Friday, October 23, 2009

Bosnia Groups Agree to Disagree

EU Business: Talks fail to end Bosnia deadlock: officials
Earth Times: Bosnian reform talks collapse despite EU, US pressure
Financial Times: Bosnia-Herzegovina reform package rejected
EU Business: EU urges Bosnian leaders to agree on key reforms

The resolution of the Bosnian War (1992-1995) resulted in the partition of the country on ethnic lines into two semi-independent political entities—the Serb Republic and the Federation Bosnia-Herzegovina, (which is a partnership of the majority Muslim Bosniaks and Croats). In Bosnia-Herzegovina this peace plan that divided government authority gave each group veto power and equal control over bills in the shared central government. This plan had the unanticipated drawback of creating a complex and obstructive government that has limited reforms and often results in crippling deadlocks.

The United States and European Union have recently provided an incentive to end the power struggle and persistent mistrust between the three political parties by dangling the carrot of swifter EU and NATO membership. The EU and U.S. challenged Bosnian leaders to come to a compromise on constitutional reforms by Oct. 20th which would pave the way for regional integration with Europe and greater interethnic business cooperation. Although Bosnian political parties have already agreed to some reforms—such as creating a single army, customs regulations, and economic resolutions—the prospect of constitutional reforms seems grim at this point because of the economic and political struggles that have overwhelmed any possibility of change.

The global economic crisis has also exacerbated tensions between the three power-seeking groups because of their distinct economic positions. The Serb Republic has enjoyed more robust economic growth than the Bosniaks or the Croats in recent years, and has weathered the first year of the financial crisis with funds saved from energy and telecom privatizations. The Bosniak-Croat Federation, on the other hand, already on the verge of bankruptcy before the economic downturn, has been under pressure from the IMF to increase their fiscal conservativism. The IMF recently provided financial assistance to the country to help fend off the economy’s expected 3 percent contraction this year.

Because of their economic and political successes, Bosnian Serbs have refused any political structural modifications which might unify the two autonomous states and reduce their power. The two main Bosnian Muslim leaders have rejected the Bosnian Serb’s political grip and have instead insisted on ending the legislative vetoes that create political deadlocks and prevent the development of a centralized government. The Croats, the weakest of the three political blocks, have also objected to the Serb Republic’s support of a dual-autonomy because it further weakens their position of power.

Needless to say, the October 20th deadline came and went without an agreement, as one thing the three groups can agree on is their rejection of the reform package brokered by the U.S. and EU. Political experts plan to return to Bosnia next week to continue negotiations seeking to help the three Bosnian entities settle their perpetual battles for power.

DISCUSSION:1. Why is the U.S. so concerned with Bosnia’s entrance into the union?
2. Does the three ethnic groups’ struggle for power provide a good check against any one group becoming dangerously powerful on its own?

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