Monday, June 18, 2007

The Smoldering Fuse

Much as it pains me to say a kind word about Richard Holbrooke, the chief architect of the Dayton Accords, there's no escaping the fact that his brainchild has managed to keep a lid on armed conflict in Bosnia for over a decade. The way it was written, it could have even settled the fundamental issue over which the war was fought: the concept of government in a state inhabited by three mutually hostile ethnic groups.

The way it was implemented, unfortunately, attempted to shove the country back into the insane paradigm of 1991, with "citizen state" being used as a veil for domination by one community over the others. Countless "reforms" since 1996 have endeavored to create a strong central government at the expense of the entities. What Bosnia needs, on the other hand, is a less powerful government at all levels.

The reason Serbs, Croats and Muslims fight is only partly based in history; the simple truth is that, with the concept of government inherited from the socialist Yugoslavia (which copied it from the USSR), the state has entirely too much control and influence over every aspect of human action. This is statism in its purest form: extortion, violence, robbery, theft. Coupled with the troubled historical heritage, no group trusts the other with such power, but the lure of its privileges is too strong for anyone to contemplate the obvious solution: abolish most of it, and with it the temptation.

One of the reasons the military reform succeeded was the abolition of conscription. Once the military stopped being a tool of social engineering, politicians had no use for it anymore. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that escaped just about everyone, from the locals to the still substantial number of foreign bureaucrats administering, "training" and "overseeing" the country. With the Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik drawing a line in the sand and refusing to dismantle the Serb Republic any further, and Bosnian Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic leading a political jihad to achieve just that, passions are rising again and the fragile peace (or rather, absence of war) in Bosnia looks as if it won't last for long.

A week ago, I received a note from a friend who works in Sarajevo (and wishes to remain anonymous, for obvious reasons):

I am getting more and more worried about this place. [One] of my top staff and a very smart, educated guy, just spent 45 minutes in my office ranting about the political situation. Basically, he made the case for why Bosnia cannot exist as a sovereign state, but he, like everyone else, refuses to see the implications of his own arguments. Instead they call for "radical action," "imposed solutions," "abandoning politics," etc. Almost fascist-feeling, cult of action, will-to-power type stuff...

The people are delusional. They blame Dodik for everything. They say the country has gone backwards in the last two years, and imply it is because of the "disfuntional state institutions." I say the country has progressed, because the people have clearly, democratically spoken, and now we know where people stand. Plus, because reforms have been achieved despite the "disfunctional state," granted only under Dodik in the RS. Perhaps if they wanted the Serbs to have an interest in state institutions, they should have made the Federation work years ago, so the Serbs would be begging to be part of the dynamic economy next door. But instead they squabbled over insignificant details, made Srebrenica the focus of every speech, and divided up the spoils. Besides the "dysfunctional state" is the only kind that fits the state of the country now - it perfectly reflects the dis-united, aimless people.

They cite historical examples, and then misinterpret every one of them. They pray for the US to finally wake up and impose their (Bosniaks') vision on the country. They threaten war if Dodik achieves his (federal) aims democratically...then accuse Dodik of being a threat to the peace.

And suddenly I am hearing people - respected, educated, important people - talking about the failure of democratic institutions, and the consequent need for "radical action"....

The temperature is rising here. Croatians are hopeless. Bosniaks are radicalizing. Serbs are trying to be pragmatic (in my opinion), but they will be ready to respond if someone tries to use force agains them. The US seems to be trying to disengage - they want to impose window dressing reforms and then hand over responsibility to Brussels....

Things certainly sound grim.

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