Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Opinion

EU must recognise new force for Balkans destabilisation

  • A graveyard from the 1990s wars in the Balkans. (Photo: Eric Maurice)

The sighs of relief from some European Union diplomats were almost audible in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) following the country's general election last month.

The election took place despite the BiH Constitutional Court having ruled that parts of the electoral law have been unconstitutional since 2016.

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  • Zeljko Komsic (l) meeting the then Polish president, the late Lech Kaczynski (Photo: Polish Chancellory)

But perhaps the biggest relief was the election to the Croat seat of the tripartite state presidency of Zeljko Komsic.

While Komsic is seen by the vast majority of BiH Croats as a puppet of the country's majority Bosniaks, he is inaccurately seen by some Westerners as a voice of reason and a guarantor of political stability, compared to his Croat rival and outgoing pro-European president, Dragan Covic.

Komsic's election compounds the sense of grievance in the BiH Croat community at the illegality and illegitimacy of the electoral system in BiH, and the West's enthusiasm for turning a blind eye to it.

Komsic is a beneficiary of misunderstood intentions.

While Covic was long accused of harbouring plans to create a so-called third entity in BiH for Croats – which, according to Covic's Western critics, would tear up the hallowed Dayton Agreement on which the country's governance is founded – it is in fact Komsic who seeks to scrap Dayton.

He wants to move away from the model of 'constituent peoples' and power-sharing, which is supposed to guarantee equality of Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, as it is the case in modern European federations such as Belgium, and instead to move to a simple majoritarian system - in which the obvious winners would be Bosniaks.

The EU Foreign Affairs Council has announced it will discuss BiH following the elections on Monday, 19 November.

The EU is given the opportunity to show that it is not a political dwarf in the Balkans, where not only economic, but also political reforms are necessary.

Indeed, the reason why Komsic has been elected president again is because, while the Republika Srpska elects its own member of the state presidency, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, as one constituency, elects both the Bosniak and Croat members.

With Bosniaks outnumbering Croats by more than four to one in the federation, you do not have to be a mathematical genius to work out that Bosniaks have the power to elect anyone they like to the Croat seat, over the heads of Croats.

This is exactly what happened – for the third time – at the 7 October election.

Komsic won at least 90 percent of his votes from electors who identify as Bosniak.

To take an illustrative example: in the municipality of Bosanska Krupa there are 50 Croats in the population register. The main Croat parties – HDZ and HDZ 1990, Komsic's sworn enemies – won 44 votes, whereas Komsic won 2,798 votes.

Komsic is repaying his debt to the Bosniaks who elected him by acting as the reincarnation of Bosniak nationalism.

Bizarrely, Komsic is the most vocal opponent of the Peljesac Bridge, which is being built near BiH's narrow strip of coast to link Croatia's southernmost peninsula of Peljesac (home to Dubrovnik) with the rest of Croatia.

The project is financed by the EU to the tune of €357m.

During the campaign, Komsic joined Bosniak nationalists in denouncing Croatia's president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic for her strong support for the bridge.

The sexism and belittling of the president by Komsic and his enablers culminated in a rally at which songs called for Covic to be impaled and 'stuck into' Grabar-Kitarovic.

Passed unnoticed in Brussels

This medieval and hate-filled rhetoric, redolent of Ottoman supremacy, seems to have passed unnoticed in Brussels and Washington, but it is not the language of a moderate, and certainly not the language of Croats either in BiH or Croatia itself.

Komsic may have emerged victorious again, but he is on the wrong side of law.

In 2016, the BiH Constitutional Court decided that "the connection between those who are represented and their political representatives at all administrative-political levels is actually the one that gives the legitimacy to community representatives" and, "therefore, only the legitimacy of representation creates a basis for actual participation and decision-making".

Integrationist promoters of a 'one person, one vote' system reject this, arguing that power-sharing between the three constituent peoples is discriminatory.

Would they argue the same for Belgium?

They accuse all intellectuals and people who question the legitimacy and legality of Komsic's election as being 'hardliners', 'nationalists', and accusing them of obsessing over 'whether Komsic is a real or fake Croat'.

These false accusation try to divert attention from concerns that Komsic's election is both contrary to the Dayton Agreement and illegitimate.

In short, Komsic is not a fake Croat, but he is a fake representative of Croats.

However, any attempt to make the electoral law legitimate is directly or indirectly stopped by Bosniak parties, because they know that change would make it impossible for them to impose illegitimate Croats on legislative and exercise control over executive bodies in the future.

Although Komsic's victory satisfies some Westerners, it ultimately makes political paralysis in BiH even more likely.

If the EU discovers the courage to push a resolution of this lamentable situation according to modern federal and power-sharing arrangements that respect the spirit and the letter of the constitution of BiH, a serious deterioration in Bosniak-Croat relations could be avoided.

Inaction, however, will probably lead to a de facto 'Cyprus-isation' of the Bosniak-Croat Federation – which, ironically, would make Croats' coveted third entity much more likely.

Ivan Pepic is head of the expert team at the Institute for Social and Political Research, Mostar

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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