On Wednesday, 28 December, leaders from the six political parties elected in October 2010 to govern Bosnia met for the fourth time since the vote in the hopes of finally forming a central government. Four hours later, they had a deal, resolving a nuanced dispute over Cabinet appointments for representatives of Bosnia’s Croat community. The Croat, Muslim and Serb pols decided which ethnic groups would lead which ministries, and Bosnian Croat Vjekoslav Bevanda – a former finance minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the two political entities created by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords – was nominated as premier shortly thereafter.

So ended a 14-month political crisis, as many called it, that stalled Bosnia’s European Union (EU) bid, sapped its economy and had the International Crisis Group warning that renewed violence could erupt as Bosnia’s Croat, Muslim and Serb leaders fought for power of a deeply fractured state. But the spirit of compromise hasn’t suddenly swept Sarajevo. In fact, I’d argue that the hasty December deal actually emphasizes the cynicism, self-interest and dysfunction of Bosnian politics since the conflict.

First, a corruption investigation against Milorad Dodik, president of the Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity that has repeatedly threatened secession, was dropped the day of the “breakthrough,” which certainly suggests skullduggery. Second, the timing further belies any hopes that the deal was born of altruism, a grand realization among leaders, perhaps, that they were robbing Bosnians of  “an ordinary life,” as an EU envoy recently suggested. Indeed, compromise was the only remaining move. Under Bosnia’s public finance rules, the state can run on temporary funding based on the previous year’s budget. But no government in 2011 meant no state budget in 2011 – which meant Bosnia faced a public financing crisis as 2012 dawned. But the last minute compromise allowed leaders to pass a last minute budget on New Year’s Eve to secure temporary funding, presumably until a 2012 budget is adopted, assuming the deal holds.

“Farce” comes to mind: As the opposition Alliance for the Better Future of Bosnia put it, Balkan Insight reports, leaders squandered the first third of their time in office bickering only to solve “all of the country’s problems in 48 hours.” Nevertheless, coalition members say they want to get down to work after a standoff that scared off foreign investors – FDI has fallen some 80 percent since 2008 – and stalled key EU reforms that must be passed at the state level (the entities have governing bodies that functioned during the crisis). But not much is likely to change. Last week’s Economist quotes Anes Alic, a Bosnian analyst:

What is left of the ruling parties’ mandate (with 15 months already lost) will be characterized by the traditional political obstruction and nationalist rhetoric which the majority of the electorate has grown to accept as par for the course. Republika Srpska officials will stay the course of attempting to diminish the power of state institutions, and hints of secession will continue to circulate. Bosnian Croats will continue to work towards the creation of a third entity in the country with a Bosnian Croat majority under the perception that their ethnic identity is under threat. Bosniaks will continue to fight both without any compromise.

Looking forward, one issue to keep an eye on is the planned census. Brussels demands Bosnia commit to holding a census before applying for EU candidate status, and leaders say they agreed to the relevant legislation at the 28 December meeting. But, given the legacy of ethnic cleansing and displacement in the Balkans conflicts of the 1990s, this is an acutely sensitive issue. Kosovo didn’t even try to hold an objective census until last year, and every member of Macedonia’s National Census Commission resigned in October because ethnic Macedonians and Albanians couldn’t agree on how to conduct the survey. If Bosnian leaders can cooperate on an objective census this year after the acrimony of 2011, that would signal progress indeed.

Picture of the Bosnian parliament from Wikimedia Commons

S. Adam Cardais

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Email: adam.cardais@tol.org.

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