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Bosnia-Herzegovina's Elections and Dodik as a Role Model

October 4, 2010 | 2307 GMT

-/AFP/Getty Images Republika Srpskas Prime Minister Milorad Dodik voting in Banja Luka on Oct. 3 Summary The general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina have put into power a set of politicians who are slowly coming to terms with the reality that a unified, federal vision of their country is impossible. Although the West largely would see it as inherently unstable, a gradual dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, if it were to happen, could make the country more stable. Analysis Bosnia-Herzegovinas general elections Oct. 3 concluded with a significant change at the presidential level: The Bosniak member of the three-member presidency, Haris Silajdzic, lost his re-election bid to Bakir Izetbegovic, son of wartime Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic. Most Western media have called the change a welcome replacement of a hardliner by a moderate, but the labels which are incorrect confuse the more complex movement in Bosnia-Herzegovina away from a federal vision of the country toward an acceptance of a decentralized structure. Bosnia-Herzegovina is governed by a Lebanon-style political arrangement originally set up not to create a viable, functioning state, but rather to end a brutal three-year (19921995) ethnic war. The 1995 Dayton Agreement entrenched a system in which three ethnic groups were submerged into two entities operating under the aegis of one country. The first is a centralized and largely homogenous Serbian political entity called Republika Srpska (RS). The second is the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, often referred to as just the Federation, merging Bosniaks (a term used to refer to Muslim Slavs) and Croats into a single political entity whose multiethnic character continues to confound its political coherence. The federal government in Sarajevo is supposed to oversee the functioning of both entities.

After 15 years of the federal government largely failing to impose its authority, Bosnian and Croat leaders are turning toward the model established by Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb prime minister of RS who draws his political and economic power from his uncompromising authority in RS. This casts a different light on the praise heaped upon the election of moderate Izetbegovic over hardline Silajdzic. Silajdzic was not so much a hardliner as a staunch federalist, calling for a strong and unified central government, albeit one that he believed should naturally be dominated by Bosniaks. As such, he was constantly at odds with Dodik, who saw Silajdzics attempts to expand the federal governments powers as a threat to RS. Izetbegovic is less strict in his demands for federalism but is no moderate. According to multiple STRATFOR sources in Bosnia and the European Union, Izetbegovic leads a nationalist and far more Islamistoriented wing of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Current SDA chief Sulejman Tihic is therefore trying to isolate Izetbegovic in the largely ceremonial presidential post and away from the party leadership, where real power lies. These sources also said Izetbegovic ran afoul of the United States in recent years by attempting to sell surface-toair missiles to terrorist groups in Iraq. Izetbegovics career was saved because he was supposedly unaware of who the buyers actually were and because of his late fathers relationship with the United States. Izetbegovics election could in fact be a signal that the vision of a federal BosniaHerzegovina ended with Silajdzics ousting. Croat and Bosniak leaders are slowly realizing that Dodik and his brand of uncompromising nationalism is a viable example to follow. In fact, numerous Bosniak and Croat political leaders quietly admire Dodik, who has stood up to a number of Western ambassadors and U.N. International High Representatives, de facto international administrators of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Despite multiple threats from U.S. and European officials that his nationalist rhetoric would lead to his removal the Office of High Representative technically has the power to remove Dodik from office Dodik has only increased his power, become richer from businesses his family controls within RS and has even started conducting his own foreign policy toward neighboring Serbia and Russia. While the neighboring Federation struggles with its inter-ethnic disputes and slumping economy, Dodiks RS offers him a clear and undisputed power base, both in monetary and political terms. In short, Dodik is the most powerful politician in Bosnia-Herzegovina and without even holding a federal office. Ultimately, Bosniak and Croat leaders could use RS as an example for a solution to the Federations problems: decentralization. The federal government would still exist and still

have some powers, but political and economic power would be vested in entities like RS. Croats are also vociferously demanding their own entity and could align with Dodiks nationalist Serbs at the federal level to achieve it. The Bosniak SDA also has a more pragmatic approach toward an eventual constitutional setup for Bosnia-Herzegovina unlike the uncompromising Silajdzic and seeks to consolidate its power over the Bosniak political realm first the way Dodik consolidated his power over RS. Some SDA politicians have privately indicated that an agreement with Dodik is ultimately possible. There are several possible baselines for cooperation even potential territorial exchanges in which Dodik would give up certain areas of Eastern Bosnia where the Serbian population has declined to the Bosniaks for settlement in exchange for recognition of his complete dominance of RS. Whereas Silajdzic saw Dodiks RS as a political entity build on genocide and the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks, other Bosniaks and Croats are willing to compromise in order to create their own versions of Dodiks strong political fiefdom. This could create a Bosnia-Herzegovina that lacks coherence as a unified state but is stable. There are still two major hurdles to decentralization, however. First, for Bosniaks and especially for Silajdzic a strong federal government has long been an issue of national security. Bosniaks feel that with neighboring Serbia and Croatia providing Bosnian Serbs and Croats with access to passports and therefore an alternative homeland and thus security, Bosnia-Herzegovina should have a strong federal government that does the same for Bosniaks. The argument is that Bosniaks could be victimized again as they were during the Bosnian Civil War if they do not have a strong entity to protect them. Any attempt to split a Croat entity from the Federation along the RS model could therefore be met with conflict, especially if the Bosniaks did not feel that the resulting territory was sufficient to satisfy their security needs. This makes any talk of reconfiguring BosniaHerzegovinas ethnic entities a potential minefield. The second, and ultimately largest, challenge to the decentralization of BosniaHerzegovina is the West. Western powers, particularly the European Union, have wanted Bosnia-Herzegovina to become a coherent state with a federal government. This has been emphasized particularly in negotiations about potential EU enlargement. But even more importantly for many U.S. State Department and EU diplomatic officials who built their careers in the 1990s, Bosnia-Herzegovina was the first international issue they dealt with. The idea of a federal, unified and viable Bosnia-Herzegovina is therefore not just based on inertia; it is also seen as a normative goal. For these diplomats and policymakers, allowing Croats and Bosniaks to use Dodiks RS as a model for BosniaHerzegovina would be seen as pandering to nationalists and ultimately a failure of the Wests politics in the region. But for Bosniak and Croat political actors, it may be a model too tempting not to follow in the future.