Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bosnia on My Mind

News outlets around the world are trumpeting the announcement that Bosnia will engage in a process of constitutional reform designed to move away from the cumbersome and unwieldly arrangements of the Dayton Accords (two entities in an uneasy federation with one entity itself subdivided into smaller cantons).

Just one problem--it is not the structure of Bosnia's government that is the problem, it is the fact that both the elites as well as the populations in general still have no "social contract" in place.

The problem with Bosnia is that it lacks a national "core." Bosnian Muslims form only a plurality of the population. Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats move back and forth between seeing themselves as Bosnian in a regional/geographic sense, with "Bosnian" identifying a subset of a larger Serb or Croat nation, and seeing themselves as Bosnians by nationality.

Tito "solved" the problem during Communist Yugoslavia of elevating the Bosnian Muslims to be the virtual majority, a compromise that could work as long as Serbs and Croats in Bosnia felt that the borders were permeable. The gamble is that in the future, if Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia are all in the European Union, this balance could be restored.

I'm not sanguine. EU membership did not "solve" Cyprus because in the final analysis, for their own reasons, neither Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots were prepared to "trust" Brussels.

The Bosnian crisis was brought about by democratization (pace the thesis advanced by Jack Snyder and Ed Mansfield, something they will elaborate on in the Winter 2005/06 issue of The National Interest). Bosnian Serbs concluded that Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats would always outvote them and that they would be relegated to permanent minority status. But Bosnian Muslims got a "taste" of being the outweighed minority in 1993, when Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats tacitly cooperated against the Bosnian Muslims; I remember reading in the Independent (I was studying in the UK at the time) a quote of a Bosnian Croat commander that Croats and Serbs together "would never live under the rule of the "Big Mosque" in Bosnia."

What will happen, if these reforms move ahead, and if in a unified parliament Bosnian Croat and Bosnian Serb deputies combine to "reduce" the Muslim character of Bosnia?

The standard American response is that, over time, people wil move away from ethnicity to interests as the basis for their political activity (e.g. small businessmen will unite to pursue their interests rather than vote ethnic politics). Over time, more of this may rise to the fore--but I think that ethnicity will remain a key marker for a long time to come.

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