Bosnia – not your father’s Sporazum

The current politics of “2 against 1” reflect the failure that is Bosnia and the danger that a Dayton arrangement acceptable to none of the country’s players – except maybe for Dodik – could provoke challenges even more unexpected and indelible than those so far evident.

By David B. Kanin

In politics, 3 is a bad number; 2 is much better. A simple pair of adversaries face each other down. They talk to, fight, and kill each other. The main problem is knowing whether each is playing the same game – is the point conflict management or zero sum resolution? In either case, the work of Monica Duffy Toft at Harvard suggests that decisions reached on the battlefield tend to be more durable than those negotiated in the absence of a clear military decision.

With three sides things are much less clear. Two gang up on one, destroying it (thus establishing the number 2) or else fail to do so and usher in a period of strategic opacity. Alliances shuffle among the three communal sides and various informal patronage networks that cross the lines, further muddying economic and social waters.

There was a time when the Bosnian component of Yugoslavia seemed to have only two sides that mattered. The interwar struggle between the royalist Serb regime and Croatian leaders occasionally produced discussions and even agreement on bi-national division of territory and influence. If World War II had not intervened, the 1939 Sporazum might have transformed the Karadjordjevic’s Yugoslavia into something like the post-Ausgleich Austria-Hungary. In that case, Bosnia’s Muslim (not yet “Bosnjak”) population would have been subject to a bifurcated effort to simplify – that is to say expunge – its identity.

That is what Milosevic and Tudjman had in mind in the 1990s, of course, but a defiantly coalescing Bosnjak community aborted that neo-Sporazum. Nevertheless, international rhetoric and intervention failed to broaden the term “Bosnjak” from an ethnic to a civic marker, and so a consociational Bosnia-Herzegovina emerged at Dayton. No matter the civic ornaments pasted to the country’s notional constitution, Bosnia suffers the burdenof “3.”

Now there is a new Sporazum. Milorad Dodik, Bosnian Serb strongman and tormenter of international viceroys, is exploiting the frustration many Bosnian Croats feel toward an electoral system that condemns them to suffer the deficiencies of civic politics, while their two communal competitors enjoy the benefits of consociational representation. The sharply different political rhythms of the centralized Serb Republic and the fragmented and dysfunctional Bosnjak-Croat Federation permit Dodik to encourage the two Croatian Democratic Parties (HDZs) that they are better-off dealing with him than with their supposed Bosnjak and civic federal partners. In a nutshell, Bosnia’s Serb and Croatian elites agree that whatever differences they have with each other are much less salient than the problems each has with Bosnia’s Bosnjak plurality. At this point, whether Zlatko Lagumdzija formed his Federation government legally hardly matters. When a new Bosnian state government will come into being matters even less.

Still, Dodik should not gloat too loudly. Three remains a bad number and things can change. The HDZs have yet to figure out a way to overcome an internationally imposed political legality that permanently disadvantages Bosnia’s diminishing Croatian population. They are in danger of something like what happened to Croatia’s Serbs, although in a variant much more like Chinese water torture than Flash and Storm.

The fighting and subsequent diplomacy of 1995 destroyed a Krajina Serb community that had been becoming coherent since at least the time when Austria-Hungary brought railroads to the old Military Frontier. Those responsible for the Erdut Agreement may believe they engineered the reintroduction of Serbs into a multi-ethnic Croatian democracy. What actually happened is that Croatia’s residual puddles of Serbian settlement became a supplicant minority in a resolutely Croatian national state.

Bosnia’s Croatian politicians likely know their community faces a similarly diminished status in the face of a burgeoning Bosnjak identity (a subject obscured by wishful multi-culturalist rhetoric) and a hard-bitten Bosnian Serb autonomism. Dodik is useful to them only as long as he has something to offer, and as long as the Bosnjaks and the country’s international overseers continue to impose a civic ideology that can only divide, not unite. The number 3 also will work in Dodik’s favor only as long as Croatia continues to treat Bosnia’s Croats like distant and embarrassing relatives.

The danger is that Dodik may figure this out and offer a new Sporazum designed to institutionalize the current “2 against 1” politics. The key indicator of trouble would be if he offered to cede land to what would make real the much-feared “Third Entity,” by having it straddle the Federation and Serb Republic. A Serbo-Croatian agreement to expand Croatian cantonal administration into the “anvil” and Serbian-controlled territory abutting the Sava (possibly including arrangements for movements by some Serbs from the affected areas and, perhaps, Croats wanting to leave Federation cantons in Central Bosnia) could be implemented despite international howls and the certainty that the transformed “Bosnia-Herzegovina” would be forever barred from the EU. Croats would have their de facto Entity (no matter how many politicians were disqualified by UN or EU viceroys) because informal patronage networks, trade with Croatia, and cooperation between Bosnia’s Serb and Croat bosses would trump dysfunctional Federation and central Bosnian structures. The fact of the matter would be that two of Bosnia’s three consociational communities (with apologies to Messrs. Finci and Sejdic) would then agree on a permanently “non-civic” future.

At this point, there would be no “Bosnia,” but there would be an angry and defiant Bosnjak community. Religious and secular nationalist factions would strive for leadership, not just in Bosnia but among Bosnjaks in the Sandzak as well. Some Serbs initially might feel satisfaction at Bosnia’s further entropy, but Bosnjaks are not going to quietly succumb to the logic of “2 against 1.” Further defeats in Bosnia would undermine the Bosnjaks’ Western/European orientation and provide opportunities for those Bosnjaks influenced by the global resurrection of Muslim self-confidence to increase the currently small support for a more religious communal future.

  • In any case, it is not clear how long Bosnjaks are going to continue to suffer quietly the serial disappointments they have endured since they had the Dayton agreement imposed on them in 1995.

Of course, this notion of a Sporazum with teeth looks unlikely now – for all the noise he makes, Dodik so far has proven unwilling to carry out secession threats and may well not take the risk of enabling a Third Entity. Still, the current politics of “2 against 1” reflect the failure that is Bosnia and the danger that a Dayton arrangement acceptable to none of the country’s players (except maybe for Dodik) could provoke challenges even more unexpected and indelible than those so far evident.

David B. Kanin is an adjunct professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University and a former senior intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

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0 Response

  1. JC

    The bandages are coming off Bosnia to reveal a diseased scab.

    The Dayton agreement was not forced on Bosniaks they simply rode the wave of Operation Storm to land where they are today.

    Bosnia is an international protectorate held together by world powers, once the protection is withdrawn it will all turn sour again.

    With all the talk of strengthening Bosnia’s institutions fancy the High Representative overturning the electral commisions decleration that the government formed in the Federation was illegal. The citizens of Bosnia may as well dismantle all institutions and live under the High Representatives rule.

    In all democracies the people always get it right. So why is it then in Bosnia that the protectorate world powers declare that the nationalist parties should not have won as it is not in Bosnia’s interest. Are they saying the people got it wrong?

  2. Foks

    Yeah, the people in Bosnia (and Herzegovina) “got it right”.
    The international community was evil to stop the war and slaughtering, that Bosnia (and Herzegovina) people, with their “excellent choice” of political representatives, “got right”. And not just that, International community continues to be evil in trying to prevent some future “misfortunes” and help BiH to enter the EU. How dare they! Bad IC, very bad! We know better, we’d like our country back to 17th century, that is where we belong!
    And have no illusions, Bosniaks have been forced to Dayton. The other option was to continue the war and lose the international community’s, especially US, support, which would practically mean to let Serbia (and Croatia) to finish the job it started.
    However, it is a mystery to me why the OHR supported Lagumdzija and helped formation of FBiH government in such a way. They must know something we don’t…
    But it does not look good to me.

  3. ida

    Well Tudjman and Izetbegovic started the wars as allies and it was Izetbegovic who allowed Croatia to send troops into Bosnia at the very beginning of the war. So it was the Muslims and Croats who were working against the Serbs. And recently with the arrest of Azra Basic – an “ethnic” Muslim woman with the Croatian army – sheds light on what the Croatian army was doing in Bosnia at the BEGINNING of the war. They ALREADY had torture camps set up that April and very deep, deep in Bosnia far away from Croatia’s border. She served at three camps/prisons where the Croatian Army was torturing and killing Serbs in a Serb majority town not far from the border with Serbia. It is actually surprising how many of these torture camps the Croats and Muslims were operating in eastern Bosnia. There were many they co-operated but during their own war, in central and southern Bosnia, they ended up putting the others in the camps where they formerly held the Serbs in 1992.
    Here’s one a Bosnian Muslim guard confessed he did rape at in a 2008 trial:
    Veiz Bjelic pleads guilty – Vlasenica area -The indictment charges Bjelic with having guarded the prison in Rovasi hamlet, as member of the TO Vlasenica from June 1992 to end January 1993, and with having raped one female prisoner. He is also accused of helping other members of his unit to injure prisoners.
    The same indictment charges Ferid Hodzic – as commander of the TO in Vlasenica based in Rovasi hamlet, near Cerska village – with having ordered the arrest of a group of Serb civilians and their detention in “premises normally used for keeping of cattle” between May 1992 and the end of January 1993.

    The concentration camps and prisons for Serb civilians were totally and purposely UNDER REPORTED – and many were up and running within the first month of the war. And in what is today the RS – though in Sarajevo the Muslims had several scores of them for the Serbian population.

  4. Bosnian

    @Ida interesting.. the way you put it. Bur really I lost my family in a serb camp… You know in Prijedor so whats up whit that……

    The were held by serbs.

    Have you forgot Srebrenica?

    Dayton, bullshit because Bosnia as a country will never function whit three parts saying yes, because dodik will always stop it like he always do.
    Look at the UEFA just that, football.. he is crazy :) I like to listen to him just because he is not normal and the worst thing is the support he gets. Whats wrong whit the people. Europe is so far away so long we have people like Dodik stopping the countries process now I mean Bosnia and Hercegovina the whole country as it is. And I would like to get inside peoples head and just see whats fucking wrong whit them everyone included.

    The need to wake up…. they almost have nothing to eat but they support something probably the don’t even understand.

    We, Bosnia will NEVER enter EU membership because people who dosn’t se the best for the country. No RS just one country one leader. one men or a women that will well for everyone serb, croats and bosnjak and others minority.

    over and out

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