Directions and challenges of Euro-American policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, 18 December 2022-26
Krug 99 (Circle 99)
Directions and challenges of Euro-American policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Dayton Pace Accords and the Dayton constitutional regime established by its signing once represented the apex of the post-Cold War liberal international order. It was, and perhaps remains, the crowning achievement of American diplomacy since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. And yet within Bosnia and Herzegovina itself, Dayton has become synonymous with a politics of permanent crisis, conflict, and institutionalized discrimination. Dayton as a diplomatic treatise and Dayton as an actually existing constitutional order are thus in conflict. And it is a conflict which has prevented Bosnia’s evolution into a functional, rational, constitutional, and liberal democracy. 
The resolution of this conflict is stymied by two primary dynamics: one international and one internal. Internally, large segments of the Bosnian political establishment actively prefer and champion ethno-sectarian values and principles over the liberal-democratic norms of the EU and NATO, even while professing a commitment to Bosnia’s membership in both organizations. Externally, leading governments of the Atlantic community have historically sought to strengthen the existing ethno-sectarian constitutional regime in the belief that Bosnia could reach a sustainable point of internal partition, that would not itself become a source of continued and/or renewed conflict and crisis. That approach has never worked. But it has remained the prevailing logic of both American and European diplomacy in the country because it is, in their estimation, preferable to risking the resumption of outright conflict in the process of assisting in the creation of an actual liberal-democratic regime in Bosnia.
As a result, the international community has often found itself – inadvertently or otherwise – in the service of the very sectarian reactionaries it claims to nominally oppose. One especially painful illustration of this principle came on October 2, when High Representative Christian Schmidt amended the Federation entity’s election law and constitution to explicitly strengthen the ethno-sectarian concept within the entity, and by doing so on the day of the general elections themselves, violating every conceivable democratic norm which the broader Euro-Atlantic community purports to embody. Schmidt delivered a historic defeat to the struggle for democratic equality and the rule of law in Bosnia, one from which the country may not recover for decades. He committed, in short, an act of political vandalism.
Yet despite these perverse structural dynamics, and despite the specific malign consequences of Schmidt’s actions, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s chief crisis remains political; above all a crisis of competence within the so-called pro-Bosnian camp. Contrary to their public claims, there is an almost complete absence of a genuine democratic politics, the absence of a genuinely liberal politics, and the absence of a politics genuinely seeking to dismantle the prevailing ethno-sectarian structures imposed on the country after 1992 among these actors. These facts can mostly easily be shown by the inability or refusal of the collective pro-Bosnian establishment to articulate even a collective program of action towards defending the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state. Rather than identifying either the SNSD or HDZ as the most obvious threats to Bosnia’s statehood and seeking to keep them, however possible, from obtaining, at least, state power, the pro-Bosnian camp is riven by petty factionalism that has resulted chiefly in decades of uninterrupted rule by the two most dangerous anti-state elements in the country.
Countless additional examples of this problem could be drawn from the daily headlines, especially in recent weeks. But to us one of the most humiliating manifestations of this failure is the deep conviction of all segments of the nominally pro-Bosnian camp that they are making progress on this. the country depends on a “change of perspective” within the international community – but also their simultaneous and categorical refusal to invest in what is actually necessary to change those same perspectives: namely, a professional diplomatic corps and strong and sustained, non-partisan infrastructure lobbying, at least in Washington, Brussels, London and Berlin. While Serbia and Croatia together have spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade alone lobbying foreign governments in relation to Bosnia, Bosnians have spent exactly zero dollars defending the very survival of their state. This is incomprehensible and unacceptable.
We suspect that this culture of irresponsibility that has prevailed in Bosnian politics is the product of an implicit recognition within the leading elements of the country’s political class that they do not have the capacity to defend Bosnia’s interests, a recognition however accompanied by their perverse belief that if others are allowed to demonstrate that they can do that – deliver leadership for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina – it will mean the end of their domestic political careers. As such, they are willing to risk Bosnia’s dissolution and fragmentation to mask their own incompetence. Whether they are fully cognizant of each aspect, and each consequence, of their actions we do not know. But it is obvious that there is a fundamental lack of competence among most of the purportedly pro-Bosnian political establishment and that the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are under systematic attack, with virtually no push-back from the former. 
Responding this dire situation requires a likewise systematic commitment by genuinely democratic and patriotic elements within Bosnia’s political establishment, civil society, business, and academia to pool their resources to create the parallel institutions necessary to both elevate a new class of political leaders within the country but also to create the institutions necessary to champion Bosnia’s interests abroad. Without such a commitment, and without such efforts, our incompetent and provincial political class will in time allow the already strident anti-Bosnian elements within the country and the region to successfully capitalize on the transactional and risk-averse sentiments within the West to dissolve Bosnia’s sovereignty. It is the historic task of this generation – and here we mean in particular young generation of Bosnians – to prevent that, even if it means initiating a period of confrontation with established elites in our country, and segments of the international community.
This, in any case, is a project that should have been initiated years ago. It was not, and as a result the first period of democratic and political mobilization towards defending Bosnia’s statehood will necessarily be a process of repair. We will not be able to build anything new before we have restored that which has been destroyed, that which has been plundered, and that which has been corrupted. But we must begin today if we are to have any chance at a better tomorrow. Both in terms of our relationship with the political West, and Bosnia’s own democratic prospects.
The struggle for a liberal and democratic Bosnia and Herzegovina requires determination and organization, both of which have been largely lacking the decades after the war. It requires disrupting the comfortable, parasitic political norms which have captured both the apparatus of the state but also the public’s conception of politics. And, above all, it requires a deeply personal commitment by individual citizens and leaders in the broader Bosnian community, including in the diaspora, to commit themselves to the struggle to create – not to be gifted or granted – the right to a constitutional, liberal, democratic republic.
Summary of the Session of 18 December by Dr. Jasmin Mujanović, political scientist and policy specialist of southeast European and international affairs, author of the book Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans, USA

Adil Kulenović, President
Association of Independent Intellectuals – Circle 99 (Bosnian: Krug 99), a leading Bosnian think-tank, was established in Sarajevo in 1993, in the midst of the Bosnian war (1992-1995), while the capital was under siege. Circle 99 provides a platform to bring together intellectuals of various professional and ethnic identities; university professors, members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs, diplomats, and other prominent figures from Bosnia and from abroad. Multidisciplinary discussions and initiatives are held each Sunday throughout the academic year, in the form of regular sessions about politics, science, education, culture, economy, and other societal issues. The overall goal is to sensitize the public towards a democratic transformation, achieving and maintaining peace, and integration of modern Bosnia into the community of countries fostering liberal democracy. Circle 99 has been declared an organization of special significance for the city of Sarajevo.