Bosnia knocks again on Europe’s doorPosted: 29/03/2012
Two decades after the start of the Bosnian war, Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija says his government wants Bosnia to join NATO and the European Union as a way of assisting the country’s economic and social cohesion. Speaking at the IISS almost 20 years to the day the siege of Sarajevo began, Lagumdzija said that the Dayton Agreement that ended the inter-ethnic war in 1995 had left Bosnia with an incomplete peace and a complicated political system.
However, with a new central government finally in place after months of stalemate, Lagumdzija said Bosnia wanted to get ‘upgraded from cargo to economy’ by entering NATO’s Membership Action Plan at the military alliance’s summit in Chicago this May. This would be with a view to full membership in 2014.
Lagumdzija said his government would also do everything within its power to lodge Bosnia’s application for EU membership by the end of June.
The foreign minister said Bosnia today was called the ‘one, two, three, four, five’ country. It had one state overseeing two political entities (the Muslim-Croat-controlled Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Bosnian-Serb-governed Republika Srpska). There were three ethno-religious groups (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats), four million people and five levels of government (municipal, city, cantonal, federal and central).
The latest central government was only formed in December 2011, after 14 months in which the main Muslim, Serb and Croat parties had wrangled over the distribution of government posts. This had seriously delayed Bosnia’s EU integration process, but Lagumdzija said his government had now passed legislation on holding a census and on the distribution of state aid, two preconditions insisted on by Brussels.
The new government was busy resolving budgetary issues after the long political stalemate. It had also been recently told that to have a credible EU application it should implement a 2009 ruling handed down by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina. The plaintiffs, Roma and Jewish, were objecting to a clause in the Bosnian constitution that only allows ethnic Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats to be elected members of the national presidency and upper house of parliament.
As president of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Bosnia’s main multi-ethnic party, Lagumdzija expressed hopes that the deficiencies in Bosnia’s constitution could be addressed generally to provide a more cohesive society. However, Bosnia’s segregated society currently lacked the political will to achieve that on its own. ‘That’s why we are interested in NATO and EU membership,’ he said.
The Office of the High Representative for Bosnia, an international appointment created by Dayton has often come under attack. However, Lagumdzija believed Bosnia and Herzegovina was not yet capable of operating without the High Representative, whose wide-ranging power to sack and appoint politicians, or arrest anyone they believe to be obstructing peace has been termed ‘near-imperial’. Lagumdzija, however, described the High Representative as the guarantor of the peace accord and a stopgap to bridge Bosnia’s current constitutional deficiencies.
In a colourful, entertaining and sometimes moving speech, Lagumdzija said he had reconciled himself to the imperfect conditions of the Dayton Agreement, by reminding himself of the words of former German Chancellor Willy Brandt that: ‘Peace is not everything, but without peace everything is nothing.’ Dayton brought peace – a necessary start – but not justice, Lagumdzija said. However, Bosnia should continue to look for justice, because so many crimes remained unpunished.
Part of justice was eliminating poverty, and he also stressed the need to advance economically. At a meeting with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development earlier in the morning, Lagumdzija said he had told the bank’s president that the ‘economy is not everything, but that without [a productive] economy, nothing is possible’.
He hoped Bosnia could quickly close in on Serbia – which had its EU candidate status granted earlier this year – and make major steps by 2014 towards joining Europe. He also said he was looking forward to raising NATO’s flag in Sarajevo in summer 2014, just a few hundred metres from where the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand sparked the First World War in 1914. He wished this would symbolically mark a new and peaceful centenary for Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He was ‘hoping that we will not be ever – ever again – so CNN-able like we used to be.’