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Bosnia, the Challenge to Install Democracy

Contributor to®
Miriam Rabkin specialises in international relations and has worked as a democratisation consultant for the OSCE in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Credit : Lene Juul-Madsen*
The conflict in Bosnia was brought to an end by forced international intervention -mostly American- which resulted with the Dayton Peace Agreement, signed on December 14th, 1995. Bosnia was placed under stronger international supervision, becoming a sort of experiment for post-war reconstruction. A High Representative was established with wide-ranging powers to intervene on both political and economical levels where the situations are deemed critical. Several international organizations, such as the OSCE, UNHCR, and NATO, took on the daunting roles of repairing the war damage, trying to install democracy and security in Bosnia.

Almost ten years have since passed and, despite the Peace Agreement, Bosnia remains a torn country, divided into two entities- one largely populated by Bosniacs and Croats, known as the Federation, and the other by Bosnian Serbs, the Republika Srpska. Both are allotted much autonomy from the federal state, each with its own president, government, military, parliament and police force. While the population may be small -only some 4.5 million- it is very divided, both politically and ethnically, among the two entities, the ten cantons, the rural and the urban areas. Moreover, in both entities, the populations perceive themselves as victims of the war, making it difficult to reach over and reconcile themselves with each other.

Political parties too, are for the most part divided along ethnic lines. The Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb parties, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ-BiH) and the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) enjoy a high rate of popularity in the respective Croat and Serb populated areas of Bosnia.

A more marginal party, this one Muslim, also caters to only one segment of the population. The international community has, however, been pushing (with limited success) for the only truly social-democratic and cross-national party in Bosnia, the SDP-BiH.

Ironically, as one French volunteer in Bosnia put it, it is mostly the Bosniacs, largely victims of the war, who vote for the most ethnically tolerant party in Bosnia.

Several officials working at international organisations in Sarajevo concur, adding that a large number of Bosnian Serbs and Croats do not feel that their interests, nor their ethnic security, is assured by an ethnically united Bosnian party. They feel that their language, religion and basic rights cannot thus be properly represented. Similarly, several journalistic associations and newspapers are divided along ethnic lines, some refusing to collaborate in any way with the others.

* Mostar's Mosque.

To learn more:

Chandler, David, Bosnia - Faking Democracy after Dayton, London: Pluto Press, 2000.

Holbrooke, Richard C., To End a War, New York: Random House, 1998.

Rose, Sumantra, Bosnia after Dayton: Nationalist Partition and International Intervention, London: Hurst, 2002.

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