27 December 2012

US to Bosnians: Here's What Your Constitution Should Say

Last month saw the publishing of a new proposal for the reorganization of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Muslim-Croat entity in the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina). That is not remarkable in itself. Since most everyone in the Federation, Croats and Muslims alike, agree the entity is dysfunctional and would benefit from a reorganization it is only to be expected various blueprints for reform would be brought forward. What is more newsworthy is the making of this newest draft has been financed by the US Embassy in Sarajevo.

American Paper

The reform proposal was drawn up by the "Law Institute in Bosnia and Herzegovina", an NGO that is so grassroots the address of its website appears in English (www.lawinstitute.ba). The document it has produced comes with the note it is "financially supported by the Embassy of the United States", but that "all standpoints, opinions and conclusions indicated in this document, do not necessarily reflect attitude of the U.S. Department of State".

Naturally the Americans will not tie themselves down to every detail and turn of words in the document, but it is just as obvious they would not have funded the drafting of  a proposal they disagreed with. What is more the US Ambassador in Bosnia has just recently stated constitutional reform of the Federation has the backing of the United States, and the US Embassy is the only entity mentioned as having "financially supported" the making of this draft. It is safe to conclude this is the American proposal for the reform of the Federation of BiH, which the US State Department has paid for in full.

How is This Normal?

Before moving on to the contents of the proposal, let us first take a step back and consider what should by all rights be an abnormal and outrageous state of affairs. Why should one sovereign nation even have a proposal for the reorganization of another, supposedly likewise sovereign, nation in the first place?

Nigeria does not come up with drafts for internal reform in Chile. North Korea does not spend money on drawing up plans for constitutional reform in Tanzania. Russia does not finance proposals for the internal reorganization of Belarus, or Armenia. The United States itself does not waste breath presenting plans for their internal reform to China or France, and Bosnia and Herzegovina certainly does not fund the drawing up of blueprints for the territorial reorganization of the United States of America.

In fact were Bosnia to do such a thing and help publish such a proposal for the reform of the United States this would be considered comical yes, but it would also be considered the Bosnians were out of line. And were it the case Sarajevo actually commanded any influence over the United States it would be rightfully observed presenting such a document was unjustified meddling by the self-absorbed and the power crazed.

The Substance

The contents of the proposal are predictable enough. Every time when outsiders push for reorganization within Bosnia and Herzegovina it is obvious they conceive of the question, as a challenge of how to demonstrate their power and enhance their prestige by introducing greater effective centralization, which is in line with the aspirations of the Bosnian Muslims, without making it too glaringly obvious this means shafting Bosnia's non-Muslims in a most non-multicultural way.

Specifically the proposal of the US Embassy rests on three main pillars: gerrymandering, curtailing local governance, and stuffing the parliament of the Federation. The US Embassy-funded proposal suggests, that supposedly for the sake of rationalization, the number of cantons making up the Federation be reduced from 10 to 6. This would be accomplished by mergers between existing cantons. So for example one small Croatian-majority canton (Posavski) would be merged with a far larger Muslim-majority canton (Tuzlanski), producing an enlarged Muslim canton. Another Muslim-majority canton (Zeničko-Dobojski) would be merged with a heavily mixed canton (Srednjobosanski) producing another large canton with a solid Muslim majority. The territorial reorganization would also strip a Serbian-majority municipality (Drvar) from an existing Croatian canton (Hercegbosanski), and assign it to a Muslim one (Sansko-Unski), enlarging the territory where Muslims parties will hold sway at the cantonal level further. The plan would further strip away some Serbian municipalities around Sarajevo from the Republic of Srpska (the Serb entity in the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and assign them to the Muslim-majority district of Sarajevo in the Federation.

Thus a reorganization proposed under the pretense of cutting waste, would as its most glaring consequence reduce the extent of territory where parties supported by the Croats would be expected to gain power at the cantonal level. Additionally, albeit it is nominally a plan for the constitutional reorganization of the Muslim-Croat entity in Bosnia, the US Embassy plan reveals aspirations against the Serb entity in Bosnia as well, from which it would grab the Serb-populated eastern outskirts of Sarajevo for their inclusion in the Muslim-dominated Federation.

Secondly the American plan envisages the transfer of a number of competencies of the cantons to the government of the Federation outright. In this way the relevance of the ability of Croat parties to take control of cantonal governments, in the remaining territory where they would continue to be able to do so, would be reduced. The Croats could continue to hold sway in two of the cantons, but this would count for less.

Lastly, the plan supposes the House of Peoples of the Parliament of the Federation reserves an equal number of seats for Muslims, Croats, Serbs and others. Currently the House of Peoples reserves an equal share of seats for the Muslims, the Croats and the Serbs only.* To change the rules in this way would as its most practical consequence mean a reduction of the portion of the seats in the Muslim-Croat entity reserved for the representatives of the Croat people in BiH.

The seats reserved for the others would for the most part end up captured by the parties supported by the Bosnian Muslims, who are numerous enough in the Federation to be able to elect their own representatives, as well as the representatives of the Serbs, others, and occasionally even of the Croats. Obviously such a composition of the House of Peoples would make it all the more difficult for the Croat parties to wield influence, or threaten obstruction, at the level of the Federation.

Yankees, Dream On

While the substance of the proposal is scandalous, it comes with a pretty significant consolation in the fact it has no chance of being realized whatsoever. On the one hand no politician in Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoying meaningful support from the country's Croats would ever sign under this. On the other, the days when outsiders felt themselves confident enough to sideline the elected politicians and simply ram their reforms down Bosnians' throats via the "High Representative" are long over. Unfortunately for the US Embassy this is 2012, not 2002. All the proposal will accomplish is heighten the anxiety among the Bosnian-Herzegovian Croats and give them another confirmation the US Department of State is an enemy to be wary of.

Given the Americans' inability to actually see their preferred plan realized, it boggles the mind why they would even present this proposal in the first place. By facilitating the drafting of this reform proposal the US is unambiguously spelling out its preferred shape of the reforms. Yet when its plan is inevitably forgotten, it will have signaled nothing so much as the Americans' inability to have their way and to see their preferences become reality on the ground. 

Surely, rather than showcasing its inability to change a status quo it abhors, the only rational option for a superpower that finds itself unable to dictate outcomes anyway, would be to feign indifference? Surely rather than providing a case in point of its impotence a smart superpower would at least have preserved prestige and the illusion of might by pretending it was nor irked by the status quo in the Federation in the first place? Well, let it never be said power and brains go together.

* Those nationally declared as other than Muslim, Croat or Serbian, have seats reserved for them as it is, but it is a lesser number than that reserved for the three constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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