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State union – a solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Bosnia and Herzegovina, once a constitutive part of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, was established as an independent state by the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as the Dayton Peace Agreement, concluded in Dayton, Ohio, on November 21, 1995, and signed in Paris on December 14 that year.

The Dayton Accords put an end to the armed conflict that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia, in which about 100,000 people lost their lives. It created a complicated and highly inefficient state consisting of two entities, each with its own government: Republic of Srpska, with Serbs as the ethnic majority, and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with Bosniaks — as the majority and Bosnian Croats as a constitutive ethnic group.

Later on, the federation was further split into 10 cantons, each with its own government. In addition to the two parliaments, there is a parliamentary assembly at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which consists of the House of Peoples and the House of Representatives. In theory, the country’s highest executive body is the collective presidency that consists of three members from each of the major ethnic groups and decides by consensus, which, in practice, means that its work is often blocked. However, the real sovereign in Bosnia and Herzegovina is not its people, the parliament or the presidency, but the high representative.

Annex 10 of the Dayton Accords instituted the Office of the High Representative. Initially envisioned as an international chair with the mandate to oversee the implementation of the agreement, the office was radically transformed in 1997 with the so-called Bonn Authority, when the Peace Implementation Council gave the Office of the High Representative almost limitless powers in Bosnia and Herzegovina without any democratic legitimacy. Using the power granted to them by the Bonn agreement, many representatives have behaved as colonial governors, vetoing and overruling decisions made by local authorities at all levels of government, removing democratically elected officials, and arbitrarily changing state legislation.

Bosnia and Herzegovina found itself in an impossible situation. Its highly dysfunctional political system is often criticized in the West for the lack of democracy, transparency and accountability, and yet Biden administration and official London fully support the Office of the High Representative that, itself undemocratic, only prevents the development of democratic institutions in the country.

Recently, the latest crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina was provoked by the outgoing high representative, the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, and his July move to enact the amendment to the country’s criminal code. Among other things, Article 1 (Amendment to Article 145a of the Criminal Code) specifies that whoever denies the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime as established by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) or a court in Bosnia and Herzegovina may face up to five years in prison.

The article also states that “whoever gives a recognition, award, memorial, any kind of memento, or any privilege or similar” to a person sentenced for genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime will be punished by imprisonment for a term “not less than three years.” Decisions made by the high representative have the power of state laws.

In Republic of Srpska, one of the constitutive parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this move is perceived as a direct attack on the Serbs. The reason is the disputed qualification of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, where, according to some estimates, more than 8,000 Muslim Bosniak men were killed by the Bosnian Serb forces. In a number of rulings, the ICTY qualified the massacre as a genocide. While Republic of Srpska does not deny the existence of the crime, it contests the genocide designation. 

Many scholars have questioned the validity of such a categorization in view of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the way this term has been used in legal practice prior to the ICTY ruling. The 2020 concluding report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Suffering of All People in the Srebrenica Region Between 1992 and 1995, produced by a group of 10 international scholars from countries like Israel, US, Nigeria, Germany and Japan, among others, was the latest to raise concerns around the use of this terminology.

In response to the decision of the high representative, Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, called for a meeting of the parliament of Republic of Srpska in order to come up with a legal response to Inzko’s decision, which would render this, as well as any future decisions by the high representative, ineffective in its territory. Dodik also threatened, not for the first time, to proclaim the independence of Republic of Srpska if the pressures and attacks from the office of the high representative, together with those coming from the federation, continue.

Conclusion

In addition to this already complicated institutional setup, it is clear that visions for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina sharply differ between its two constitutive entities. In Bosnia and Herzegovina — especially among the Muslim/Bosniak majority — there is strong support for a unitary state, the prerequisite of which would be the disintegration of the two entities mandated by the Dayton Accords.

On the other hand, the leaders of Republic of Srpska, enjoying strong popular support, see its existence, with all of the competencies initially bestowed upon it, as the prerequisite for the existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as established in Dayton. Every attempt to diminish Republic of Srpska can only lead to the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If done violently, it can lead to a new war.

Today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, no doubt, represents an epic failure of Western policies toward the region. It is a dysfunctional state and with two fundamentally conflicting visions for its future, the only way to keep a pretense of a functioning state is through the existence of the undemocratically appointed foreign governor.

In such a situation, it is clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs a new plan, which would relax the situation between nations, but also which would enable economic progress for the population.

The best solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina would be that Biden administration accept the situation on the ground, and that is that today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republic of Srpska. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt a new constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina which would reorganize Bosnia and Herzegovina into a State Union of Bosnia and Srpska, following the example of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro. In 2002, Serbia and Montenegro came to a new agreement regarding continued co-operation, which, among other changes, promised the end of the name Yugoslavia (since they were part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia). On 4 February 2003, the Federal Assembly of Yugoslavia created a loose state union or confederacy—the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro.

The formation of the state union of Bosnia and Srpska would prevent further suffering of the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and its rapid depopulation, which has been unfolding as a result of economic depression and the lack of faith that the situation will improve in the foreseeable future. Also, interethnic tensions between Serbs and Bosniaks would cease, while economic issues would take precedence.

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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Europe

Europe tells Biden “no way” to Cold War with China

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Amidst the first big transatlantic tensions for the Biden Administration, a new poll shows that the majority of Europeans see a new Cold War happening between the United States and China, but they don’t see themselves as a part of it.

Overwhelmingly, 62% of Europeans believe that the US is engaged in a new Cold War against China, a new poll just released by the European Council on Foreign Relations found. Just yesterday US President Joe Biden claimed before the UN General Assembly that there is no such thing and the US is not engaging in a new Cold War. So, Europeans see Biden’s bluff and call him on it.

The study was released on Wednesday by Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev at the European Council on Foreign Relations and found that Europeans don’t see themselves as direct participants in the US-China Cold War. This viewpoint is most pronounced in Bulgaria, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Italy, according to the study. The prevailing view, in each of the 12 surveyed EU member states, is one of irrelevance – with respondents in Hungary (91%), Bulgaria (80%), Portugal (79%), and Austria (78%) saying that their country is not in a conflict with Beijing.

Only 15% of Europeans believe that the EU is engaged in a Cold War against China. The percentage is so low that one wonders if there should even be such a question. It is not only not a priority, it is not even a question on the agenda for Europeans. Even at the highest point of EU “hawkishness”, only 33% of Swedes hold the view that their country is currently in a Cold War with China.  Leonard and Krastev warn that if Washington and Brussels are preparing for an all-in generational struggle against China, this runs against the grain of opinion in Europe, and leaders in Washington and Brussels will quickly discover that they “do not have a societal consensus behind them”.

“The European public thinks there is a new cold war – but they don’t want to have anything to do with it. Our polling reveals that a “cold war” framing risks alienating European voters”, Mark Leonard said.

The EU doesn’t have the backing of its citizens to follow the US in its new Cold War pursuit. But unlike the views of the authors of the study, my view is that this is not a transatlantic rift that we actually have to be trying to fix. Biden’s China policy won’t be Europe’s China policy, and that’s that, despite US efforts to persuade Europe to follow, as I’ve argued months ago for the Brussels Report and in Modern Diplomacy.

In March this year, Gallup released a poll that showed that 45% of Americans see China as the greatest US enemy. The poll did not frame the question as Cold War but it can be argued that Joe Biden has some mandate derived from the opinion of American people. That is not the case for Europe at all, to the extent that most of us don’t see “China as an enemy” even as a relevant question.

The US’s China pursuit is already giving horrible for the US results in Europe, as French President Macron withdrew the French Ambassador to the US. The US made a deal already in June, as a part of the trilateral partnership with the UK and Australia, and stabbed France in the back months ago to Macron’s last-minute surprise last week. Max Boot at the Council on Foreign Relations argues that it is Macron that is actually arrogant to expect that commitments and deals should mean something: “Back in February, Macron rejected the idea of a U.S.-E.U. common front against China. Now he complains when America pursues its own strategy against China. What’s French for chutzpah?” What Boot does get right is that indeed, there won’t be a joint US-EU front on China, and European citizens also don’t want this, as the recent poll has made clear.

The US saying Europe should follow the US into a Cold War with China over human rights is the same thing as China saying that Europe should start a Cold War with the US over the bad US human rights record. It’s not going to happen. You have to understand that this is how ridiculous the proposition sounds to us, Europeans. Leonard and Krastev urge the EU leadership to “make the case for more assertive policies” towards China around European and national interests rather than a Cold War logic, so that they can sell a strong, united, and compelling case for the future of the Atlantic alliance to European citizens.

I am not sure that I agree, as “more assertive policies” and “cold war” is probably the same thing in the mind of most Europeans and I don’t think that the nuance helps here or matters at all. Leaders like Biden argue anyway that the US is not really pursuing a Cold War. The authors caution EU leaders against adopting a “cold war” framing. You say “framing”, I say “spin”. Should we be in engaging in spins at all to sell unnecessary conflict to EU citizens only to please the US?

Unlike during the first cold war, [Europeans] do not see an immediate, existential threat”, Leonard clarified. European politicians can no longer rely on tensions with China to convince the electorate of the value of transatlantic relations. “Instead, they need to make the case from European interests, showing how a rebalanced alliance can empower and restore sovereignty to European citizens in a dangerous world”, Mark Leonard added. The study shows that there is a growing “disconnect” between the policy ambitions of those in Brussels and how Europeans think. EU citizens should stick to their sentiments and not be convinced to look for conflict where it doesn’t exist, or change what they see and hear with their own eyes and ears in favor of elusive things like the transatlantic partnership, which the US itself doesn’t believe in anyways. And the last thing that should be done is to scare Europeans by convincing them they live in a “dangerous world” and China is the biggest threat or concern.

What the study makes clear is that a Cold War framing against China is likely to repel more EU voters than it attracts, and if there is one thing that politicians know it is that you have to listen to the polls in what your people are telling you instead of engaging in spins. Those that don’t listen in advance get the signs eventually. At the end of the day it’s not important what Biden wants.

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Germany and its Neo-imperial quest

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In January 2021, eight months ago, when rumours about the possibility of appointment of Christian Schmidt as the High Representative in Bosnia occurred for the first time, I published the text under the title ‘Has Germany Lost Its NATO Compass?’. In this text I announced that Schmidt was appointed to help Dragan Čović, the leader of the Croatian HDZ party, to disrupt the constitutional structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and create precoditions for secession of the Serb- and Croatian-held territories in Bosnia and the country’s final dissolution. I can hardly add anything new to it, except for the fact that Schmidt’s recent statements at the conference of Deutsche Atlantische Gesellschaft have fully confirmed my claims that his role in Bosnia is to act as Čović’s ally in the latter’s attempts to carve up the Bosnian Constitution.

Schmidt is a person with a heavy burden, the burden of a man who has continuously been promoting Croatian interests, for which the Croatian state decorated him with the medal of “Ante Starčević”, which, in his own words, he “proudly wears” and shares with several Croatian convicted war criminals who participated in the 1992-1995 aggression on Bosnia, whom Schmidt obviously perceives as his ideological brethren. The question is, then, why Germany appointed him as the High Representative in Bosnia? 

Germany’s policy towards Bosnia, exercised mostly through the institutions of the European Union, has continuously been based on the concept of Bosnia’s ethnic partition. The phrases that we can occassionaly hear from the EU, on inviolability of state boundaries in the Balkans, is just a rhetoric adapted to the demands by the United States to keep these boundaries intact. So far, these boundaries have remained intact mainly due to the US efforts to preserve them. However, from the notorious Lisbon Conference in February 1992 to the present day, the European Union has always officially stood behind the idea that Bosnia-Herzegovina should be partitioned along ethnic lines. At the Lisbon Conference, Lord Carrington and Jose Cutileiro, the official representatives of the then European Community, which has in the meantime been rebranded as the European Union, drew the maps with lines of ethnic partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, along which the ethnic cleansing was committed, with 100.000 killed and 1,000.000 expelled, so as to make its territory compatible with their maps. Neither Germany nor the European Union have ever distanced themselves from the idea they promoted and imposed at the Lisbon Conference as ‘the only possible solution’ for Bosnia, despite the grave consequences that followed. Nor has this idea ever stopped being a must within their foreign policy circles, as it has recently been demonstrated by the so-called Janša Non-Paper, launched a couple of months ago, which also advocates the final partition and dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Such a plan is probably a product of the powerful right-wing circles in the European institutions, such as Schmidt’s CSU, rather than a homework of Janez Janša, the current Prime Minister of Slovenia, whose party is a part of these circles, albeit a minor one. To be sure, Germany is not the original author of the idea of Bosnia’s partition, this author is Great Britain, which launched it directly through Lord Carrington at the Lisbon Conference. Yet, Germany has never shown a will to distance itself from this idea, nor has it done the European Union. Moreover, the appointment of Schmidt, as a member of those political circles which promote ethnic partition as the only solution for multiethnic countries, testifies to the fact that Germany has decided to fully apply this idea and act as its chief promoter.

In this process, the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, with their extreme nationalist policies, can only act as the EU’s proxies, in charge for the physical implemenation of Bosnia’s pre-meditated disappearance. All the crimes that Serbia and Croatia committed on the Bosnian soil – from the military aggression, over war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide, up to the 30 year-long efforts to undermine Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – have always had a direct approval and absolute support of the leading EU countries. During the war and in its aftermath, Great Britain and France were the leaders of the initiatives to impose ethnic partition on the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and now Germany has taken up their role. In such a context, the increasing aggressiveness of Serbia and Croatia can only be interpreted as a consequence of the EU’s intention to finish with Bosnia for good, and Schmidt has arrived to Bosnia to facilitate that process. Therefore, it is high time for the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina to abandon any ilussions about the true intentions of the European Union and reject its Trojan Horse in the form of the current High Representative.  

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Should there be an age limit to be President?

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The presidential elections in Bulgaria are nearing in November 2021 and I would like to run for President of Bulgaria, but the issue is the age limit.

To run for President in Bulgaria a candidate needs to be at least 40 years old and I am 37. I am not the first to raise the question: should there be an age limit to run for President, and generally for office, and isn’t an age limit actually age discrimination?

Under the international human rights law standard, putting an age limit is allowed in the context of political participation under the right to vote and the right to run to be elected. Human Rights Committee General Comment No.25 interpreting the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that an age limit has to be based on objective and reasonable criteria, adding that it is reasonable to have a higher age requirement for certain offices. As it stands, the law says that having an age limit for president is not age discrimination, but is 40 actually a reasonable cut-off? National legislations can change. We need to lower the age limit and rethink what’s a reasonable age for President, and not do away with all age limits.

We have seen strong leaders emerge as heads of state and government who are below 40 years of age. Sanna Marin, Prime Minister of Finland, became Prime Minister at 34. Sebastrian Kurz, the Prime Minister of Austria, was elected at 31. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, assumed her position at 37. So perhaps it is time to rethink age limits for the highest offices.

The US has plenty of examples where elected Senators and Congressmen actually beat the age limit and made it despite the convention. The age limit for Senator in the US is 30 years old. Rush Holt was elected to the US Senate at 29. In South Carolina, two State Senators were elected at 24 years old and they were seated anyways. The age limit for US president is 35 years old.

In Argentina, the age cut-off is 30. In India, it is 35. In Pakistan, it is 45 years old. In Turkey, it is 40 years old. Iceland says 35 years old. In France, it is 18.

Generally, democracies set lower age limits. More conservative countries set the age limit higher in line with stereotypes rather than any real world evidence that a 45 year-old or 55 year-old person would be more effective and better suited to the job. Liberal countries tend to set lower age limits.

40 years old to be a President of Bulgaria seems to be an arbitrary line drawn. And while it is legal to have some age limits, 40 years old seems to be last century. Changing the age limit for president of Bulgaria could be a task for the next Bulgarian Parliament for which Bulgarians will also vote on the same date as they vote for President.

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