Can the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia be reformed? | Political news
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, home to one of the most complicated systems of governance in the world and deeply divided between ethnic groups, Azra Zornic is convinced that the country will sooner or later adopt a civic constitution with equal rights for all citizens.
The retired sociology professor defines herself as “a Bosnian citizen – exclusively – because that is what I do”.
For the past 17 years, Zornic has fought for constitutional changes so that all Bosnian citizens have equal rights, regardless of ethnicity.
Her battle began in 2005 when she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg after being barred from standing for election to the House of Peoples, a chamber of the Bosnian parliament, because She did not identify with any of the accepted ethnicities stipulated in the current constitution: Bosnian, Croat or Serbian.
Nine years later, the court ruled that the constitution did indeed discriminate against its citizens and ordered the adoption of a civic constitution. But Zornic is still waiting for the verdict to be implemented.
“It’s about ethno-nationalist fascist political barriers,” Zornic told Al Jazeera.
She was the first Bosnian citizen to approach the court in Strasbourg and other Bosnians facing the same problem have followed suit, including Jakob Finci, a Bosnian Jew and Dervo Sejdic, a Bosnian Roma, after being unable to stand for election because their ethnicity belonged to the “Other” category.
Other complications are related to the two entities of the country, formed within the framework of the peace agreement of Dayton signed in December 1995.
For example, a Serb living in the entity of the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats cannot stand as a candidate in the elections for the tripartite presidency, nor can a Bosnian or a Croat living in the entity of the Serb-led Republika Srpska.
Over the years, the Strasbourg court has found the Bosnian constitution to be discriminatory in five separate judgments, including the Sejdic and Finci case in 2009.
Thirty years after the start of the war and as the country faces its greatest post-war political and security crisis amid Bosnian Serb secession movements, Bosnians are wondering how they would like their country to be. ruled with growing urgency.
“A Band-Aid for a Bleeding Wound”
The constitution, formed under the Dayton Accords and signed by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia – Alija Izetbegovic, Franjo Tudjman and Slobodan Milosevic respectively – formally ended the war in Bosnia, but was a “band-aid for a bleeding wound”, Baroness Arminka Helic told the British parliament in December.
“It stopped the conflict, but it locked Bosnia into a set of Kafkaesque institutional structures. Dayton Bosnia has three presidents, 13 prime ministers, 14 parliaments, 147 ministers and 700 parliamentarians, divided according to ethnic quotas, all for a population of less than 3.2 million,” Helic said.
Dozens of civic organizations – including the Bosnian Serb Civic Council, the Croatian National Council, the Congress Council of Bosnian Intellectuals and the Forum of Parliamentarians of Bosnia and Herzegovina – launched an online petition in October calling for the constitution is modeled on “civic principles” as is the case in democracies around the world.
The letter, which calls for the elimination of systematic discrimination and has been signed by more than 60,000 people, was sent to the Office of the High Representative, which oversees implementation of Dayton.
Changing the constitution is a legal requirement, he said, because the Dayton Accord was never meant to be a permanent solution.
“The existing ethno-national concept in Bosnia, which is particularly exemplified by the role of peoples’ houses at the Bosnian and Entity level, is not viable,” the petition said.
“It also completely removes the civil rights guaranteed by Bosnia’s existing constitution, leading to complete ethnic segregation.”
Anchoring of the “ethno-territorial oligarchy”
While some Bosnians hope to adopt a one-person, one-vote system, as is the case in much of the democratic world, political elites are pushing on other issues.
Negotiations to make changes to the electoral law have taken place intermittently for months between European Union and United States officials and Bosnian leaders. The last round of negotiations is currently underway in Sarajevo.
Dragan Covic, leader of the Croatian nationalist party HDZ, and other Croatian nationalist leaders have been calling for electoral reforms for years, saying they are not legitimately represented in the presidency.
Corn analysts said the changes they seek would result in a de facto third Croatian entity and “further entrench the country’s ethno-territorial oligarchy”.
If changes are not made to the electoral law, Bosnian Croat nationalists have said they will launch their own political process to form their own region in Bosnia.
Stipe Prlic, chairman of the Croatian National Council (HNV), one of the signatories of the online petition, told Al Jazeera that the situation “can never depend on Covic or the HDZ”.
“Here, you just have to adopt a concept that will be against separatism, unitarianism and other ethnic changes,” Prlic said.
“A middle way must be taken to satisfy all people living in Bosnia, including minorities, and for all to have the same rights – to elect and to be elected. If there is a will, [the changes] can be done very quickly.
Toby Vogel, a senior associate with the Political Council’s Democratization Initiative, told the Bosnian daily Dnevni Avaz this week that “it is mind-boggling that, just as the West claims to want to push back against Russian influence in the Balkans, the EU is negotiating changes to the election”. legislation that would most benefit local Kremlin clients,” namely Covic and Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency, Milorad Dodik.
Many have also criticized the negotiations as lacking transparency for ordinary citizens, as details of the talks have not been made public.
The minimum EU and US negotiators should do is divulge the details BiH leaders are discussing – if not for the sake of transparency, then at least out of respect for the younger generations who want to build their future in BiH .
We may be ruled by nationalists, but we are not naïve.
— Samir Beharić 🇺🇦 (@SamBeharic) March 18, 2022
In December, former High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling warned that US State Department official Matthew Palmer and his EU counterpart Angelina Eichhorst were trying to push through electoral reform “very opaquely” and under pressure ahead of the October election.
Schwarz-Schilling asked why the issue of electoral law has become a top priority amid Bosnia’s worst crisis since the end of the war, with Dodik de facto calling for secession from Republika Srpska.
He said amending the constitution and removing its discriminatory parts identified by the ECHR should be addressed first.
Zornic agrees that ECHR rulings should be dealt with first, not election law – she called the negotiations a “tavern gathering”. The round of talks with ethno-nationalist parties held in late January in the coastal town of Neum took place “in the most expensive hotel…paid for by us, the taxpayers of this country”, a- she added.
“The laws of a country are not debated in taverns and hotels, rather in institutions… [electoral law reforms] cannot be accepted until it is accepted in parliament,” Zornic said.
Political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic told Al Jazeera that the moves for a one-person, one-vote system are “very important but they need to be directed at local and international policy makers, and also to take stock of electoral realities”.
“Until the [Croat nationalist party] The HDZ in particular suffers some electoral setbacks – which could happen this year with a decent turnout in the good parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina and a strong diaspora vote – they will be able to impede such processes.
“The key is not just to change the demand, but to work to create the conditions to achieve it,” Mujanovic said.
Zornic is still optimistic about the future.
“I’m sure we will have a civic constitution sooner or later, most likely after these elections in October,” Zornic said.
“How can people not understand? It’s a simple sentence – we are all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we all have equal rights – not just in the electoral process – but in all spheres of social life,” Zornic said.
“We should all be equal, regardless of ethnicity, religion – any type of affiliation.”