08 July 2011

Faking It


I figured saying a thing or two on books I read could be another way to liven up the going on here. The first one is going to be Bosnia: Faking Democracy After Dayton by David Chandler which is the last book I read. Not a review, but a summary key things I got out of it and would be useful to remember.

The work is based on author's observation of the first three years (1996-98) of international involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Every single peace plan put forth before the local belligerents in the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina envisaged a role for foreigners in Bosnia and Herzegovina that was incompatible with a fully sovereign and independent state. This was the case even with the very first settlement proposal, which predated the beginning of the war. So at the same time Europeans were giving encouragement to Alija Izetbegović to take BiH out of Yugoslavia and have "independence" they were already seeing themselves as managers of the place. Every subsequent peace plan tended to go further in granting foreigners power over the country.

After the war internationals gradually intensified their grip on Bosnia. The Dayton Agreement, which ended the war, presupposed only a short, one year period of supervision by the internationals in anticipation of the first post-war elections. These were held and observed to be free and fair. Instead of getting out the internationals unilaterally extended their mission for another two years and expanded their powers of regulation in the sphere of economics. The next year they declared their mission was now an indefinite one and their 'High Representative' could exercise absolutist powers.

Chandler explains this was done under the guise of 'democratization', which, other than its etymology, has nothing to do with democracy. The process of 'democratization' took Bosnia and Herzegovina further away from being a democracy as it piled on powers for the unelected colonial officer, the 'High Representative' and subordinated him the actual, elected, representatives.

The language of democratization, it is explained, makes it possible for outside involvement in BiH to appear as idealistic just as it sets up a platform for self-flattery and denigration of Bosnians as less-civilized on the account of their ‘ethnic rivalries'. Unsurprisingly since 'democratization' represents the resurrection of Civilizing Mission style colonialism wrapped in the language of human rights and ethics based foreign policy.

According to Chandler the greatest effect international involvement in Bosnia after Dayton has had was to reorganize international cooperation. It gave a chance to international institutions like NATO, UN, OSCE to transform and re-legitimize themselves. It was the opportunity to do so that was the most fundamental reason why they and powerful Western governments were excited at the prospect of participating in 'democratization' in Bosnia.

The most interesting part of the book deals with criticisms of international involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Aside from official assessment, which is naturally happy with the effort, Chandler identifies two alternative views, the liberal and the conservative assessments, which are critical of it.

In the period observed liberals complained involvement was not heavy handed enough and repeatedly called for an end to elections and imposition of an ‘open-ended occupation’ or a ‘benign colonial regime’ to secure better results. Conservatives argued 'ethnic division' was so pronounced international policies were not going to succeed no matter the effort spent.

Regardless the similarities between the liberal and conservative standpoints are greater than the differences. Neither is in the least bit concerned about the ethical aspects of imposing foreign rule on Bosnia or denying Bosnians their right for self-rule and self-determination. Further, conservatives concede that shaping BiH in the way liberals wish to would be desirable if only it could be accomplished. So in fact they agree outsiders know what would be best for Bosnians and Herzegovians better than they do themselves, the only difference is conservatives do not think that is enough to make a change.

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