Three Federal Units for Three Political Communities – Exit Strategy of the International Crisis Group (ICG) from Bosnia and Herzegovina

Three Federal Units for Three Political Communities – Exit Strategy of the International Crisis Group (ICG) from Bosnia and Herzegovina

August 07
12:50 2014


In its newest and at the same time the last report dedicated to Bosnia and Herzegovina topics, International Crisis Group (ICG) analyzes the social and political problems of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) in the manner based on the completely opposite values and theoretical presumptions than before.

In earlier reports the ICG analysts did not bother to deny the factual constitutional framework of BiH, i.e. the concept of constitutive peoples itself, or to support centralization and unification as the most appropriate political-administrative concepts for BiH. Now, they are declaring that BiH is in need of a serious constitutional reconstruction with new arrangements favoring federalist solutions, while the centralistic ones are disastrous.

They paid significant attention to the entity with Croatian majority which they consider as the good solution, and rationales for Bosniak rejection of that solution “ring hollow” to them. They offer the model for creation of territorially discontinued entities with majority of one among the three constitutive peoples in each of them, and this is the model which is already used in infrastructural systems of public enterprises in the field of energetics (power suppliers). They also recommend reconsideration of the principles of Prudo Agreement from 2008.

In their last report they paid attention to the forgotten fact that „At the beginning, FBiH was a federation not of cantons but of two political communities and the areas they controlled” and that Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina with its military forces (Army of BiH) and Croatian Community (later Republic) of Herzeg-Bosnia with its military forces (Croatian Defense Council) were built in the Federation BiH on the principles of equal rights.

Interesting observation of the ICG analysts is that the new approach does not presume denial of the three peoples’ existence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, saying that “No constitutional project can succeed unless it takes the citizens as they are, and they are overwhelmingly divided into three communities”.




International Crisis Group (ICG), a think-tank under the strong influence of USA Administration, published 10th of July 2014 the Report on Bosnia and Herzegovina titled “Bosnia’s Future”, which in many ways largely differs from previous ICG reports. In the newest, at the same time the last ICG report on BiH, the most surprising for numerous stakeholders are the elements of support to the idea of introducing an entity with the Croatian majority.

Since its founding in 1995, ICG had annual budgets counted in millions of dollars. It currently has 26 offices all over the World and it employed more than 100 experts of various profiles, most of them from social and applied sciences. They analyzed more than 50 active and potential conflicts worldwide, writing more than 1.000 reports dedicated to the crisis situations, which are distributed to wide target groups of more than 150.000 interested stakeholders in the fields of diplomacy, foreign policy, international economy, security, human rights and similar topics. Among those 66 reports were dedicated to BiH itself, out of 203 reports dedicated to the Balkans.

This think-tank was established in the time of the expansion of that type of social-political actors; nominally belongs to civil society organizations, but usually exploits the freedom of public activism provided by that form of organization for advocating certain attitudes and values which are recognizably close to actors from other public – societal sectors(political authorities at all levels – local, regional, national, international) and private (all types of business actors). Such ideological, value-based and political closeness is entirely legitimate, since think-tanks advocate in the public sphere attitudes and systems of values and related policies, which objectively exist and which are highly socially and politically relevant, but which the actors from public and private sector cannot always explicitly and effectively advocate themselves, due to their own specific position and way of functioning.



Closeness with the USA administration

Problems can emerge in this field when certain think-tank and certain actor from public or private sphere try to hide closeness and accordance of their values and policies, but also when certain think-tank or group of them try to establish the monopoly in the public sphere regarding attitudes, values and policies they are advocating, denying legitimacy to all actors with differently oriented public advocacy activities. Consistency and coherency of the attitudes, values and policies advocated by ICG, at least in BiH, usually prevented emergence of the first type of problems, since its orientation significantly and highly corresponded with the orientation of the USA administration. Another type of the problems, however, related to monopoly in the public sphere or at least in the “expert community”, emerged exactly from the visible closeness of ICG with USA administration, which enjoyed factual monopolistic position among the public sector actors in BiH, both domestic and foreign ones, in political, financial, military, but also in media, ideological and social-scientific sense.

Using such position of its mighty political ally, which is by many opinions also its commander, ICG usually advocated in BiH the attitudes based on the social-political concept of the civic state, aiming to overcome the ethnic and religious identities and prevent or solve clashes motivated by them, with the goal to create modern political community based on the general principles of individual freedom, human and civil rights and democracy as the rule of majority. By advocating such attitudes 

ICG almost always supported tendencies towards centralization of BiH, i.e. decline of the powers of entities in favor of the state, and cantons in favor of the entity (federal) bodies, causing usually in that way disapproval and opposition of the actors from Serbian and Croatian constitutive peoples.


Centralization against constitutive peoples

In its reports ICG did not bother to implicitly deny the concept of constitutive peoples, despite the fact that BiH Constitution itself is based upon that principle, supporting that not only centralization as the political-administrative concept most appropriate for BiH, but also the specific unification as the wider social-political goal. In fact such approach leads to assimilation of all the three constitutive peoples into “Bosnians”, as the term frequently used in ICG reports to mark together the Bosniaks, Serbs, Croats and all other citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Under actual circumstances in BiH, where Bosniaks are about half of the population, such unification tendency leads to the Bosniak hegemony, which is why dominant parts of the Bosniak elites, both those self-declared as political Bosniaks or integral “Bosnians”, until now honestly supported the ICG work. Among the Serbs and Croats, on the other hand, generally negative attitude not only towards ICG activities, but also towards the whole concept of think-tanks and even the entire civil society dominates, so they factually left the “NGO-discourse” with all its advantages and opportunities to Bosniaks and their foreign allies.

The highest relevance for social-political processes in BiH, as well as the highest level of ICG’s co-responsibility can be attributed to its reports from 2000 and 2001. International officials were called in those reports strictly to control finances of certain banks on the basis of their top management’s estimated party and political orientation, to consider banning of certain political parties on the basis of estimated influence of war criminals, higher in those than in other parties, and even to directly intervene in “modeling” of political and wider social scene of Croats in BiH, aiming at its artificial diversification, what is related even with institutional modalities of refugees’ and displaced persons’ return.



The newest ICG report

ICG report on BiH published 10th July 2014 is entitled in accordance with already common unification practice (“Bosnia’s Future”), but it shows significantly different features than the previous ones, both at the level of country situation’s analysis and recommendations addressed to the key stakeholders and groups of stakeholders. Report’s authors, however, presented those new sounds, which largely surprised both traditional supporters and opponents of ICG work, in the mixture with the basic values and ideological principles used before in their work, which looks pretty non-understandable and inconsistent at the first glance.

Therefore, it is of crucial importance to identify how the actual social-political moment in BiH and its wider environment motivated the analysts of this think-tank to apply such unusual approach, which is also confusing for some observers. It is important primarily because of the extraordinary high influence of ICG and centers of political power who shared its main views. Thus, the noticed changes in the content and style of report and above all in its recommendations could also be seen as indicators of real change of the key actors’ policies in BiH, which factually mean the change of entire political context.

Report’s title itself is on the track of continual ICG practice, marked by consistent usage of the geographical term “Bosnia” instead of internationally recognized name of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Report’s Summary contains expected, at least for readers of previous reports on BiH, sharp criticisms of disintegrative tendencies which exist despite the international resources invested in the past and positive changes in neighborhood, mutually opposed goals and interests of three ethnic communities, consequent political crises and inability of existing Constitution to solve them, as well as overwhelming power of the political elite which avoid efficient control by voters and elementary responsibility. Strongly positive attitude towards winter protests is also expected, together with the disappointment caused by their factually non-existing systematic effects, as well as principal-level praising of visible effects of international support for overcoming the war consequences and condemnation of inefficient reaction of all the levels of authorities regarding disastrous floods.

Experienced follower of ICG work in the past is surfaced with first surprise in the Report after reading the statement that “The European Union (EU) imposes tasks BiH cannot fulfill”. This rejection of previous almost a priori ICG support to international actors in BiH and about BiH, especially if their activities had the form of providing orders, tasks or exams, is not, however, directed to the actor which most frequently practiced such approach (USA). That rejection is expressed regarding the EU, whose still incumbent officials in the mandate 2009–2014 put the strongest focus on the implementation of the European Court for Human Rights decision in the case “Sejdić–Finci” as the necessary precondition for opening the accession process of BiH. However, authors of the Report several times stress the high necessity that domestic political stakeholders take the key responsibility for constitutional reconstruction of the country, which is also underlined by very courageous and explicit recommendations for closing the Office of the High Representative and dissolving the Peace Implementation Council.



“No” to unification, “Yes” to federalism

Even bigger surprise is the way authors’ process usually common statements that “Bosnia’s leaders, with international support, must begin an urgent search for a new constitutional foundation” and that “The heart of the problem is in Annex 4 to the Dayton Peace Agreement, known as the constitution“. As before, they criticize BiH Constitution because “It defines BiH as a state of two entities, in effect but not explicitly federal, but also the state of three constituent peoples (Bosniaks, Croats, Serbs), and yet, simultaneously, of all citizens”. Despite also expected criticizing of ethnic quotas which are “providing sinecures for officials increasingly remote from the communities they represent”, factually revolutionary change of style and connotation of ICG reporting becomes clear by recognition that Constitution’s failures emerge also from “several changes imposed by courts and international officials” (instances whose decisions were in the past not only unconditionally accepted, but also supported by ICG as the antipode to activities of corrupted and ethnically biased elected political officials). Even more revolutionary change is the statement that in BiH “A new design is needed: a normal federation, territorially defined, without a special role for constituent peoples, but responsive to the interests of its three communities and the rights of all citizens”.

ICG analysts tried immediately to protect this radical conceptual change of the usual centralization-assimilation discourse, which is replaced by claims for territorially defined normal federation, i.e. to prevent possible accusations for “treason of the Bosnian cause” which they consistently advocated for decades. The essence of that protection is turning back to the principle-theoretical level, where they are still denying the legitimacy of the concept of constitutive peoples and refusing to recognize political relevance of the ethnic identity itself: “Bosnia may have to break from its political system based on constituent peoples and their rights”. Reader could have the impression that territorially defined federation responsive to the interests of its three communities is “alien” in good, old ICG report. That impression is, however, dismissed when authors discover the theoretical key they are using to connect old principle-theoretical presumptions with new constitutional, organizational and political recommendations. That key is in the proposal to “calm” continued criticism of the concept of constitutive peoples by recognizing the existence of three political communities, each of them recognized as multiethnic, and by also revolutionary (in comparison with previous practice) recognition that almost all members of national minorities and category of “Others” in political sense identify themselves with one among those three communities with factual centers in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Mostar.



Entity with Croatian majority is a good solution

Introducing the category of political communities, additionally legitimized by underlining their multi-ethnicity, which would replace constitutive peoples, opens to the Report’s authors the opportunity in further development of the concept of territorialized and de-ethnicised “normal federation” to remove the specific taboo from probably the most consequently disavowed institutional solution – entity with Croatian majority: 

“There is nothing inherently wrong with a Croat entity. It would solve many problems: there would be no further need for cantons, and relations between state and entity, and between entity and municipality, could be consistent throughout Bosnia”. The support to this really radical change is the recognition that „At the beginning, FBiH was a federation not of cantons but of two political communities and the areas they controlled: the “Muslim-Croat Federation”. The federal partners were the rump Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina headquartered in Sarajevo with its army, and the breakaway Croatian Community (later Republic) of Herceg-Bosna, with its military wing, the Croatian Defense Council“.

Even more important than that recognition, which could also have the strong implications on the constitutional deals on rearrangement of FBiH, is the recognition that 

“The main obstacle to a Croat-majority entity is political: it is highly offensive to Bosniaks. Yet, rationales for their rejection ring hollow”.
 This attitude is supported by presumption that the fears referendum on secession of “Croatian entity” from BiH are unfounded, while the territorially largely more compact Republic of Srpska did not do it over last 20 years.



Change of the values-based and theoretical framework and relations towards concrete models

Except in the recommendations enlisted in the Report’s Summary, change of the ICG’s approach to BiH is expressed in its concluding part, at the principle level, but still in the way concrete enough to keep the social-political relevance. It is expressed through the views on the conditions, position and perspectives of all the three “political communities”:

“Raising a possible new approach to citizenship and identity does not imply rejection of the existence of Bosnia’s three peoples or endorsement of the civic ideal of Bosnian patriotism. No constitutional project can succeed unless it takes the citizens as they are, and they are overwhelmingly divided into three communities”.

“Bosnian patriots, and the Bosniak people as the largest group, bear the heaviest responsibility for the country’s success. Bosnian patriotism may some day win over most citizens, but its adherents should reflect on the trajectory of Yugoslav identity, in which pressure to conform to the civic ideal strengthened rather than weakened Croat, Serb, Slovene and Bosniak identity. Unity cannot be forced or won through foreign pressure. It must be built on the engagement and consent of a broad crossection – more than a majority – of the population. Nor can RS be shifted by litigation or parliamentary manoeuvre. A better way for Bosnian patriots to affect change in the RS character is by moving (back) there, becoming part of its civic life at all levels and accepting that most Serbs are loyal to the entity.

Objectively, Banja Luka is in the strongest position. It has overcome the foreign dictates of OHR and stopped state building in its tracks. Dayton gives it a chokehold on the state legislature. It can sink Bosnia, but the shipwreck would most probably take RS down too, since few would want to reward the entity that caused another Bosnian disaster. Serb leaders should understand that RS needs a viable Bosnian framework to thrive. It would be important to acknowledge the depth of Bosniak suffering at the hands of those who built RS. Sarajevo still views it through the wartime prism; the burden of changing that is with RS.

Croats’ importance outweighs their small size: Bosnia cannot be reformed or reliably governed without their consent. With disgruntled Croats, it breaks down into two roughly equal camps, with little common ground: Bosnian patriots and revisionists. But Croats and Bosnian patriots together form a critical mass. Croatia’s EU membership enhances its kin’s weight in Bosnia. Yet, Bosnia’s Croats should not seek communal equality in every respect nor insist on over-compensation due to their status as a constituent people. Experience shows the limits of this legal fiction. Their key interests are self-rule and a place at the state and entity tables, with the ability to choose who represents them there”.

This pretty impartial analysis of the positions of “political communities” without visible support to any among them opened the way for analysis, much more objective than before, of the possible constitutional and institutional models for rearrangement of BiH political system. New and well balanced basis of that analysis is expressed in the following way: “Bosnia is in effect a strongly decentralized federation and will remain one. There is nothing wrong with that as a basic design; decentralization is common and growing in Europe. Bosnia’s troubles with it stem in part from a struggle for power between government levels and in part from its unique feature: it is a federation both of two entities and of three constituent peoples. The latter problem is more acute, keeping the larger FBiH entity locked in near-permanent political conflict, embittering Bosniaks and Croats and blocking the road to the EU”.

In the analysis of constitutional models, ICG considers partial constitutional changes, i.e. only at the level of electoral law, as insufficient, and recommends the renewed consideration of leaders’ agreement reached 2008, implementation of which failed because of accusations of leaders for “treason” by the political opposition within each of the three constitutive peoples.
Authors recognize full legitimacy to the solution which implies division of FBiH on entities with Bosniak and Croat majority, with RS as the entity with Serb majority and introduction of the fourth, “federal” entity in Sarajevo as the capital. 
They offer the model for constituting territorially discontinued entities with majority of one among constitutive peoples in each one, and this model is the one already applied in the functioning of infrastructural systems of public enterprises in the field of energy supplies which already operate in BiH.

The Report also provides the alternative to the system based on territorial entities, i.e. the system based on already introduced concept of political communities, which could be defined by language, as in the Belgian model. Those communities could be given the constitutional political powers, but they should keep their previously defined multiethnic features. It is interesting that the Report’s authors in the analysis of this model accept the electoral units for representation of all three communities, which would be created on the basis of electoral results. They also accept, without any complains, classification of political parties in ethno-national categories, including labeling of parties without an explicit ethno-national label as the Bosniak ones.

Another solution already discussed in BiH public sphere, which is unexpectedly treated in the Report as the legitimate one, is the abolishing of the Federation BiH, instead of abolishing of its cantons. In this way the category of entities itself would be abolished, and cantons would be given the same status as RS and District of Brčko, which authors consider as the alternative way to the „normal“ territorial federation.
The main risks of this solution are recognized in the huge territorial and demographic disproportion among new federal units, and in supposed lack of the political will of RS elites to overcome such disproportion by creation of several units in the territory of that entity, even without changes of its current borders.

There is strong impression that Report’s authors include the “pure civic model” in the analysis only due to formal reasons, to avoid complete disappointment of their traditional supporters. It is questionable whether they succeed to avoid it, since they undoubtedly rejected that model as inapplicable and inappropriate.

General impression after reading the whole ICG Report is that this think-tank, which almost for two decades consequently publicly advocated the attitudes, values and interests of the dominant part of international community in BiH, lead by USA officials, as well as of the dominant actors from the Bosniak social and political scene, quiet radically changed its orientation now. Such orientation change could not be explained if it is considered independently from the fact that ICG is closing its work in BiH, in the country where it strongly influenced social-political processes, thanks to its closeness with dominant centres of power, creating the wide circle of supporters. So the ICG ended its engagement in BiH with factual giving up from its long-term blueprints and with opening towards more realistic models and projects which they consequently rejected until now. That fact could be explained exactly by change of the power structures and relations among the key international stakeholders interested in BiH.

Rapid expanding of all the USA structures’ engagement in other parts of the World, mostly in old and new crisis areas which directly involve USA as active participant, together with strong progress of EU integrations in the Balkans and institutional and political strengthening of the EU itself, caused the shift of focus and priorities of ICG. This think-tank, fortunately, did not mark its withdrawal from BiH by radicalization of its usual rhetoric, what would leave the “task” for its domestic supporters and allies to continue ruthless struggle for non-realistic and destructive centralistic and unification projects, against their own and entire country’s interests. ICG’s last Report, however, paid their attention to the necessity of recognition of ethno-national pluralism in BiH, what implies fair consideration of decentralization, consociational and federalist institutional models. That change put the ICG analysts in front of unpleasant challenge how to preserve their ideological coherency, which they solved by continued undermining the concept of constitutional peoples, but with recognition of “new” category of “political communities”, which also implies much more flexible constitutional solutions than those advocated by ICG in the past.



Third entity as conceptualization of the political reality

Regardless of certain theoretical-conceptual inconsistency in comparison with previous reports and recommendations we had the opportunity to receive from ICG, this report has extraordinary high importance and capacity for normalization and relaxation of political relations within BiH. After 20 years of engagement in BiH and in the Balkans and few hundreds of reports ICG, finally, began to recognize the elementary social facts and political reality of BiH. Until now, it tried to impose the wishful, ideologically projected reality to all the political actors in BiH, despite their clearly expressed and advocated legitimate interests which did not fit that the ICG’s vision of “Bosnia” and “Bosnians”. It is the basic fact that in BiH exist not only Bosnia, but also Herzegovina, and it is statistical-political reality that except few percents of Bosnians (and Herzegovinians), in BiH exist three political communities, three nations, three constitutive peoples: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, and that they together form more than 90 % of BiH population. Except they are political reality, Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs are constitutive peoples, i.e. constitutional category. Any serious analytical approach to BiH reality should recognize the mentioned social-political and constitutional-legal facts. 

ICG analysts finally realized that the solutions for numerous BiH problems can be based only on recognition of mentioned facts, and not on their ideologically motivated denying, on conceptualization of political reality, and not on its additional ideologization.

One of the models for internal arrangement of BiH which recognizes and reflects those facts is the model of three political communities, three federal units, three entities. By this report, ICG recognized not only that the concept of so-called third entity is one among legitimate models for the state rearrangement, but also that, in their opinion, the main complains to that concept/model “ring hollow”. In that way ICG sent strong message to the political actors and groups it considers the most responsible for the future and success of BiH.


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