20 March 2011

Coverage and the Lack of Thereof


Here
to read a contribution for a "News in English" section of a news portal from Herzegovina, poskok.info, penned by me.


The text reposted bellow (22.3.2014) for archival purposes:

Coverage and the Lack of Thereof

It is rather fascinating to observe the level of coverage of the post-electoral developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the West given that Western fingertips are all over the situation in the country.

Sixteen hundred foreign troops remain on the ground in Bosnia or Herzegovina. The unilateral and unlawful granting of the so called "Bonn powers" by the Peace Implementation Council in 1997 to the "High Representative" essentially stripped Bosnia and Herzegovina of any real sovereignty it might previously had. The cause of the present crisis can be traced directly to the 2002 unilateral rewriting of the Constitution of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, specifically the changes made to the House of Peoples, by the then "High Representative" Wolfgang Petrisch. Finally Washington and Brussels continue to issue numerous official statements attempting to influence events and are no doubt doing much more behind the scenes.

Regardless of this deep involvement of the Western national and supranational governments in the events, the coverage of the muddle in the Federation in the English-language press is virtually non-existent. It exists only in traces and these traces are so abysmally erroneous and misleading it would be perhaps better if they did not exist at all.

One of the few news pieces that is possible to find at all is a report by the Associated Press from March 17h titled "Bosnian regional government to excludes [sic] Croat nationalists, who threaten mass protests":
"Bosnia's political crisis is deepening after a multiethnic coalition that won October elections moved to form a regional government without the participation of Croat nationalists.

The nationalists threatened Thursday to stage mass rallies if the government formation proceeds, which could threaten the stability of a country scarred by ethnic wars.

The crisis in the Bosniak-Croat region of Bosnia centres on who should fill seats reserved for ethnic Croats under the constitution.

The leftist coalition, which united members of both ethnic groups, says it will fill those seats with Croats from its ranks.

The Croat nationalists say that's illegal because they consider themselves the only true representatives of Bosnia's ethnic Croat minority."
Where does one begin to comment on such an abysmally poor piece of journalism? To start with the government of the Federation is not a "regional" government, it is an entity government. It was styled such by the peace settlement written and pushed through by Washington. Not unexpectedly it turns out it is entirely too optimistic to expect of an American news agency to remember the terminology of their own government. This is not merely semantics as the importance of the entity governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina is far above "regional governments" anywhere. For one thing the entity level is the level of government at which the bulk of state's revenue is spent.

Next, styling the SDP-SDA-HSP-NSRZB a "multiethnic coalition" and the winners of the elections is rather fanciful. Each of these parties appeared on the ballot box separately – not part of a joint coalition – and campaigned against each other, as they are normally bitter enemies, now temporarily united by the prospect of cushy ministerial positions. The SDP is a civic nationalist party, drawing its support almost exclusively from the Bosnian-Herzegovian Muslims. The SDA is a Bosnian Muslim ethnic nationalist party tinged with pan-Islamic solidarities and attitudes. The HSP is a minor, far-right Croatian party and the NSRZB is a family project of the Lijanovići tycoon clan without any ideology whatsoever other than the continued personal enrichment of the Lijanovići.

Considering the relative sizes of SDP and SDA which are mayor parties and the size of the distinctly minor HSP and NSRZB, it is clear this is a coalition of the two largest Bosnian Muslim parties with two token Croat parties along for the ride, serving as a fig leaf. The coalition is of course free to style itself however it pleases, including "multiethnic", but a fact is the four parties between themselves secured only 10% of the Croat vote. They are the winners among the country's Muslim community, but not among the country's Croat community.

Furthermore, interesting is the phrasing by which it is the mass rallies "threatened" by "the nationalists" which endanger "the stability of a country scarred by ethnic wars", rather than the insistence of the coalition to form a government without the participation of the legitimate political representatives of one of the constituent peoples and in a fragile, ethnically divided country sideline 90% of the Croat vote, which triggered the announcements of protest rallies in the first place.

On a next point it is interesting how the news piece boldly highlights the ability and the intention of the "leftist coalition" to fill the seats which are under the Constitution reserved for the poltical representatives of the Croats with Croats from its own ranks as a positive, a legitimising random fact for the would-be government. The most important Croat positions are in fact to be appropriated by the largely Bosnian Muslim SDP. This ability to fill positions with career nationals of the appropriate other nationality is one that is not unique to SDP but is in fact common to all mayor parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The mayor Croatian party, HDZ BiH, would be perfectly able and happy to fill the governmental positions reserved for the Bosnian-Herzegovian Muslims with professional Muslims from its own ranks given the chance. Question is, given its non-existent support among the Bosnian-Herzegovian Muslim community, how legitimate would it be for it to do so?

Additionally, the moves of the coalition are not illegal because of who and what the parties of the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina that are up in arms over coalition's circumventing of the law "consider" themselves to be, but because of what the law on the books says. A legitimate government needs to be approved by a lawfully constituted House of Peoples of the Federation and gain the support of at least one third of Croat representatives in the House. The SDP-SDA-HSP-NSRZB coalition failed on both counts, but proclaimed itself "the government" regardless.

Lastly, the Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina are not an "ethnic minority". They are a constituent people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an entirely different category under the law, with an entirely different set of legal and institutional guarantees.

The SDP-SDA coalition is signalling to 90% of the country's Croats that they are not needed, that things can happen without them, and breaking the law to do it. Regardless we are paying witness to a report that conjures up just the opposite image of dangerous Croatian nationalists not able to reconcile themselves to an electoral defeat pettily besieging a serene, tolerant, multiethnic coalition just trying to get on with forming a marginally important "regional" government just as the electoral result entitles them to.

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