Political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Thierry Domin
First published in
SFOR Informer#126, November 14, 2001
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
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.
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.