A realist's adventures in Bosnia

I don't usually comment on official statements since they tend to be so boring and predictable. But over the last week or so, one phrase has been shopped around so frequently that I feel compelled to comment. It appears to have been coined to explain the sheer waste of time the Schwarz-Schilling-era in Bosnia has been, and it is a variation on "establishing the reality of the situation in Bosnia."

I first heard it in a phone call with an OHR spokesperson last week. Then the High Rep used it (in local-language overlay) in a TV appearance. Couple days later I read it in the High Rep's weekly column. This is evidently the message the OHR wants to convey to those who think that Schwarz-Schilling has been gambling with the future of Bosnia:
In the course of the past year [and by not using the powers vested in the OHR], it has become possible to make an objective assessment of how well or how badly the country is doing and where the problems lie. And it is only by establishing the reality of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that it is possible to develop the mechanisms to assist this country on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration.
Source: www.ohr.int
This deserves a fuller rebuke since it encapsulates everything that is wrong with the current HR, but let me point out just the obvious. Schwarz-Schilling was put in place by the consortium overseeing peace implementation in Bosnia (PIC) because the Germans insisted on getting a German HR, because no other German was available, because it was felt that his experience as a mediator in Bosnia qualified him for the job, and because the PIC had realized that jumping on the bandwagon of "local ownership" might provide an easy way out of a situation that already then was clearly deteriorating. Schwarz-Schilling believed in the idea -- and believe it or not, entire think-tanks have been built on nothing else -- that the "international community" and especially OHR were the key problem preventing Bosnia from reforming. This view was disputed by many thoughtful observers inside and outside Bosnia, people who were appalled by the intellectual thinness of the argument.

One year later, Schwarz-Schilling is conceding that they were right, and that the people he brought to Sarajevo as his closest advisers were wrong. To justify this enormous waste of time and other resources, he now talks about some "reality" that needed to be "established," and that could only be established by not doing anything for an entire year, which has completely undermined the authority of the office. (Reports on OHR's views now frequently take fifth or sixth spot on national TV's main newscast since nobody thinks they're worth listening to.)

Was that really necessary?

Before you think that this may be in some way personally motivated (which it isn't, since I quite like Schwarz-Schilling as a person and think he's a decent chap who genuinely believed he was doing the right thing -- though hey, I could be wrong), let me also point out that the main blame for this clearly needs to go to the PIC, which after all subscribed to all this faddish nonsense about OHR being at the heart of the problem. The PIC now has one last chance to get it right in Bosnia, when it meets at the end of February. I do hope that some foreign ministry staff are doing overtime.


Anonymous said...

Hi Teekay,

I just posted on this over at A Fistful of Euros (www.fistfulofeuros.org). Please feel free to drop by -- I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I'm pretty much in complete agreement with you, BTW. I speculate that the motive was wishful thinking brought on by Bosnia fatigue: It's been over a decade now! Surely these wretched wogs must be ready to settle down and join the civilized world?

An interesting metric: compare the October report of the PIC Steering council to the December one. The October one is all finger-wagging at the naughty Bosnians. The December one is /weird/... it's all la la la, everything here is fine. It reads like it's about a completely different country. More likely it was written by a completely different committee... which suggests some odd internal processes at the Committee. I really wonder what the February report will look like.

Doug M.

Anonymous said...

Whoops, almost forgot: I wanted to answer your final question.

Yes, I think it probably was necessary. The idea that the OHC was standing in Bosnia's way had been in the air since before Paddy's time. The only way to conclusively disprove it was to give it a try. Its obvious failure will have consequences elsewhere, most notably in Kosovo. And, hey -- we should be glad that it only took a year.

Doug M.