23 March 2009 - INTERNATIONAL OFFICIALS AND EXPERTS SPEAKING AT NATO PA SEMINAR WARN OF UNRAVELLING OF REFORM PROCESS IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA AND CALL FOR SUSTAINED INTERNATIONAL ATTENTION
At the NATO PA 70th Rose-Roth seminar, which was held in Sarajevo on 19-21 March, NATO legislators heard concern that a difficult political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is unravelling the reform process in that country. Speakers suggested that international vigilance, as well as a renewed commitment by Bosnian authorities to domestic reform, are essential to reversing this drift. The seminar, which gathered some 100 participants including 40 parliamentarians of NATO and partner countries, local and international officials, independent experts and embassy representatives, took place a few days before an important meeting of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), which is expected to appoint a new High Representative while deciding whether to extend the mandate of the Office of the High Representative (OHR).
The prospect of NATO integration has been a key factor in the success of the defence reform process. Selmo Cikotic, Minister of Defence of Bosnia and
However, several worrying trends are evident. International officials denounced the radicalisation of political rhetoric, the tendency of local elites to question the viability of the Bosnian state, and the use of fear mongering as a tool of political mobilisation. Raffi Gregorian, Principal Deputy High Representative, warned Bosnian politicians that they “need to think about the consequences of their words, not just their actions”. International officials and experts also noted the growing disconnect between the political class and the population.
Local NGO representatives regretted that ethnic communities remain largely divided, and that divisions are often reinforced by separate education systems and curricula. As a result, new generations are sometimes even less exposed to other ethnic groups than were their parents. Zlatan Orhanovic, Executive Director of the Centre for Civic Initiatives, noted that reconciliation can only be achieved once one truth is established about the war in
Several speakers lamented the unravelling of the reform process. According to Mr Gregorian, the end of 2005 marked the high watermark for reform. Since then, little has been achieved. Mr Gregorian asked why the current government seems unable to reform, while the previous government, working with the same constraints and in the framework of the
Speakers warned that there is a risk that
In this context, participants in the seminar generally agreed that the international community needs to maintain a strong engagement in
The OHR has come under increasing criticism from local politicians. Ana Trisic-Babic, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed her hope that the OHR would close by the end of 2009, suggesting that it was “suffocating democratic processes in
Both Ms Freizer and Mr Bassuener stressed that the EUSR will need a strong consensus among EU member states, and should continue to report to the UN Security Council. Meanwhile, the use of
Speakers generally agreed that the international community cannot impose change, but can nonetheless establish a context for positive change. According to Mr Bassuener, the international community needs to insist that politicians refrain from using fear as a political tool. It should also set clear guidelines for future constitutional reform. Mr Cikotic also noted that defence reform has demonstrated that strong pressure works: whereas NATO provided robust guidance in steering defence reform in the country, the EU failed to do the same for police reform. Other speakers also called for a more consistent and rigorous approach. Mr Gregorian regretted that in the past few years, “progress on the ground has not matched the inducements offered to
Several speakers also argued that the international community should not neglect the local level, and needs to work more closely with municipalities. Finally, several local officials and experts emphasised the benefits that visa facilitation could bring to the country, particularly by creating new opportunities for young people, many of whom are leading more provincial lives than their parents.