01 May 2011

Rollback in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Western mainstream press is great for cheering yourself up. With its inclination to paint its adversaries as far more threatening and radical than they really are it frequently portrays a picture that is much more appealing than reality. Take the recent Guardian and Reuters news articles on BiH.

Apparently "Bosnian Serb separatists [are] holding a referendum" on national courts which represents only "the latest of a range of Serb separatist moves in Bosnia". The planned referendum is "a step towards Bosnia's breakup". The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, who "regularly taunts the international envoys" has already pledged "he would not back down". Thus the internationals are "heading for a showdown with Dodik" which is "likely to intensify Bosnia's dangerous drift and paralysis". Ha! Would that only half of that were true.

In reality Dodik has not mentioned secession in years. Even when he did, it was not in terms of his own policy goals, but in the context of what Bosnian-Herzegovian Serbs may be forced to do to should the transfer of powers from Republic of Srpska to the central state not stop. In the current stand-off too he has kept his goals limited and has offered the internationals a clear and easy way out. He will settle for renegotiating the way in which the central state courts operate and for partially reigning them in. This may represent the standing up against foreign overlords on the level that is rarely seen in former Yugoslavia anymore, but is nowhere near the exciting picture Western media paints.

Inzko, the "High Representative", comes off as panicky in the aforementioned reports, but is right on the money when he says:
"Never before has such a referendum been planned. The intention is to roll back all the achievements. It challenges the role of the high representative."
Certainly, the vote on the courts is being presented as a symbolic stand against all such centralizing legislation imposed from the outside. No wonder that Inzko is nervous and feeding the interviewers the "worst crisis since the end of the war" line. That is nonsense, the land is fine, but it is a crisis for the OHR.

On one hand we have an elected local politician already warned it is not out of the question he could be removed (it is a bluff). On the other a foreign appointee with dictatorial powers over land not his own. The motions of one side for a popular referendum (it does not get much more democratic than that), being answered by the other with threats of "sanctions similar to those placed on Robert Mugabe and Muammar Gaddafi."

It sucks to be an international. The moral high ground tends to be quite elusive in such circumstances. Naturally then a direct challenge like this one is unnerving.

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