- Bosnia and Herzegovina
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Nation-building cannot be said to have failed in Bosnia as the big powers, operating under warped calculations, have not allowed democracy to take root there in the first place.
Matthew Parish is wrong when he states that Wilsonian political liberalism has been the guiding motif of Western foreign policy in the former Yugoslavia.
Josip Glaurdic, a Junior Research Fellow in Political Science at Clare College, at the University of Cambridge, has provided a paradigmatic new study, The Hour of Europe: Western Powers and the Breakup of Yugoslavia, which is far and away the most well researched account of the policies which motivated the major powers during the crisis leading up to and beyond the actual dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Glaurdic demonstrates convincingly that a realist power calculus drove the UK, the US, France and Germany, as well as the broader European Community, to consistently side with the forces of reaction in Yugoslavia, out of a belief that they would establish a new regime based on order and stability.
Before Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic became the preferred strongman, the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, had been the leading contender for the throne left vacant by Yugoslavia’s long-time ruler Josip Broz Tito.
Yet, as Milosevic rose through the ranks and shrewdly established himself as the dominant political institution in Yugoslavia after 1987, the opinions of Western policy-makers followed.
“In spite of formidable evidence to the contrary,” the international community insisted on viewing, and mistaking, “the Serbian leader for a reformer of Gorbachev’s mould who was trying to strengthen the integrity of the federation.”
He remained their choice for leadership of a unified Yugoslav state and Glaurdic argues that that this “is why they failed to alter their policies even after all the rallies and regional putsches and even after the brutal subjugation of Kosovo.
This is also why they gave signals of approval for the increasing involvement of the JNA. What is worst,” he concludes, is that “they continued to make such ‘realist’ mistakes in years to come - even after those ‘armed battles,’ which Milosevic announced at Kosovo Polje, had spread throughout Yugoslavia.”
While Glaurdic does not deal with the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina itself, he suggests that the policies of tacit approval that the Western powers had pursed - in allowing Milosevic to orchestrate a series of wars when his recentralization of the federation began to fissure - saw their bloodiest expression there.
By consenting to the strong-arm tactics of Milosevic and his ally, the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, (still in the name of “peace” and “stability”), the international mediators tasked with preventing the war in Bosnia implicitly embraced the logic of ethno-nationalist chauvinism, which had become the clear and dominant feature of the former’s political ambitions.
The February 1992 “peace plan” proposed by Portugal’s Jose Cutileiro and Britain’s Peter Carrington damaged the prospects for peace and co-existence in Bosnia in a manner “that cannot be overstated.
By accepting the ethnic principle for the reorganisation of the republic, Cutileiro in essence recognised the platforms of [Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party] the SDS, and the Boban wing of the [Bosnian Croatian Democratic Union] HDZ and opened a Pandora’s box of ethnic division that still mars Bosnia to this very day.” As Glaurdic notes, “Cutileiro’s intent was obviously to appease the Bosnian Serbs and their Belgrade sponsor into not implementing their massive war machinery.
However, instead of lowering tensions and giving the three parties an impetus to keep negotiating, the plan actually gave them a ‘charter for ethnic cleansing.’” Under the guise of accepting “ethnic reality” the plan was “in fact inducing the parties - and especially the Bosnian Serbs, who had the military backing of Serbia and the JNA - to create new ethnic realities on the ground.”
As the head of Serbia’s Helsinki Committee Sonja Biserko has noted, when their war effort finally collapsed, the “Serbian elite accepted the  Dayton Agreement under the pressure of reality, and in the knowledge that [the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska] would otherwise be totally defeated.”
However, it was the international community which “halted the [joint Croatian-Bosnian] offensive which threatened the fall of Banja Luka and Prijedor” and later insisted on “the ethnic division of Bosnia and the war results, [which] meant that, at the very outset, elements were introduced which could not guarantee a functional state [in Bosnia-Herzegovina].”
In considering the historical moment in which the Dayton Agreement was produced, the eminent theorist of International Relations Professor David Campbell has argued that in “contrast to the unitary and non-racial structure of South Africa post-1994 elections…[Dayton] resembles in large part the political logic abandoned in southern Africa,” which is to say: apartheid.
The apartheid logic, embraced by the international community in the mid-1990s, has since then become institutionalized state policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It has created a state composed of ethnic fiefdoms, where oligarchs like Milorad Dodik, Fahrudin Radoncic and Dragan Covic, amongst others, are able to sequester the possibility of actual democratic politics to the realm of their theatrical ethno-nationalist antagonisms.
Post-war Bosnia is thus what Professor of Political Science Asim Mujkic of the University of Sarajevo has referred to as an “Ethnopolis,” a state where “[under] the cover of the legitimacy conferred by free and fair elections, citizens as individuals are stripped of any political power”.
The continued insistence of the European Union and the US on political reforms in Bosnia is hence made virtually impossible by the very structures which they have imposed on the country, and the political actors which they continue to treat as genuine interlocutors.
Parish’s contends that, “[imposing] liberalism is a contradiction in terms, and attempting to do so after a war has intensified ethnic hatreds defies common sense. Political values take centuries of inculcation, and state-building missions try in vain to prove themselves exceptions to this iron rule.”
He has however completely misrepresented the actual character of the international administration of Bosnia. Any remotely consistent liberal doctrine would have supported democratic reforms in Yugoslavia in the 1980s, would have supported genuine multiethnic co-existence in Bosnia in the 1990s and would have empowered the position and political rights of individual citizens since the end of the war.
Instead, at almost every critical juncture, the international community has sided with the forces of reaction and violent chauvinism because they did not have the convictions to defend their own purported values, but preferred instead a realist calculus in the name of “stability” and “order.”
The danger in providing an account such as the one Parish has provided is that while it correctly identifies the frustrations felt by many international observers and policy makers when it comes to the failure of “nation-building” in Bosnia, it provides a completely backwards analysis of why “nation-building” in Bosnia has failed or, at least, slowed.
The Bosnian people have not even been seriously allowed to experiment with democracy because the international community has insisted on a constitutional order that has made ethnic animosity a permanent feature of daily political life. Democracy has not failed in Bosnia, as it has not even been allowed to take root.
And in any case, if this is what constitutes “nation-building” then I do not see that it has failed, either; what other possible outcome could Dayton’s logic have ensured?
The people of Bosnia deserve an opportunity to live in a secular, democratic, multiethnic society. We cannot allow the warped relist machinations of the Great Powers and the petty chauvinism and banditry of local oligarchs to doom the aspirations of an entire country. After more than 20 years, we owe them a change in policy.
Jasmin Mujanovic is a PhD student in Political Science at York University, in Toronto, Canada, working on the topic of democratic renewal in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and is a regular contributor to Politics, Re-Spun.