The Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina faces "inevitable collapse"

An interview with Matthew Parish, the former Chief Legal Adviser to the International Supervisor of Brčko, on the current political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the challenges surrounding government formation and the Republika Srpska’s proposed referendum on the Court and Prosecutor’s Office.

1. Three years ago, you warned that the OHR in BiH is part of the problem, not part of the solution. What is the situation in BiH like three years later, what is the role of the OHR in creating the crisis in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and complicating the overall situation in establishing the government?

The OHR is more or less irrelevant now, at least domestically. Dodik has proved he can ignore the institution and politicians from other national groups have increasingly followed his lead. Also, the current High Representative is not an authoritarian and has no interest in trying to force the country in his direction by dismissing officials and imposing legislation. For this moderation he is to be commended; but his passive attitude is the final nail in the coffin of strong international intervention in Bosnia.

The only way in which OHR still has some influence is as an “expert” on Bosnia whose opinions continue to have some weight in European capitals and the United States. But even that is fading, as different European countries develop divergent policies in Bosnia’s future.

However, I do not think OHR is responsible for the crisis in the Federation. That crisis was caused by irreconcilable Bosniak and Croat political goals. The Bosniak-Croat conflict, dormant for several years, has returned to curse the Federation, which survived previously only because SDA was prepared to cede to Croats substantial autonomy over Herzegovina. SDP is not willing to do that and thus the Croats are withdrawing from Federation institutions.

2. There is now some discussion of OHR moving to another city. What will this mean for Bosnia, and what impact would OHR’s move have on the political developments in our country?

No official announcement has been made about OHR’s closure. But I am told that Inzko is tired of his impossible job and wants to retire. The Europeans know that OHR is finished as an effective force in Bosnian politics, but are afraid of the political symbolism in closing the institution. The solution being contemplated is a typically messy European compromise, in which the office will close and Inzko will move back to Vienna but will theoretically retain his “Bonn Powers” at a distance. This is a silly idea and I hope it dies in the hallways of Brussels. Whatever Bosnia’s future, OHR is no longer a part of the narrative.

3. What do you see can really be done to alleviate the problems concerning the establishment of a government in the Federation?

I don’t see an easy resolution of the problems in the Federation. Bosniak voters elected SDP and SDP is not prepared to compromise with the HDZ parties, which overwhelmingly represent Croat political opinion. I think we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Federation.

4. Is it true that Zlatko Lagumdzija had the support of the international community and the United States to form a government in the FBIH, in the way that he has?

Lagumzija is an excellent politician on the international stage. He has managed to portray himself, and his political party, as a moderate multi-ethnic voice of modern Bosnia that meets American and European visions for the country. He has portrayed himself as distinct from the “nationalist” politicians that the international community loves to hate. Thus he has received support and funding, particularly from American sources. But in my view, this international success has led him into dangerous territory in national politics. He thinks foreign support can help him push a domestic agenda for which there is no consensus. But it cannot. Foreign interest in Bosnia is tepid at best and nobody will make Dodik or Covic do deals they do not want to do.

5. How do you see the announcement of the Dayton Two conference, and what does it say about the politics and intentions of SDP and Zlatko Lagumdzija?

Dayton Two will achieve nothing, and everyone knows it. Countless previous discussions of constitutional reform in Bosnia have achieved nothing, in circumstances in which there was far more international pressure for a result than there is now. The three national groups’ visions of the country’s future are too different for any compromise to be reached.

However, it is a clever move on the part of SDP to push for a Dayton Two. SDP can again portray itself to the outside world as the only voice of moderation in Bosnia.

6. What is your view about the coalition between SDA, SDP, the Party for Work and Progress and HSP in the Federation? Is this programme of interest to you?

This is a false coalition. It cannot be effective because the principal Croat parties are frozen out. I think SDA will regret entering the coalition because Tihic could previously work with Covic and now all that has gone. SDA is in this deal under American pressure and because the party’s militant branch in Mostar wants to undermine HDZ. These are not motives giving rise to sustainable coalition government.

7. How do the situation in the Federation and failures of state authorities affect the RS and what is the RS’s position in this situation?

The collapse of the Federation is a Godsend to Dodik. He can now frustrate the formation of a state government indefinitely by repeating a simple line: the Prime Minister must be a Croat from HDZ. Of course Dodik doesn’t care who the state Prime Minister is; but he knows this demand will be intolerable for SDP, and thus he can prevent formation of a state government indefinitely. This is good news for the RS’s autonomy, since it can say to the outside world “look, this country doesn’t work, it’s time to give up on the idea of a unified Bosnia”.

8. Should RS representatives expect the same types of concern at the state level as Croats in the Federation have in dealing with SDP?

There will be no coalition between SNSD and SDP. There will be meetings and discussions ad nauseam, but no agreement. I doubt any state government will be formed in the near future, and perhaps never again. Certainly that is Dodik’s goal: to use real or imagined disputes with Lagumdzija to forestall any national government indefinitely. Lagumdzija has made this strategy easier for Dodik by cutting the HDZ parties out of a Federation coalition. Now the HDZs will not enter into a state-level coalition with Lagumdzija either. Inzko talks about the importance of creating a state government, but the prospects of this happening with the current situation in the Federation are zero. Dodik’s position is incredibly strong, but nobody seems to realise it – apart, perhaps, from him.

9. What do you have to say about the restrictive measures to be adopted by the EU in BiH against those who supposedly undermine the common institutions?

There won’t be any restrictive measures, because they are illegal under EU law and everyone knows it. Bank accounts cannot be frozen save where terrorist financing is involved. In theory travel restrictions could be imposed, but that requires a decision of the Council of the European Union and in practice I doubt the necessary consensus could be reached. This is all talk and nothing will come of it. If any officials have restrictive measures imposed upon them, I am a lawyer – they can give me a call.

10. Who in your opinion could be an EUSR in Bosnia and will it just be a continuation of OHR as it is commonly believed that the adoption of these restrictive measures is in preparation for his arrival? Can we expect a more realistic approach towards the situation in BiH, with less partiality?

Closure of OHR must involve dismissal of all OHR staff. They have been working there for years, and they are still living in the Paddy Ashdown era. They are bloated on the arrogance of power, and are responsible for many of the worst abuses committed by OHR. They are also giving the two officials in charge, Inzko and Moore, bad advice.

EUSR has been recruiting staff separately. In my opinion they are of a much higher quality. They understand the weaknesses of the international community’s prior role in the country, and they have a more realistic assessment of Bosnia’s future.

11. Does the RS have the right to express its view on the Court and Prosecutor’s Office of BiH?

In a modern European democracy, anybody has the right to criticise any public institution. The courts and prosecutor are not exempt from this principle, and many of the criticisms made of them are legitimate. It is a shame these institutions were established under foreign pressure, without an inter-ethnic consensus. They now seem destined to inevitable collapse, like so much else in Bosnia.

Matthew Parish was formerly Chief Legal Adviser to the International Supervisor of Brčko, a city in northern Bosnia subject to post-war supervision by the US government by reason of its strategic importance in the country’s conflict. He is a frequent writer and commentator on Balkan affairs. www.matthewparish.com

This interview originally appeared in Glas Srpske on April 13th 2011, and can be read by clicking here.

Mr. Parish’s book on international intervention in post-war Bosnia, A Free City in the Balkans: Reconstructing a Divided Society in Bosnia (International Library of War Studies), is published by I.B.Tauris. To read other articles by Matthew Parish on TransConflict.com, please click here

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