Returning from a conference with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Sarajevo a few days ago: It was a frustrating experience how much debates seems to revolve around themselves without evolving. A lot of discussion still focused on what kind of state Bosnia should be, whether or not it should have entities and that it cannot reform itself without such fundamental changes. While these are important questions, there appears so little movement and willingness to take the next step and consider the need for consensus and compromise. A major reorganization is seen by many in the civic and ‘gradjanski’ Bosnia as the way out of the deadlock the country finds itself. While I understand the frustration and the need to find a way out, this hope that the Gordian know cut be cut is simply not helpful. Bosnia will not have a Dayton 2 where the country is re-organized by benevolent international powers, second, Bosnia can only exist as a compromise this is both its weakness and its potential strength. Furthermore, this interpretation assigns to much weight on institutions and ignores that while political elites might be empowered by them they are also reflecting social trends and divisions which are not going to be undone by getting rid of entity voting or veto rights here and there. However, there seems to be little discussion about the nature of Bosnia in the future and what the many labels ‘regionalism’, ‘strong state’ etc. mean.

There is thus, as has been before a gap between the technical and sometimes technocratic debates international officials would like to conduct and the grand plans many Bosnian intellectuals advance. No trace yet of a debate.

7 Responses to Sarajevo

  1. Dany says:

    I read your web site and blog rather carefully. So, your advice to Bosnians would be something like “Just get over it and forget what happened?” – in that respect you sound like Miroslav Lajcak. Hence, your recommendations (at least those you are giving here publicly) appear to be like an old and rather unproductive type of attitude “international community” has pursued during 90’s and all the way up to now. But if the passing of time was suppose to “heal wounds” and “promote reconciliation and turn towards the EU integration” (or so does the official rhetoric’s go) how come 13 years after the war the Bosnian s feel victims more than ever – interesting psychological development, wouldn’t you say? Also, it appears Bosnian experiment of the int. comm. will end up in a huge embarrassment, emboldening future local and international conflicts and, dare I say, sending an interesting message particularly to a Muslim world. It appears that ethnic cleansing and ultimately Srebrenica genocide perpetrated by Serbs (in other parts of the world this will be read as “Christians) over Muslims, which was “indifferently, if malignantly, overlooked” by the European countries (i wonder if Serbs acted like proxies for them, similar to how Germans acted as proxies for the rest of Europe when it comes to treatment of Jews)) pays out. To this, I should also add the looming possibility of the ethnic division of Kosovo. So, looking at the situation there from the US perspective, it seems to me that the EU (or the obscure conglomerate of European countries) has finally got its own Middle East or the combination of Georgia/Northern Ireland intractable type of conflict. Considering past record of Europe in Balkans, prospects for a successful conflict management seem rather murky, wouldn’t you agree?

  2. Dany says:

    Sorry, before I forget – you didn’t seem to make any suggestion of your own of how B&H should look in the future? I understand that many of the int. “community” pundits in Balkans would like to say that the responsibility is “primarily domestic, hence there should be a consensus, democratic dialogue…” – but there remains a fact that Dayton P.A. was made and written by foreign powers (US first and foremost) and the parties just signed it (what else could have they done)? There seems to be a contradiction if someone should take responsibility for consequences of action of others, no?
    Before I forget, at some point when European countries make a final mess with Kosovo and Bosnia (two foremost US clients in Balkans), don’t you think there will be a time for US to step in – not in sense of sending troops or something (none has strenght for that now) but, i.e., by sending, say, military advisers to Kosovo and Bosnia outside the “official lines of NATO”?

  3. fbieber says:

    Thanks for the comments. I certainly wouldn’t argue that anybody ‘should get over it’ or forget the past. I am arguing that there are two debates, one about the past which will take a long time, but which has to be held within and between communities and one debate over the future of Bosnia and the organization of the state. Currently, I am concerned that the willingness to compromise–which has to be at the core of any future Bosnian state is lacking as any political concession today is seen as passing judgement on the past.
    As for your question on how Bosnia should look like in the future, I think there have been too many ideas and idealistic proposals of what Bosnia could be like one day, but this is mostly a talk of some utopia and does not help. Disucssion about Belgium, Northern Ireland are all not about what they should be like, but what they can be like–making divided societies work is the art of the possible and conflict visions of what should be are often the biggest obstacle. My vision for Bosnia is thus fairly banal: A less ethnicaly defined state which can effectively join the EU, allows movement accross the entity or any other boundaries (real and mental) and an educational system which educates and does not perpatuate stereotypes.

  4. Dany says:

    Thanks for your reply, I see you retain a much more “hands – off” approach than I do.
    Let me go first to a vision of Bosnia you suggested. You say it’s a “banal” one, but even with all the banality it still appears to be utopian one, if not in terms of ends than definitely in terms of means. Why should entities allow for a greater real movement (meaning settling, return of refugees and so on) – especially the Serb entity considering that the underlying idea, in practice if not on paper, is to exist in (or as some dream out) of Bosnia as a purely Serb ethnic area void of “others” ? What are their incentives? If you can give me answer to that question, I believe same would apply to education and many other things.

    “Get over it part” part of your answer. I was not suggesting that you were arguing for some sort of willful amnesia, though my understanding is that most of the internationals (diplomats, etc.) would were much like to see that, if for no other reason than at least because it would make their job easier. Whether that is desirable or not can be debated, all I was saying is that 14 years after the war both public and private discourse in Bosnia is literally governed by, say, “presence of the past” – which points to a fact that none of the underlying causes and consequences of the conflict have been resolved. This gives a lot of reason to worry, given that we know there are no significant international forces present in Bosnia anymore, which is a reason why many politicians in Bosnia can afford conflict with the international community. In this part you have avoided, if i might say, answer to question in the first post – is the EU or any of its, allow me to say, “laughing stock” forces capable of sustaining any peace in case of troubles?

    And finally, if you dont mind, I would like to reinstate yet again a question you’ve avoid answering to: how exactly do European countries plan to explain to Muslim world (read Arab) continuing existence of Serb entity? While the might not be a problem for the EU (read France, Britain and Germany), that is definitely a US problem since here they are moving towards improving relations with Muslim (read Arabs) for reasons that I think I need not explain. Here, I believe, we should look for reasons of a currently ongoing behind the scenes dispute between France, Britain and some other countries, and the US and possibly Germany on the other (Russian interests in the region are well known). Small example of trouble: Dick Holbrook explaining on CNN following Karadzic arrest that he was a “european bin laden” – silly statement, given that karadzic was leader of a recognized entity. Its like the term used by many in Serbia “Milosevic dictatorship” – it was hardly a dictatorship given widespread popular support. To cut it short, I think most of European pundits currently in the region are lost in fog without a clear way ahead.

  5. Dany says:

    Oh, forget one important question again: though I am well aware after so much investment, dissolution of Bosnia is not an option, I was wondering who is afraid of that more: Europe, Bosnians or Serbs? I know my answer, but I would love to hear yours.

  6. Dany says:

    Sort of confirms what I wrote yesterday, and I would say NY Times is a pretty respectable source.

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