Political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
(November 2001)

by Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#126, November 14, 2001

The previous article was about the political organisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). You will remember that this country has three different decision-making authorities: the common institutions, at the state level, as well as two executive and legislative powers, one for each Entity (Federation and Republika Srpska), without mentioning the special case of the Brcko District.

The political situation obviously depends on the constitution and in BiH, there are three. But the situation has changed a lot since the end of the war. The key date was just one year ago, Nov. 11, 2000.
Five uncertain years
Since the end of the war and the signing in Paris, of the General Framework Agreement for Peace in BiH (GFAP), the country had been under the domination of hard-line political parties relying mostly on "ethnic" principles. In the tri-partite presidency, the Bosnian-Serb SPS, the Bosnian-Croat HDZ and the Bosniac SDA ruled, through Zivko Radisic, Ante Jelavic and Alija Izetbegovic, respectively. The situation was similar in both entities, controlled by the same parties or their affiliated ones. Executive, as well as legislative powers were in the hands of non-compliant politicians. The future seemed to be blocked.
The first warning shot across the bows occurred in March 1999, when the then High Representative (HR), Carlos Westendorp, sacked the President of Republika Srpska, Nikola Poplasen, for obstructionism. Furthermore, the HR refused to grant the vice-president the president's powers, even though both had been democratically elected.
Two more important events occurred in the same month: the arbitration on Brcko, splitting the RS in two parts without a territorial continuity, and the beginning of the Kosovo conflict. Bosnian-Serbs had some reasons to be unsatisfied.
Meanwhile, the situation was not really favourable in the Federation. The two-headed authority, led by SDA and HDZ, was hampering any structural reform and was characterised by persistent opposition to change. The cantonal authorities were mainly ruled by ethnic considerations, obstructing the return of Displaced Persons and Refugees (DPREs). The parliamentary assemblies systematically rejected all the reforms.
2000 General Elections
On Nov. 11, 2000, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), pursuant to its mandate as stated in the GFAP, organised general elections. Electors had to elect the members of the House of Representatives at the state level; the president, the vice-president and the members of National Assembly in RS; and finally the president, the vice-president and the members of the House of Representatives, as well as the cantonal Assemblies, in the Federation. There was no inkling of any change.

In fact, few things changed in the RS. Mirko Sarovic, former vice-president of Nikola Poplasen and a member of SDS, was elected as President and his party obtained a large majority in legislative elections. But, under the pressure of the International Community, SDS agreed not to be part of the government, whose members were chosen among other allied parties. Among them, Mladen Ivanic, president of the PDP, was designated as prime minister. Nevertheless, SDS remained powerful in all the branches.
But in the Federation, it was quite the opposite. The two dominant parties, HDZ and SDA, lost ground as a coalition led by SDP (Zlatko Lagumdzija) and SBiH (Haris Silajdzic) succeeded in gaining the majority. They formed, with eight other small parties, the so-called "Alliance for Change." For the first time since the end of the war, hard-line parties were no longer in control at each level of the Federation political system. But it was also the pretext for the so-called "Bosnian-Croat self-rule," the HDZ refusing to admit its overall decline.
Faced with the intransigence of the HDZ's leader, Ante Jelavic, the HR, Wolfgang Petritsch, sacked him from his positions as member of the tri-partite presidency and president of the HDZ. This decision brought about a certain instability, the main consequences of which were the Hercegovacka Banka affair (see SFOR Informer No. 111, April 18, 2001) and, some few days later, when the loyalty of soldiers belonging to the Bosnian-Croat component (VF-H) of the Federation Army (VF) began to be questioned. SFOR successfully dealt with the two events.
The consequencies
Meanwhile, also in the Federation, another important event occurred. One of the three members of the presidency resigned, citing health problems; this was Alija Izetbegovic, who had been there from the start. With the sacking by the HR of Ante Jelavic, two of the three slots of the presidency were now vacant. Taking advantage of its electoral success, the Alliance for Change installed two members of the coalition, Beriz Belkic (SBiH) and Jozo Krizanovic (SDP), at the tri-partite presidency.
Thus, the success of the moderate parties also had important consequences for the state-level common institutions. The strengthening of the presidency led to the strengthening of another common institution, the Council of Ministers, chaired first by Bozidar Matic and then by Zlatko Lagumdzija. The results were not long in coming: the Election Law, which had for five long years been continuously rejected by the legislative powers, was finally adopted Aug. 23, 2001. As stated by the HR, it was a first step for BiH towards the Council of Europe.
And now?
It would be illusory to believe the Nov. 11 elections had solved all the problems by waving a magic wand. The Alliance for Change is a coalition, with a weak majority. The events that happened last May in Trebinje and Banja Luka on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstones of two mosques showed that there is still reluctance for reconciliation. And the re-election of Ante Jelavic as president of the HDZ, Oct. 8, 2001, attests that hard-liners still exist in the Bosnian-Croat community.
But, little by little, things are improving. Of course, most of the SFOR soldiers only stay here six months, or less. It's difficult to see any progress in such a short time.
Nevertheless, progress is being made every day.

Table of contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Glosary

Political Parties
· Ethnically oriented
SDA: Party of Democratic Action (Bosniac)
HDZ: (Bosnian-) Croat Democratic Party
SDS: (Bosnian-) Serb Democratic Party
PDP: Democratic Party of Progress
SPS: (Bosnian-) Serb Socialist Party
· Less ethnically oriented
SBiH: Party for BiH
· Non ethnically oriented
SDP: Social Democratic Party