Politics

Bosnian Nation Building – Blueprint for Iraq?

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Remember the Bosnian War?

It is a vague memory at best that most of us have regarding events and policy associated with this region, yet it was a hot political topic in its day – with many doubting whether behavior could be changed among the warring factions.

As the 10th anniversary of the Dayton accords rolls around, it’s amazing to realize how quickly time passes. A step toward cementing this uneasy peace, as well as developing a viable exit strategy, is reportedly now on the table.

Bosnia’s rival leaders agreed yesterday to the biggest shift towards centralising power in their partitioned country since the war ended 10 years ago.

A pact reached in Washington under heavy American pressure aimed to overhaul the creaking constitutional machinery that ended the 42-month war in November 1995, but left the country partitioned and dysfunctional.

At ceremonies in Washington to mark a decade since the Dayton accords ending the war were sealed, leaders of parties representing Bosnian Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, as well as leaders of non-ethnic parties, agreed “to streamline” parliament and the tripartite presidency and “embark on a process of constitutional reform” that will strengthen a national government.

The ambitious US-authored scheme aims to turn Bosnia into a “normal” parliamentary democracy and reduce the role played by ethnic factors. The plan has been pushed by the US state department. Its progress is crucial to Bosnia’s chances of entering the European mainstream.

On Monday the EU launched Bosnia on the path of integration, but made plain that it needs to speed up reforms to become “a fully functioning and viable state” if ultimate accession to the EU is to succeed. Yesterday’s agreement, if implemented, should also bring closer the end of the international mission in Bosnia

Certainly the incentive of fuller participation in the EU is providing the motivation for reform actions and more concensus building by the formerly adversarial parties.

Since 1992 Bosnia has seen 42 months of war, siege and ethnic pogrom, and 10 years of embittered peace. Warlords morphed into nationalist politicians, overseen by an international “salariat” of peace enforcers and nation-builders.

The pact signals an attempt at democracy while providing the west with an exit strategy. If agreed – a big if – the plan would be finalised by March, shaping the general elections of next October, and resulting in a less powerful presidency.

The chances are that the rival leaders will agree on phased change buttressing Bosnian statehood and making less likely annexation of chunks of Bosnia by neighbouring Serbia and Croatia.

There’s a long history of animosity and wars among the Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian people, along with much doubt, as recently as fifteen years ago, that this dynamic would or could change.

Have these factions finally reached the stage where they can evolve past the primary (and primal) need for ethnic identity and work toward building a mutually beneficial national presence?

Twenty years from now might we see the same realization and willingness to be nation-builders among the Shites, Sunnis, and Kurds?