Normality comes in small doses in Bosnia | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.07.2009
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Normality comes in small doses in Bosnia

More than 13 years after the Dayton Accord was signed, ending the Bosnia's inter-ethnic conflict in 1995, the Balkan country remains a very divided place.

A view of Sarajevo

Instead of scenes of war, Sarajevo today is characterized by a fragile peace

While peace and security have long since been established, few of those displaced during the three-year war have returned to homes in areas where their ethnic group is not in the majority. Despite this, there is a growing feeling among some people that it is time for the international community to step back, and hand over more responsibility for Bosnia's future to that country's politicians.

The Dayton Accord that ended the bloodshed in Bosnia-Hercegovina in late 1995 is one of the few things that most Bosnians can agree on. They'll tell you that it was successful in ending the war, but that it has been deficient when it comes to plotting a long-term path for the country's future.

A map of Bosnia showing the breakdown of the country into two entities

It provided for the creation of a very weak central government, with the two entities, the Bosniak/Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska (RS), wielding much of the legislative power. This has led to divisions that had their roots in the 1992-95 war becoming formally ingrained during more than a decade of peace.

Perhaps one of the most significant issues for the future of the country is the fact that children receive instruction in separate Bosniak, Serb or Croat school systems. Seventy percent of the curriculum is set out by the state, with the remaining 30 percent left at the discretion of the schools.

Croat high school student Ante Zelic explains that typically, these 30 percent are used for subjects like history or language instruction. The students learn history, for example, from a Croat point of view, or read two or three more novels by Croatian authors than one would in other schools, says Zelic.

While outsiders may think that this sort of division is the last thing that Bosnian students need if the country is to grow more united in future, Zelic doesn't seem to see this as much of a problem. His Bosniak counterpart, Adnan Pripoljac, says the fact that students are divided in school isn't the point. “I have my lessons in the morning and my Croat colleagues go to classes in the afternoon. But after school or in the evening we hang out together as usual. Most young people in Bosnia don't want to be separated, it's just a political issue that has to be resolved.”

Practical problems

While some politicians admit that the school situation isn't ideal, nobody seems to have a plan for integrating the educational systems. A third student, Dzeznan Karic says there are practical considerations discouraging politicians from taking steps to change the status quo.

“You have to realize that in every school there are, for example, two professors of geography, two professors of history, language, mathematics, physics, etc. If they were to unite the school, this would leave one professor out of a job, and this is in nobody's interest. Everyone is protecting their national interests. Why should a Croat professor lose his job when there is also a Bosniak professor who could lose his job? So it is a very political matter."

A portrait of Valentin Inzko

Valentin Inzko hopes to be Bosnia's last high representative

Not even the international community's special representative in Bosnia has the answer. The High Representative still holds absolute power in this country, to be used to do whatever it takes to ensure that the provisions of the Dayton Accord are complied with. This includes the power to revoke legislation or even remove politicians from office.

Valentin Inzko, the seventh person to hold this post, hopes he will be Bosnia's last High Representative. He recently told reporters in Sarajevo that he hoped a decision would be taken in October, which would see the Office of the High Representative close at the end of this year.

“I am moderately optimistic and I am doing everything in my power to ensure that this happens. But the Bosnians themselves also have to do something to improve the political climate, because (one) condition is a positive political climate and the implementation of Dayton."

Milorad Dodik speaking in front of microphones

Milorad Dodik would like to seek the OHR close sooner rather than later

It would be a stretch to describe the current political climate as positive. Recently, the High Representative has been at loggerheads with the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik. Last month, the RS assembly passed a resolution demanding, among other things, that Inzko transfer a package of powers to it from the central Bosnian government. After weeks of consultations, the High Representative revoked the resolution, arguing that it violated the Dayton agreement.

Pressure to leave

It's not surprising then, that the Serbs want to see the Office of the High Representative shut down, sooner rather than later. Speaking to reporters in the Republika Srpska capital, Banja Luka, before the resolution was revoked, Prime Minister Dodik said he wasn't convinced that the Office of the High Representative was working in the best interests of the Republika Srbska.

“By and large the Office of the High Representative (OHR) has employed a few international representatives, but most were local staff, mainly from the Federation side, from Sarajevo. These people have created ill-feelings towards the Republika Srpska.”

As with so many issues in Bosnia, Republika Srpska and Federation politicians are divided on this issue. Federation leaders say the country doesn't have strong enough central institutions to close down the OHR. Haris Silajdzic, the Bosniak member of the Bosnian presidency told reporters that he would do what he could to ensure that the OHR remains beyond the end of this year.

Haris Silajdzic Mitglied des Staatspräsidiums von Bosnien und Herzegowina Foto: Cornelia Kästner / DW

Haris Silajdzic says it is too early for the OHR to close up shop

But he also conceded that there seemed to be an international political consensus that now was the time to pull the plug on the OHR, leaving only a non-executive European Union special representative in its place.

Despite Dayton's and Bosnia's flaws, the fact that the country has been at peace for more than 13 years is a considerable achievement in itself. Unemployment is high, but the cafes in both Sarajevo and Banja Luka are full. As one opposition politician in Republika Srpska put it: “We don't like each other very much, but at least we are not killing each other on the basis of our ethnic groups anymore. We don't have the most beautiful democracy in the world, but it's not that bad.”

Author: Chuck Penfold

Editor: Michael Knigge

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