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Vol 2, No 43
11 December 2000
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2000: The year in review for SlovakiaScars Still
Run Deep

2000: The year in
review for Bosnia

Brian J Požun

This was a particularly active year for Bosnian society, marked by the fifth anniversary of both the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, as well as the massacre at Srebrenica. However, this year was not particularly an active one for the Bosnian economy. Overall GDP declined in the past year, and growth was only registered in the service sector. Average monthly salary is somewhere around DEM 400 (USD 181), but even that low of a salary is only available to those who have actually been able to find jobs.

With such a dismal situation, it is no surprise that virtually everyone who is able has left the country. Bosnia has lost most of its cultural elite in this fashion, as well as a large percentage of its young. According to United Nations statistics complied this year, more than 64 per cent of those younger than 25 want to leave. They cite lack of perspectives and low standard of living as prime reasons; surprisingly, ethnic/national reasons are at the bottom of the list.

Dayton: Five years later

Initialed in November 1995 in Dayton, Ohio, and signed in Paris a few weeks later, the Dayton agreement finally ended the war in Bosnia. The agreement set high goals, including the repatriation of the hundreds of thousands of refugees that fled in the face of ethnic cleansing, and established the state of Bosnia, composed of a Muslim-Croat Federation (FBiH) and a Serb entity, Republika Srpska (RS).

Each entity maintains its own army, police, telecommunications networks and legislation. The situation in FBiH is better than that in RS in terms of the economy, but there are strong social tensions between the Muslims and the Croats.

In terms of military action, Dayton has been hugely successful. Europe's bloodiest war since World War II has been quelled, and with the exception of isolated incidents, the country is enjoying a nervous peace.

In terms of refugee return, successes have been mixed with shortcomings. More than 1.1 million people were displaced by the war, while only about 600,000 have returned since 1995. Most of these people returned to places where their ethnic group composes the majority population.

However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released statistics earlier this year which show that the rate of return to places where refugees' ethnic groups are now in the minority has gained momentum this year. From January to April, UNHCR registered 11,445 such returns, representing a rate more than four times higher than the same period in 1999. Overall, approximately one-sixth of returning refugees have resettled in places where they belong to the minority population.

It is unrealistic to expect a dramatic increase in refugee returns at this point, however. Common sense holds that a refugee living abroad for more than two years is highly unlikely to ever return to their place of origin. Five years after the end of the conflict and almost ten years since the first refugees began fleeing Bosnia, most of the refugees who have not returned have more or less permanently settled in their places of refuge and have no plans of returning.

Another aspect of Dayton was the establishment of the Office of the High Commissioner (OHC), de facto the government of Bosnia. Last August, Wolfgang Petritsch was named to the post of High Representative, and he has taken a very active role, imposing his will, and that of the international community, on the Bosnians, most times whether they like it or not.

With the OHC in place, the Bosnian government is largely impotent, and so it is the OHC that has been responsible for most of Dayton's highest achievements, including a central bank, a common FBiH-RS currency (the convertible mark, which exchanges 1:1 with the Deutschmark), and common license plates.

In May, Petritsch published a plea in The Wall Street Journal, asking the international community for patience and continued support. He laments the fact that the international community's attention has fallen from Bosnia onto other hot spots around the world. NATO's SFOR has reduced its troop levels by one-third and the USD 5.1 billion reconstruction plan established by Dayton expires at the end of this year even though tremendous amounts of work remain to be done.

In the article, he presents a tripartite strategy to build on the groundwork lain by Dayton and to finally create a workable Bosnia and Hercegovina. The first step he suggests is a program of accelerated refugee return to finally reverse the ethnic cleansing carried out during the war.

The second step of his plan is to strengthen the government, and the third step is economic reform. The international community, working through Dayton, focused its economic assistance on the reconstruction of infrastructure. The country's economy, however, is fully dependent on aid, and sustainable economic restructuring is crucial.

Municipal elections

In April, rare good news came out of Bosnia: nationalist parties had overwhelmingly been defeated in municipal elections. Serb- and Croat-dominated towns mostly elected nationalist leaders, but most Muslim communities opted for the Social Democrats.

The Social Democrats are a multi-ethnic, inter-confessional party descended from the old Communist Party. They managed to gain control of Sarajevo, Tuzla and Goražde, some of the most important cities in the country.

This was the second municipal election since the end of the war, and turnout was high, about 70 per cent. The nationalists' sharp losses led most to predict the quick end of Bosnia's ethnic politics, but these ideas have been in place for almost a decade now and it is unreasonable to expect they will be quickly forgotten.

Srebrenica anniversary

In July, a group of more than 3500 Muslims made a pilgrimage to the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica, a UN-declared "safe haven" during the conflict, and the site of one of the worst massacres of the war. More than 4000 bodies have been exhumed by war crimes investigators, but only about 80 have been identified. An additional 3000 people remain unaccounted for.

Lying in the RS, Srebrenica is populated almost exclusively by Serbs. The first group of Muslims, about 80 families, returned to the town this year, but the situation remains somewhat tense.

President Izetbegović was among the guests, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a message to the people of Srebrenica on the day of the commemoration. Last November, Annan released a report in which he detailed the shortcomings of the UN mission in Bosnia during the Srebrenica attacks, the first time the UN has acknowledged this fact.

Sarajevo Film Festival, Olympics

On the cultural front, August saw the sixth annual Sarajevo Film Festival. Started in the worst days of the siege, the festival has grown into a major event in the region. This year's was the biggest thus far, with more than 100 films from 25 countries being shown in ten days.

The Summer Olympic Games in Sydney was another big event for Bosnia. For the first time since 1992, the country managed to send a multi-ethnic team of Muslims, Croats and Serbs. Theoretically, the Bosnian Olympic team has always been multi-ethnic, but Serbs were prohibited from competing under the Bosnian flag by their political leadership.

The Sydney 2000 games included nine Bosnians: four in track and field, one in judo, two in shooting and two in swimming. Five of the nine were drawn from the FBiH, while the other four were from RS.

An additional multi-ethnic breakthrough was brought about by the Bosnian television coverage of the games. Bosnia's first nation-wide (ie, both FBiH and RS) television network, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), sent a multi-ethnic group of sports commentators to Sydney, and networks throughout FBiH and RS carried the exclusive PBS coverage. While some viewers did voice ethnic-based complaints, they were few, and the PBS coverage has been seen as one of the first major step towards a multi-ethnic media.

Izetbegović walks away

Perhaps the most significant event in Bosnia in 2000 was the retirement of Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegović on 14 October from his post as the Muslim member of the presidency of BiH. Izetbegović, 75, attempted to lead BiH out of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, a move that ended in disastrous war.

While Izetbegović was clearly not an aggressor in the conflict along the lines of Slobodan Milošević or Franjo Tuđman, his founding of the first nationalist party, the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), gives him a sizable share of the inciting of the conflict. Serb and Croat nationalist parties followed soon after, spiraling Bosnia into war. (For more information on Izetbegović, see Alija Goes Bye-Bye.)

Brčko—Multiethnic example?

International arbitration decided in 1999 that the Brčko district would be neutral, out of direct control by either the Muslim-Croat Federation (FBiH) or the Republika Srpska (RS). This district is the keystone between the two RS segments, and so the Serbs were particularly interested in getting it. During the war, it was the scene of some of the worst incidents of ethnic cleansing.

At the Dayton negotiations five years ago, an agreement on the fate of the district was unreachable. However, the 1999 arbitration ruling was put into practice this March, when the town received its first civilian government led by Sinisk Kisić, the town's mayor before the war.

The transfer of power went smoothly, and Brčko was held up as a model of interethnic peaceful coexistence until October, when violence erupted. A group of Serb students, angered by the fact that they had to share the school with Muslim students, destroyed a Bosnian coat of arms at Brčko Technical School.

In retaliation, Muslim students destroyed an RS flag that had flown outside the school. Further scuffles ensued, and within days, about 100 Muslim students began protests, matched soon after by the Serb students. The protests descended into vandalism and violence throughout the city.

The Speaker of the Brčko District Assembly, Mirsad Đapo, made a public statement in which he blamed the protests on nationalists resisting the idea of a multi-ethnic Brčko. The press went further, laying the blame on the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and the Serbian Radical Party (SRS). Many believed that the nationalist Serbian parties incited the violence to better their chances in the November elections.

Croats demanding a voice

This year saw the end of staunch nationalist leadership in Croatia, but it also witnessed a high-water mark of demands by Croats within Bosnia for special privileges. In October, one month before the federal elections, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) began agitating for a referendum for Croats to essentially determine the future of Croats in Bosnia.

International observers vocally opposed the Croat referendum plan, stating that it was in direct violation of Dayton. Ultimately, little came of the referendum aside from some huffing and hawing. This was more than likely due to the fact that Croatian president Stipe Mesić opposed the referendum and the Croats are no longer receiving any aid from Croatia. Perhaps they realize that now, without the patronage of the Croatian leadership, they have no choice but to cooperate in building a new Bosnia.

Federal elections

The world had high hopes for the 11 November federal elections. The success in April's municipal election of the multiethnic Social Democrats (SDP) led many to predict a SDP sweep in the federal elections. In the 1990 and 1996 elections, nationalists won more than 80 per cent of the vote. The 1998 elections were little different. The expectation that 2000 would see the downfall of the nationalist, unfortunately did not pan out.

Preliminary results of the elections showed the multiethnic SDP winning a majority in the FBiH parliamentary assembly, but the nationalists were far more successful overall. The nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) emerged as the victor in the RS, while the nationalist Croat HDZ won five FBiH cantons.

In the FBiH elections to the central government, the SDP won 27.3 per cent of the vote, the SDA 27.1 per cent, the HDZ 19 per cent and the Party for BiH 15. In the elections to the FBiH House of Representatives, the SDA came out on top with 26.8 per cent, the SDP with 26.1, the HDZ with 17 and the Party for BiH with 14.

In the ten FBiH Canton Assemblies, the HDZ won a full 50 per cent. The SDA took three cantons, and the SDP only won two.

In the RS elections to the central government, the SDS won an overwhelming 40 per cent, the Party of Democratic Progress won 15 and the SNSD-DSP coalition won ten. In the elections to the RS National Assembly, the SDS took 36 percent, while the SNSD took 13 and the PDP took 12.

Mirko Šarović (SDS) became President of the RS with 50.5 per cent of the vote, defeating Milorad Dodik (SNSD), who won only 26 per cent

Bosnia enters the 21st century

The nationalist tensions that tore Bosnia apart in 1992 largely remain, but thankfully there has been no open conflict for five years now. This year saw several significant developments which show that nationalism is at least losing a degree of ground.

When Franjo Tuđman died at the end of 1999, shrines were thrown together in Zagreb that lasted several days. In Croat-dominated Mostar, however, such displays remained up for months on end. The Croats of Mostar were grieving as much for Tuđman as for the patronage of Croatia, which it lost with the election of Tuđman's successor, Stipe Mesić. The new regime in Croatia is no longer supporting the Croats in Bosnia to any great extent, and perhaps this will lead them to greater cooperation within Bosnia.

In October, Slobodan Milošević fell from power in Yugoslavia. Bosnia has not embraced his successor, Vojislav Koštunica, with open arms, but there is definite recognition of the fact that Bosnian-Yugoslav relations stand to gain by the downfall of Milošević. In October, Koštunica made the first official visit by a Yugoslav leader to Bosnia since 1992. The visit was controversial, but nevertheless generally well received.

The Bosnian Muslims saw the end of their primary nationalist leader this year as well. Mere weeks
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after the Milošević regime collapsed in Belgrade, Alija Izetbegović announced his retirement from his post as the Muslim member of the collective presidency.

In a single year, all three groups lost their most influential leaders, which can only be a harbinger of good for Bosnia. However, this year did have its share of ethnically-motivated strife. Serbs were pitted against Muslims in Brčko, and the Croats agitated for a bigger role in the country.

The success of the nationalist parties in the federal elections may have overturned the success of the multiethnic Social Democrats in the municipal elections, but it certainly does seem that the inter-ethnic tension is waning. Perhaps with a greater commitment by the international community to the strengthening of Bosnia's governmental structures and economy, 21st century Bosnia will be able to make a clean break with its strife-ridden past.

Brian J Požun,11 December 2000

Moving on:


2000: Starlit Skies for StarsCity of Ljubljana
Peter W Singer, Bosnia 2000: Phoenix or flames? World Policy Journal; New York; Spring 2000
New York Times
Christian Science Monitor


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Ukraine in Crisis

Tiffany G Petros
No Czech Feminism

Geneva Anderson
Albanian Arts Pyramid

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The Black Economy

Year 2000 Review:
Magali Perrault
Austria: Developing Divisions

Catherine Lovatt

Brian J Požun
Bosnia: Deep Scars

Dan Damon
Croatia: Life without Franjo

Tiffany G Petros
Czech Republic: Stable but Lagging

Mel Huang
Estonia: Prosperity and Apathy

Ivana Gogova
EU: Biggest Problems Remain

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Hungary: Identity Reconsidered

Jens Boysen
Germany: Post King Kohl

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Kosovo: Survival as Victory

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Latvia: An Eventful Year

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Wojtek Kość
Poland: Searching for Normalcy

Marius Dragomir
Romania: From Bad to Worse

Slavko Živanov
Serbia: Trouble at Home

Robin Sheeran
Slovakia: The Struggle Goes on

Brian J Požun
Slovenia: A Stable Success

Sarah Whitmore
Ukraine: Life on the Brink

Charlene Caprio
Zagajewski's Memoirs

Brian J Požun
Shedding the Balkan Skin

Martin D Brown
Czech Historical Amnesia

Dejan Anastasijević (ed)
Out of Time

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Hungarian Oil Scandal

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Mixed Nuts

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