Bosnia's Democratic Charade

By Borden, Anthony; Drakulic, Slavenka et al. | The Nation, September 23, 1996 | Go to article overview

Bosnia's Democratic Charade


Borden, Anthony, Drakulic, Slavenka, Kenny, George, The Nation


With the situation tense in Bosnia at the approach of the election scheduled for September 14, The Nation asked three experts about their expectations and recommendations.

Anthony Borden

Anthony Borden is director of the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting and editor of its magazine, WarReport.

The continued hesitancy of international actors to chart a decisive course toward a unified and democratic state is, step-by-step, institutionalizing the division of Bosnia and Herzegovina. More than halfway through this "Dayton year," the process seems destined not to reverse the devastation of nationalist policies and international complicity but rather to assist those policies in reaching their inevitable, and by now perhaps banal, conclusion.

Elections are intended as the third great step--after ending the fighting and withdrawing troops from confrontation lines--in establishing democracy and rebuilding the country. Yet beset by countless problems in design, implementation and timing, the vote to take place on September 14 will have the opposite effect, confirming an ethnic-based territorial settlement and legitimizing the very political parties--and in many cases the same individuals--responsible for the war. By placing an international seal of approval on a process organized and guaranteed by the leading multilateral security organizations, the elections will also further degrade the West's involvement in the region and reduce its ability to have any positive influence.

At ground level, the enthusiasm of the international civil implementation army--countless intergovernmental and nongovernmental organization workers, well-wishers and political tourists--has been matched by the commitment of many indigenous activists. Economic and reconstruction aid has been slow to make itself really felt, but with the military components of the Dayton peace agreement largely adhered to, all manner of civil initiatives have been launched at a furious pace. Delegations and meetings, conferences and exchanges, are increasingly a daily diet.

Yet the busy sociological laboratory that Bosnia has become cannot mask the severe bad faith and downright opposition to Dayton that prevail among the official power structures. The Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat parties, in particular, are adamant in their desire to complete the process of ethnic homogenization and (mini-)state formation in Republika Srpska and Herzegovina. As ever, the ruling Bosnian Muslim party of President Alija Izetbegovic is torn: It proclaims a unified and multi-ethnic Bosnia, while at the same time preparing for a Muslim rump state if the designs of its Croat and Serb counterparts prevail. As the parties continue to display their disdain for the democratic aspects of the Dayton accords, Izetbegovic's increasingly pursues political violence, demographic engineering and calls for an Islamic political program.

Meanwhile, the international community also hedges, proclaiming its most earnest support for BBB--Building a Better Bosnia!--while accommodating a wide range of violations of the spirit and the letter of Dayton. Freedom of movement, a core requirement for any open society, is little more than a fiction for people wishing to cross an "ethnic" border. While there are many intriguing exceptions, minimal professional standards in the media required for fair elections have in no way been met. Despite the removal of Radovan Karadzic as formal leader of the Bosnian Serbs, indicted (and, needless to say, unindicted) war criminals remain on the scene. And ethnic cleansing continues apace--with expulsions, population transfers, political and professional pressures and widespread violations of voter registration procedures to insure compact ethnic voting blocs. Faced with all this, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (O.S.C.E.), which in theory has extraordinary political authority as well as the support of the NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR), has made only minimal formal reprimands. …

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