29 March 2011

The Age of Colonialism

The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina has once more blatantly intruded in the work of institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This time he has resorted to the use of the so called Bonn Powers in order to suspend the Decision of the Central Election Commission that ruled the constituent session of a rump upper house of the parliament of the Federation unlawful being in violation of the country's Election Law.

The "Bonn Powers", it should be remembered, were not envisioned by the original peace settlements signed by the warring sides that created the Office of the High Representative, but were imposed on Bosnians and Herzegovians a year and a half later by outsiders who had set themselves up as overbearing and unwelcome tutors.

The decree additionally orders state officials to obey the self-proclaimed executive authorities and validates its acts, until the Constitutional Court of the Federation rules on the matter of their seizure of power. This upholds the power grab of the SDP-SDA coalition for now, but more than that in Bosnia and Herzegovina the decisions of Constitutional Courts are themselves frequently a sham. Though it is hard to see how could it do so this time, most expect the Constitutional Court to make the ruling the foreigners want them to. The US ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Patrick Moon had paid a visit to the court only recently, and the US Embassy certainly wasted no time in issuing a statement hailing the decree.

Subsequently Dragan Čović, the head of the largest Croatian party, had no doubts who was behind it:
"The fact is that such a decision can not be made without the administration of the USA. Up until now we have been talking about this group of people [gathered around SDP] having covert backing from someone powerful from the international community in hushed tones, but now we can openly state the OHR would not have passed such a decision, if it did not have the backing of those who have the power to define these type of decisions." 
Nine Croat parties, parliamentary as well as non-parliamentary, issued a joint statement protesting the decision, noting it was part of a long lasting trend toward marginalisation of the least numerous nationality of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile Milorad Dodik, the president of Republic of Srpska opined that by suspending the decision of the Central Election Commission the OHR had in fact "suspended the little bit of credibility the international community had in BiH".

The High Representative explained his move in terms of the need for "legal clarity" as if his assault on local institutions was not the mayor destabilising factor in the equation and his rule by decree the opposite of any worthwhile legal norms. The continued interference of foreign actors has been the single biggest cause of uncertainties and complexities built in into the way in which the legal-political system in place in Bosnia and Herzegovina operates.

The text of the decree states it is not aimed at undermining the Central Election Commission ("The Decision to suspend the CEC’s decision in no way suggests a lack of confidence by the international community in the CEC.") precisely as it marginalises it and sweeps it out of the way. The will of a single functionary, who has not been elected by anyone, is not even a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina is embedded with more power than the decision of a lawful local institution.

Colonialism is an idea that has been utterly discredited, not the least by the experience of Bosnia and Herzegovina under colonial rule in the 1878-1918 period. A question needs to be raised regarding the legitimacy of the resurrection of colonial practises on the backs of the peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The practises which Western powers had supposedly repudiated and now regret.

The present political and institutional crisis in which the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina finds itself is severe, but more than that the whole experience of neo-colonial Bosnia and Herzegovina has been that of a continuous crisis. Everything in Bosnia has a transitional, provisional feel about it, the only certainty being the certainty of gridlocks, quandaries, pressures, threats, dismissals... This is a predictable outcome of foreign actors consistently backing and clearing the path for a rather radical political option whose programme of centralising Bosnia and Herzegovina as much as humanly possible is utterly opposed by the majority of the country's population.

What will it take for these new colonialist, these new proponents of civilising missions and practitioners of politics of divide and rule to leave and stop turning up the heat of the politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

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