Though some of the results of last week’s general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina have potential to prove interesting down the road, overall the vote was neither unexpected nor dramatic. Twenty years after the first multi-party election, which saw the triumph of ethnic parties and set the scene for Bosnia’s subsequent civil war, nothing substantial has changed in Bosnian politics. Serbs remain opposed to a centralized government. Croats remain unhappy about their dwindling numbers and influence, but would rather perish than agree with the Serbs on anything. Meanwhile, Muslim leaders continue to insist on Izetbegovic the Elder’s dream of a centralized Bosnian state, dominated by Muslims. This particular form of deadlock may well be dubbed the "Bosnian standoff." The Empire and partisans of liberal interventionism may find it frustrating, but it is a fact nonetheless.
Serbs remain opposed to a centralized government. Croats remain unhappy about their dwindling numbers and influence, but would rather perish than agree with the Serbs on anything. Meanwhile, Muslim leaders continue to insist on Izetbegovic the Elder’s dream of a centralized Bosnian state, dominated by Muslims. This particular form of deadlock may well be dubbed the "Bosnian standoff," and has been the default state of affairs since the first multi-party elections in 1990.
In the Serb Republic, current PM Milorad Dodik’s party retained its majority, while Dodik himself will move to the post of President. It would not be unreasonable to expect that office to become more important in the coming days, as power in Bosnia tends to be vested in persons, rather than the offices they occupy. Much more interesting was the race for the Serb seat in the country’s three-man Presidency, which the incumbent, Nebojsa Radmanovic, won by just 2.75%.
After many years of factional disputes, the principal Croat ethnic party, HDZ, has reasserted itself. However, it still lost the race for the Croat seat in the Presidency, which went to the incumbent, the Social-Democrat Zeljko Komsic.
The Son Also Rises
The elections were most dramatic among the country’s Muslims. Haris Silajdzic, Muslim member of the Presidency for the past four years and a fixture in every government since 1992, came third in the presidential vote. His party was also trounced in races for the state and Federation parliaments. The principal beneficiary of Silajdzic’s demise was Fahrudin Radoncic, overleveraged media tycoon who sought to save his fortunes by founding a political party. Radoncic’s Better Future Party (SBB) won some seats in various parliaments, and he himself came in second in the Muslim leg of the Presidency race. For a party that didn’t exist a year ago, these are spectacular results — but for the opportunists who crossed over from Silajdzic’s camp, they won’t be good enough.
In the end, the Muslim Presidency seat went to Bakir Izetbegovic, son of the wartime Muslim leader, Alija. The Western media have praised him as a "moderate"; but in comparison with Silajdzic, that isn’t exactly hard. Compared to the current party leader, Sulejman Tihic, the younger Izetbegovic is an outright extremist. He commands the loyalty of the party’s "old guard" — Izetbegovic the Elder’s fellow Islamic revolutionaries — and has already called Turkey a "powerful and wise big brother," and asked for its continued involvement in Bosnia.
Other than Izetbegovic’s victory, however, the SDA had little to celebrate. In all but one of the six Muslim-majority cantons in the Federation, they lost to the Social-Democrats (SDP).
A Bitter Victory
On paper, the SDP has much cause for celebration. In addition to their near-sweep in the cantons, they should have the most seats both in the Federation and the state parliaments. Their man in the Presidency was re-elected by an overwhelming margin. Yet the fruits of this victory may turn into the seeds of SDP’s undoing.
To actually govern, the SDP will have to form a coalition with someone. Trouble is, all of their choices are bad. Irrespective of electoral math, a coalition with Radoncic is unthinkable for a legion of reasons; he represents everything the SDP have campaigned against, from kleptocracy and opportunism to corruption and crass chauvinism. The HDZ is already sore that the SDP won the Croat seat in the Presidency with Muslim votes. But if they ally with the SDA, which now appears likely, the SDP would have to compromise their principles (social democracy, anti-nationalism) for the sake of power. They’ve done it once before, in 2000, when they allied with Silajdzic at Washington’s urging. That "Alliance for Change" was a fiasco from which the SDP took 8 years to recover.
To make matters worse, the SDP have a horrible relationship with the social democrats (Dodik’s SNSD) in the Serb Republic, whom they consider to be nothing more than nationalists. The SNSD, for their part, think of the SDP as yet another Muslim ethnic party, whose vision of Bosnia doesn’t differ significantly from that of Izetbegovic — father or son. An alliance with the SDA, however motivated by pragmatism, will only reinforce that perception.
Bosnia’s fundamental problem is that its ethnic communities cannot agree on whether the country should exist at all, let alone how. Left to their own devices, it is possible the three communities could perhaps find some way to either live together, or go their separate ways. The Empire, however, has other plans.
Washington has already expressed a desire for a government "committed to tackling the outstanding constitutional and other issues needed to place the country on a firm path to Euro-Atlantic integration" (emphasis added). Translated from State Department-speak, this means a regime willing and able to amend the country’s Constitution (thus revising the 1995 peace treaty) in order to create a centralized government, for the ostensible purpose of joining the EU and NATO.
Why does the Empire continue to insist on a Bosnia that cannot realistically exist? There are several explanations, overlapping to an extent. To the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Bosnia is more than just a small, landlocked Balkans backwater. It is a founding myth of Empire, a nexus of symbols that underpin everything that came after, from Kosovo to Afghanistan.
It is a symbol of Empire’s power to declare that the multiethnic Yugoslavia must and shall fracture along ethnic lines, but a multiethnic Bosnia cannot. For some, it is also a shining example of U.S. benevolence towards the Muslim world, for which Washington expects gratitude. After a decade of bloody, costly and dubious wars in the Middle East, the restored Clinton gang needs the Balkans as a contrasting example of "successful" liberal interventionism. Between all this, nobody is willing to accept that Bosnia is a fiasco, even though that is the obvious truth.