comment 13 Sep 12

Bosnia’s SDP Sold Out to Forces of Darkness

Once the great hope of a multi-ethnic Bosnia, under Zlatko Lagumdzija, the Social Democrats have become just another instrument of Bosnia’s destruction.

By William A Stuebner

The Dayton Agreement always contained within it a toxin that would ultimately guarantee the destruction of the dream of a democratic, multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Whenever I said this to late US diplomat Richard Holbrooke, he became angry and defensive. He was an intelligent man who recognised that almost any agreement has inherent flaws, but he rejected the notion that he had negotiated a peace with a fatal flaw. The lethal error was the legitimisation of ethnic politics.

Still, many generally pessimistic observers of Bosnia long clung to one beacon of hope; the ethnically non-aligned nature of the Social Democratic Party, SDP.

Despite the widespread rejection of the one-party system in the 1990 election, many Yugoslavs who had grown up during the age of Tito’s slogan about “Brotherhood and Unity” still believed that people of disparate religions and customs could exist peacefully side-by-side.

And there was always the assumption that these mothers and fathers would influence their children to prefer tolerance and friendship to fear and hatred. The SDP was, until recently, the one political party that seemed to be above the stupidity of ethnic division.

While most other parties used fear of “the other” to retain power, the appeal of the Social Democrats was their rejection of the ethnic games that everyone else was playing.

Now, however, the leader of the SDP, Zlatko Lagumdzija, appears to have sold out to the dark forces that want to bring about Bosnia’s final dissolution and plunge the country back into fratricide.

His machinations regarding proportional ethnic representation as a way to respond to the European Court of Human Rights’ 2009 ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case, and his dismantling of the governing coalition in favour of highly questionable political alliances have resulted in the resignation in disgust of the SDP’s highest elected official, Zeljko Komsic, Croat member of Bosnia’s State Presidency.

Lagumdzija also withdrew the SDP from its coalition with the Party for Democratic Action, SDA, not only because they opposed him over proportional representation but also because they rejected his draft legislation designed to bring police and state television in Bosnia’s Federation entity under political (i.e. Lagumdzija’s) control, by eliminating independent, non-partisan supervisory boards.

EU and US officials also opposed the plans, but the initiatives had already exposed the almost dictatorial inclinations of the SDP leader to some of his most important international supporters.

He then took his party into a long-threatened alliance with the Alliance for a Better Future, a party founded in 2009 by Fahrudin Radoncic.

Radoncic is the owner of “Dnevi Avaz”, a Bosnian newspaper, which has long been a tool for the character assassination of anyone that Radoncic dislikes or sees as a rival.

The current target is Bakir Izetbegovic, a relatively moderate and pragmatic politician who is the highest elected member of the SDA and member of the State Presidency.

Some of the nationalistic, ethnically-based parties have always used the Dayton Agreement to put Bosnia in a state of limbo. Progress has been stymied in almost every area imaginable.

On the big issues like EU and NATO accession, every country in the Balkans is leaping ahead. Unemployment among military-age men is well above 50 per cent, and given Europe’s economic problems, this situation can only worsen, since the old relief valve of going abroad to work has all but disappeared.

Hope for the future is almost non-existent among young people in Bosnia.

Even stagnation can be sustainable as long as there is no heat to bring the pot to a boil. But in the Balkans, there are always plenty of pyromaniacs. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic kindled the flame in Kosovo in 1987 only to have Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman and his colleagues add fuel to the fire.

For the past decade, Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska and head of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, has been the principal bogeyman. He has been the man that anyone interested in a peaceful, multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina loves to hate.

In his defense, at least he has been straightforward and consistent. Many other politicians of all stripes have followed paths just as likely to destroy the country, but they have been disingenuous; saying what the international community wanted to hear while lining their pockets and sowing just as much discontent as Dodik.

The most serious recent “game change” that endangers peace and progress has been the transformation of the SDP by its leader into just one more instrument of conflict.

So what will trigger renewed violence and who is likely to be the instigator? Despite efforts at disarmament, there are still plenty of weapons floating around Bosnia.

Furthermore, “clubs” and paramilitary formations exist. People are still angry, and reconciliation is no more than a dream involving relatively few dreamers. For good reason, Bosniaks are the most aggrieved party from the last war and have the most to lose from the dissolution of the country.

Croats constitute a small minority, and with Croatia’s accession to NATO and the EU, Zagreb will not want to instigate anything. Belgrade is also unlikely to intervene in any meaningful way, especially given the hard lessons of the last war.

Consequently, it is probable that a small minority of angry Bosniaks may take things into their own hands.

Initial incidents could take the form of the forcible occupation of property or the destruction of national flags and symbols. Perhaps someone with poor judgment will wear the wrong insignia in the wrong area, and their mutilated body will be discovered at a border crossing or in front of some other public place like a church or a war memorial or a sporting event.

Cemeteries or places of worship may be desecrated. Attempts at enforcing public order could cause multi-ethnic police and military units to disintegrate. Ultimately, we could witness the attempted assassination of nationalistic public officials or car bombs designed both to kill and to elicit a reaction.

The Europeans are focused on their own economic problems, and the Americans simply have other priorities. Europe certainly has the most to lose and is in danger from two threats. The first could be a repeat of the refugee flows of the 1990s, which would strain already struggling economies.

But this pales by comparison with a far worse possibility. If Bosnia is divided into three rump states, as some wish, the Bosniak portion would face the same discrimination from Europe that Turks have experienced for decades.

This could also destabilise the mainly Bosniak Sandjak area straddling Serbia and Montenegro, thereby sparking wider conflict.

Europe would ultimately, perhaps in 10 or 20 years, be confronted with a nightmare of its own making; a radicalised, educated, European Muslim population with no hope and a lust for revenge.

There may be little time left for the international community to halt the slide toward this outcome. It is time to get serious about supporting the forces of moderation represented by people like Komsic and Izetbegovic.

William A Stuebner is former US diplomat and former Special Adviser to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

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