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Bosnia. Mostar's Administration is breaking down

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Sarajevo/Brussels - Mostar, the largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with a Croat majority will face new and potentially dangerous strains if its leaders do not break a deadlock that has paralysed its government for nine months.

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Bosnia: A Test of Political Maturity in Mostar, the latest briefing from the International Crisis Group, warns that the administration of that city is breaking down, with no mayor, budget or functioning city council since an October 2008 election. The tensions threaten to poison relations between the leading Bosniak and Croat parties -- coalition partners throughout the country.

The High Representative, the international executive authority, should facilitate a solution consistent with the intent of the disputed statute but not impose it on the city council, which has both responsibility and competence to resolve the crisis.

“The crisis is rooted in demographics, the recent war and a city statute that replicates many of the power-sharing rules that govern the state”, says Marko Prelec, Crisis Group Balkans Project Director. “It should be a warning for the country”.

Mostar’s ethnic structure and political landscape are similar to Bosnia’s, but with the players reversed. Croats are the majority, and the city is important for their community statewide. Bosniaks struggle for equal treatment in the city’s political and economic decision making but also for attention from their Sarajevo leaders, whose focus is on other issues.

The breakdown of Mostar’s internationally-imposed government shows what happens to a consensus system without inter-ethnic agreement. The first part of the solution is election of the mayor. The city council should adopt the statute and, if necessary to remove remaining ambiguity, amend it to avoid a similar deadlock. But that should be only the beginning. The council must guarantee all communities a real voice in government and an equitable share in Mostar’s development.

Mostar’s Croat majority seeks to force the High Representative to impose a solution on its behalf. But use of his special “Bonn powers” should be restricted to the most extraordinary situations: use on a matter the council should handle would perpetuate a culture of dependence. The international community should make clear that fourteen years after the end of their war, it is time for the Bosnians to take responsibility for their own futures.

“The leaders of Mostar, like those of the whole country, will have to assume full responsibility for their governance”, says Sabine Freizer, Crisis Group’s Europe Program Director. “Bosnians must show political maturity to run their own affairs”.
© Crisis International -
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* Mostar's "Old Bridge", a symbol of tolerance and ethinc coexistence (image : Credit : Lene Juul-Madsen)

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