OPINION - Bosnia doesn’t need another dishonest broker
There is no need for OHR in country without will to use it to ends for which it was established: to promote and implement highest standards of democracy, rule of law, and human rights, all of which are explicitly stated in the Bosnian Constitution
The author is the director of the Srebrenica Memorial Center. A part-time lecturer at the International Relations Department of the International University of Sarajevo (IUS), Dr. Suljagić is also the author of two books: “Ethnic Cleansing: Politics, Policy, Violence - Serb Ethnic Cleansing Campaign in former Yugoslavia” and “Postcards from the Grave”
SREBRENICA, Bosnia and Herzegovina
This is the news about Bosnia and Herzegovina no one seems to get: for all intents and purposes, the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the key international institution established under the Dayton Accords in charge of the civilian (political) implementation of the peace agreement, and more importantly, an institution that assumed the role of final arbiter of the inevitable political friction within the Bosnian political system, has ceased to exist. However, it may not be all bad news.
Here is some context:
On July 23, this year, in the final days of his mandate, now-former High Representative Valentin Inzko used the so-called “Bonn Powers” – i.e., the authority to “facilitate the resolution of any difficulties… by making binding decisions, as he judges necessary” – to impose amendments to the country’s Criminal Code outlawing genocide denial.
OHR is also the last remaining significant mechanism of the international involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former military component of the peace arrangement has been wound down over the years from a robust military operation to a less-than-symbolic military presence.
The decision to make it illegal to deny or glorify genocide had been promised by Inzko several years previously, and it had long been expected and necessary to stem the resurgence of genocide denial advocated, sponsored, and financed by Bosnian Serb institutions. Genocide denial is institutional among Bosnian Serbs as well as Serbs in Serbia. It is now one of the central planks of the Serb political agenda shared by Banja Luka and Serbia, the so-called “Serb world,” which has recently resulted in dramatic violence in Montenegro. Furthermore, to a certain extent, it is more virulent now than it was in the immediate post-war years. And it has now become part of folklore, with indicted or convicted war criminals treated as stars by the media.
In response to Inzko’s decision, the Serb political class walked out of the government and other state institutions, announcing a literal boycott of the government. Milorad Dodik, the Serb Presidency member, even declared at one point that Bosnian Serbs “have no other option but to move towards dissolution” of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the rhetoric calling for violence –because the idea of secession entails violence– has petered out, the crisis has been exacerbated by the arrival of the new High Representative, Christian Schmidt. Schmidt, a German Christian Democrat and former federal minister in the German government, was appointed with the personal support of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Bosnian Serbs, backed primarily by Russia (and, more recently, China), opposed his appointment, with the two countries proposing a UN Security Council resolution to shut down OHR permanently.
The entire Bosnian Serb political class boycotts Schmidt as well –he has yet to meet with any one of them– and denies him legitimacy, citing a lack of formal consent by the UN Security Council, a requirement not necessary for the appointment of a High Representative.
Let’s be clear: there is no need for OHR in the country without the will to use it to the ends for which it was established: to promote and implement the highest standards of democracy, rule of law, and human rights, all of which are explicitly stated in the Bosnian Constitution. Schmidt has indicated a willingness as of late to use OHR Bonn powers in an explicitly anti-democratic direction, namely, to entrench an apartheid-style power-sharing arrangement in the country. If he acted on it, Schmidt would be following in the footsteps of a long line of international brokers in Bosnia and Herzegovina who sought to appease Serbian or Croatian nationalism even though they were responsible for crimes against humanity and ultimately genocide.
Schmidt, more than anything, embodies the lack of will on the part of the international community, and unless there is a radical change in the US and EU approach to former Yugoslavia, Schmidt will highly likely oversee the official end of OHR.
Schmidt recently attended a panel in Germany, where one of his co-panelists, Prof. Marie-Janine Calic –a leading “Balkan-expert” in Germany – borderline denied Srebrenica genocide, claiming that genocide commemoration is a Bosniak nationalist project. The other co-panelist was President of the Bundestag Wolfgang Schauble, who openly stated that the partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina would leave “a Muslim island with significant conflict potential”. The tone of the entire debate was overtly colonial, revealing the depth of prejudice in some German political circles towards the Balkans, particularly Bosnia and its only group that, among other things, self-identifies as Muslim. Schmidt remained silent.
We have heard enough of this over the past 30 years.
That is why it may not be all bad news if OHR withers away, goes away in another manner, or is simply shut down. This country does not need another dishonest broker.
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