12 February 2011

Byzantinism in the Protectorate

In regard to my last post an attentive reader may come to wonder, how is it possible that five Croat representatives in the House of Peoples come from Bosnian Muslim parties as do majority of the Serbs? Would this not have to mean these parties are actually multi-national and can claim to speak for a part of Croatian and Serbian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina? No, thanks to the convoluted ways in which the political system in the country works this is not the case at all.

The delegates to the House of Peoples are elected by cantonal assemblies. Each canton of the Federation elects a predetermined number of Croat, Serb and 'Bosniak' representatives according to its national structure as per the 1991 census. However as Croats (and Serbs) are small minorities in many of the cantons, they have little influence in the cantonal legislatures and therefore do not play a role in election of ostensibly 'their' representatives to the House of Peoples. Delegates from such cantons owe their position not to the few Croat (Serb) voters, but to the Muslim parties that dominate the cantonal legislatures that instal them. Once they take place in the House they vote accordingly.

Initially the role of the House of Peoples of the Federation was to reassure the less numerous Croats that in a union with the Bosnian-Herzegovian Muslims they would have the means to prevent the possibility of being dominated by their partners as per the democratic principle of the rule of the more numerous. As their voice in the chamber would be no less than that of the Muslims, and the chamber would need to confirm the budget, new laws and the government they would have the means to block motions that would be harmful for them and which they could not counter in the House of Representatives of the Federation.

However since then the House of Peoples had been gutted. In 2001 the foreigners' colonial overlord Wolfgang Petrisch involved himself in a virtual tug of war with the Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats eventualy going so far as to remove the Croatian member of the presidency and ban him from public life. (The equivalent Koffi Annan overriding US elections and booting George Bush from the position of the president of the USA.) The next year he rewrote the constitution, introducing changes affecting the House of Peoples. The number of decisions requiring the confirmation of the chamber was lessened, the requirements for a House of Peoples veto were raised and the proportion of Croat delegates from the cantons where there are few Croats increased.

Previously while the Croats and the Muslims were both guaranteed 30 seats in the House of Peoples, the number of Serb seats was dependant on their showing in the elections for cantonal assemblies. Petrisch guaranteed the Serbs an equal number of seats, but did it without actually increasing their influence in the chamber. Owing to their being a clear numerical minority in all of the cantons of the Federation their influence in the bodies that elect the delegates to the House of Peoples is insufficient to ensure their actual representatives take the seats supposedly reserved for them. Essentially what happens is that Muslim and to a lesser extent Croat parties determine who is to "represent" the Serbs in the Federation. The only rule they must adhere to is that the person in question is someone who declares his nationality as Serbian. To add grotesque to the absurd the number of Serb delegates that each canton elects is determined as per the 1991 population census – although the effects of wartime expulsions were never fully reversed and ethnic demography is much changed since then. This means that the greatest number of Serb representatives frequently come not from the areas where the few Federation Serbs actually live in, but from the areas from which the greatest number of Serbs have been driven away from. In the previous composition of the House of Peoples less than a third of Serb representatives were from the parties that Serbs vote for and for whom could therefore be said were elected by and represent Serbian voters.

The introduction of seats reserved for Serb delegates was purely cosmetic. However to accommodate the Serb seats the size of the chamber was not correspondingly increased, instead the number of seats reserved for Croats and Muslims was lowered from 30 to 17. This coupled with the principle that every canton where there live any Croats at all elect at least one Croat representative had the effect of increasing the proportion of Croat representatives from the cantons where Croats have no influence in the cantonal assemblies. Previously the four or five delegates from the Muslim parties taking up Croat seats regularly inserted into the House of Peoples were of little consequence. With the constitution of the Federation requiring a 50% support of delegates from the Croatian people for a measure to pass, the Croats only needed to garner a majority of 60-65% of representatives elected by the Croat voters to satisfy the 16 out of 30 treshold. However with the number of their seats reduced to seventeen and the Petrisch's constitutional amendments of 2002 requiring a two-thirds supermajority for the vetoing of a measure in the chamber, they now have to show an extraordinary amount of unanimity in order to prevent a measure from passing. Obviously with just 12 or 13 of the 17 representatives beholden to the parties the Croats vote for, the 12 out of 17 threshold de facto represents a Croat supermajority of 90 to 100%. With four of five seats that count as Croatian in their pocket by default, the large Muslim parties need only drive a small wedge between the actual representatives of the Croats to have their measures pass.

It is clear such a House of Peoples serves little function. In regard to the Serbs it provides for no more than decor. It increases their visibility in the Federation providing appearance of ethnic variance and the hallowed "multi-culturalism" even as it does nothing to amplify their voices. In regard to the Croats it only barely increases their political weight, making it questionable if it is sufficient to enable them to avert the danger of effective disenfranchisement.

It should not come as a surprise then the strategy of the Croat parties since the elections in October has been obstruction. If they can prevent the House of Peoples from being constituted at all, they can block measures that require its confirmation this way. Predictably the current colonial overlord, Valentin Inzko, has responded by exerting pressure to cease and to threaten sanctions. This reaction is predictable, but it is not balanced. The obstruction of the Croat parties comes as a response to the plans of the SDP (and SDA) to form a government of the Federation virtually without including Croat parties even though the original settlement envisages power sharing, specifically assigning five of the thirteen ministerial positions in the government to be staffed by Croats. A requirement the SDP is planning to fulfil by installing to them its own professional Croats – something it would not be possible for it to do in the first place if the House of Peoples had not been gutted by Inzko's predecessor, Wolfgang Petrisch.

The picture here drawn paints politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina as complex and as obsessing over individual's nationality ("ethnicity" as per Western parlance) however in this case it is very much the case the convoluted political process including the nationality requirements for the functionaries are the creations of foreigners. The system in place in Bosnia is not the result of internal negotiations, but had been forced on it from the outside, either at Dayton or later through the "Office of the High Representative".

The insistence of the non-dominant nationalities has never been on ethnic quotas, but on influence through their legitimate representatives. There is any number of ways this could be achieved while simultaneously freeing the political process from the clutter of purely ethnic quotas. However the present system which reduces this problematic to a matter of affirmative action for a small number of individuals of the right nationality are preferable to those with power for its ability to produce the superficial illusion of a multi-ethnic cooperative where people of all nationalities are content, without actually having to make concessions to the two non-dominant nationalities to de-antagonise them by allowing for actual pluralism. The underhand, byzantine way in which the House of Peoples was gutted and the Croats in the Federation left open to be subject to majority rule of the Muslims is a great example of this masking strategy in action.

1 comment:

  1. First, a general observation. It all comes down to lack of trust and bad faith between the groups in Bosnia. No amount of systematic solutions can compensate for those two problems. That said, there ought to be solutions that don't promote bad faith and mistrust.

    The quotas were a natural outcome of Izetbegovic's effort to establish "constitutionality on the entire territory" back in the late 1990s, through lawfare. But what was intended to be sauce for the RS goose is now cooking the Federation's gander. However, the problem here isn't Dayton; the Federation's constitution was created by the 1994 Washington agreement, and can be amended far more easily. But so far as I know, the HDZ has never actually proposed amending the Federation's constitution. Why is that?