Committee Of Correspondence

Bosnia After the Elections

Misha Glenny
11:10 a.m.  Thursday  9/19/96 

       As regards the election result, I differ from Warren’s assessment of Haris Silajdzic’s performance. When I was in Sarajevo about five weeks ago, Silajdzic’s party was extremely confident, convinced that Haris would win about 30 percent of the vote. In this light his performance is weak. I don’t think he did himself any favours by changing his mind on a daily basis about a) whether he would boycott the elections or not, and b) his relationship with Izetbegovic. One day Haris would denounce the SDA as a totalitarian nationalist party, the next day he would suggest that he and Izetbegovic should form a united front. Among some of his supporters I spoke to this was interpreted as Haris being interested less in political principles and more in securing office.
       The success of Mladen Ivanic, who was opposing Krajisnik, was perhaps more encouraging although the overall picture remains depressing. The victory of the nationalists is not surprising because the electorates are motivated by a poisonous combination of fear and hatred.
       I think this creates a real problem when it comes to the functioning of the joint institutions. Let us take the presidency. Its practical importance remains an open question but it is clearly of symbolic importance. Krajisnik’s insistence that it meet on the Inter-Entity Boundary Line and not in Sarajevo is a bad sign of the presidency’s ability to function. I suspect, and would hope, that the international community will insist that it meet in Sarajevo.
       But the Bosniak Muslims have a clear disadvantage in the presidency. Decisions are taken by three-way consensus. If that does not exist, a two-way vote is sufficient. However, the dissenting member of the presidency can block the decision if he receives two-thirds of the vote in the parliament of the entity he comes from. Given than there is an overall consensus between the Serbs and the Croats, it is quite possible that Zubak, for the Croats, and Krajisnik will form an alliance against Izetbegovic. If Izetbegovic wants to overturn this, he must appeal to the parliament of the Bosnian-Croat Federation–here the Croats (under Zubak’s control) can block Izetbegovic’s influence.
       Aside from this disadvantage, the constitutional mechanisms are clearly extremely unwieldy which will favour local power, which is of course in the hands of the nationalist parties.
       Finally, as regards the thorny question of arming the Bosnian government, I feel I should point out a very serious problem which the Americans and the Bosniaks have created for themselves.
       The partial military victory of the Federation over the Bosnian Serbs came about because of practical military support which the United States gave not to Bosnia but to Croatia. The Federation has done nothing to address the underlying causes of Muslim-Croat conflict. Franjo Tudjman, who has behaved almost as despicably as the Serb leadership throughout the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, will NOT tolerate a programme which sees the Muslims approaching any military parity with Croatia. The Croatian-American military relationship, as personified by the friendship between the Croat Defence Minister, Gojko Susak, one of the leading anti-Muslim characters in the Croatian government, and Secretary of State for Defence, William Perry, actually prevents the practical arming of the Bosnian government. I would be most interested to hear the other participants’ sentiments concerning the Muslim-Croat-American relationship and how the profound disputes between Muslims and Croats might be resolved. Herb Stein
5:02 p.m.  Thursday  9/19/96 

       Discussion of Bosnia obviously generates a good deal of heat, especially 47 days before the election. But as I, a remote and ignorant observer, see it, no one can claim to know with much confidence what would have worked in the past five years. And no one can claim to know with much confidence what will work now. Moreover, all the panelists seem committed to more or less the same policy, and all are uncertain about what the outcome will be. No one is now proposing legitimizing the division of Bosnia into three separate countries, let alone the annexation of the Serb part and the Croatian part by Serbia and Croatia respectively. Everyone wants to continue international efforts to make Bosnia into a multi-ethnic democracy, and everyone has his fingers crossed about whether that will work. To quote one of my favorite authors:
       “I am in blood stept in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”
       Since we have only one more day on this platform, I hope that the panelists will give us as calmly and as concisely as they can their suggestions for what should be done now that the election results are known.
       I wish that Perle would spell out a little more what he means by arming the Bosnians. Does he envisage a multi-ethnic Bosnian army with a multi-ethnic commander-in-chief, or a rotating commander-in-chief? What would its powers be? Or is he thinking of arming the Muslims to achieve a balance of power among the factions in Bosnia?
       I will concede to Albright that my reference to the 200 American police was silly if taken literally. I meant it as a metaphor for the attempt of foreign governments to “build” democratic institutions in other countries. I have the feeling that the record of such attempts is not encouraging, especially in environments that seem as inhospitable as Bosnia. But I may be wrong about that and I do not suggest that there is any alternative to trying. I wonder, however, if anyone has a fall-back position in case the present policy does not work.