the financial structures of power, and being removed by OHR can be a selling point in the next election.

T K Vogel said...

Hey, this is cool -- we can, like, have a conversation here and congratulate each other on our cool blogs!


In any case, and this is strictly off-topic, I was sorry to hear about your baby -- that's the little iBook, right? I hope you didn't get a sad Mac? Call me a true believer, or just unbelievably lucky -- I've owned PowerBooks since 1992 and have never, ever had a problem I couldn't fix myself (except that one time when my hard drive got a direct hit -- don't ask -- but even there, a buddy of mine got a new one, and with the help of a screwdriver we had it up an running again in no time). Anyway, happy Christmas!

Anonymous said...

The "Anonymous" is Quod - I left my comment on Over at Teekay's tonight!
Believe it or not, I am not a foreigner, but I read and speak English, I was born in Sarajevo, as my father was, I use my head to think, and I will never speak about my nationality, I think of myself as of the citizen of this world - although I am not fond of globalization, and some other things...
I spent the period between 1992 and 1995 in Sarajevo, I hoped when everything is over we will slowly but surelly start to build OUR country again. But alas... So many years have passed, and so many High Representatives have spent 2 or more years here, in my neighbourhood... And today I think we are further from a normal country than we ever where!

Anonymous said...

I wish you both Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Go to mu blog(http://miljacka.blog.hr/) please, and look how my family celebrated Christmas in Sarajevo in 1929!!! That may tell you something!

T K Vogel said...


I just replied to your comment over at my blog, but frankly you didn't leave me enough clues to really reply on the substance.

I agree with you that nine years after Dayton, and after four high reps, we should have seen more progress. There's no doubt about that. There's also no doubt that the sequencing of some of the measures was off by a few years -- for example, the focus on economic development should have come much earlier, the Bonn powers should have been used much earlier (though that's something that's easy to say in hindsight), and the Mostar statute should have come much earlier.

But that doesn't change the fact that Bosnia today is governed by associates of the people who started the war in the first place. They have been voted into office in free elections. And Bosnia is culturally as segregated as it was five or six years ago, with TV Pink being the only station that's popular around the country.

If a majority of Bosnian citizens feel that Bosnia isn't worth preserving, what moral right does the "international community" have to work on precisely that? Do we know more than the folks who actually live here? (It's easy to say "they've been through a war, they're still a bit excited, we should take over administration till things calm down a bit" etc., but I don't think that'd be a fair description.)

This isn't a rhetorical question, by the way.

And for the segregation, all you need to do is watch the Christmas mass in Sarajevo on Federation TV -- half of the congregation is over 50, the other half are nuns. (Beautiful camera work, by the way, and quite typicaly for how this is done here: the camera shows the choir, then slowly zooms in showing all the faces, and then just rests on the prettiest girl and zooms in some more.)

Anonymous said...

One final word, if inhabitants of Bosnia are against Bosnia, why to spend money on high rep.? Let people decide, let country fall appart, let Croatia take Mostar and Herzegovina, let Serbia take RS and leave to Moslems - Bosniaks a piece of land around river Bosnia and Sarajevo. Let's have another Palestine! (British creation 1949)
As for old people in Cathedral - whose fault do you think it is that Sarajevo is not a district as it was agreed in Washington accord about Federation and in Dayton? Is it my fault, or of those old ladies from the Cathedrale?
We waited for nine years to get that piece of paper re Mostar. Who lives after me, in 18 years will see Sarajevo as district! You probably will!