Skip to main content
December 11, 1995
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 219
Bosnia-Herzegovina after Dayton

Ethnic Elections

by Ljiljana Smajlovic

The first post-war president of the Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be a Muslim. This becomes quite clear when one reads the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina (Annex 4 of the Dayton agreement). The Ohio signatories agreed that in the first post-war mandate of the Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will include one Muslim, one Serb and one Croat, the "first among the equal" will automatically be the member of the Presidency who gets the largest number of votes in the elections. Presidency members will be elected directly - the Muslim and the Croat in the territory of the Bosnian-Croat federation and the Serb in the territory of the Bosnian Serb Republic. Each voter will be able to vote for only one of the three seats in the Presidency. This practically means that Muslims will be voting for the Muslim member of the Presidency, the Croats for the Croat and the Serbs for the Serb. Since the Muslims are a majority, one may logically expect their representative to win the largest number of votes in the elections.

The same thing happened in the last Bosnian elections before the war, although the former Bosnia-Herzegovina Constitution was nothing like the Dayton one. In the first multi-party elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, on November 17, 1990, all citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina were to give their votes for all seats in the Presidency: according to the Constitution the Presidency had seven members (two Muslims, two Croats, two Serbs and one to represent the "others," i.e. Yugoslavs, Jews, etc.). Each voter voted for seven members of the Presidency. All nations, thus, had a chance to influence the election of the representatives of other nations and not only of their own. It is true that, even in such circumstances, only members of national parties were elected in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency. However, there were examples of "brotherly help" of other nations, which can be illustrated by the fact that Fikret Abdic got a million votes in the elections (nearly half of the total, which is much more than the number of Muslims in the electorate) while his party, the SDA, got only 683,000 votes. Candidate of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) Stjepan Kljuic got a hundred thousand votes more than his party did, although almost 100 per cent of Bosnia-Herzegovina Croats voted for HDZ. Moreover, HDZ got 51.4 per cent of votes in Mostar where, according to census, 50.6 per cent of the population were Croats.

This detail is interesting because it points to the possibility that a similar thing might happen in the Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina. Since the Constitution does not explicitly say that within the Bosnian-Croat federation Muslims may vote exclusively for the Muslim candidate and Croats for the Croat, chances are that the Muslims who outnumber everyone else might affect the outcome of the election of the Croat representatives. Moreover, it might be of use even for Stjepan Kljuic who during the war retained the benevolence of Alija Izetbegovic and a large part of the Muslim electorate but "lost the base" among the Croats and remained in the Bosnia-Herzegovina Presidency this long only due to the graciousness of the Muslim partners in the federation and not due to the support of the Croat electorate. Kljuic, who long ago ceased to be member of the HDZ, sharply criticises Tudjman and is currently the president of the Republican Party formed during the war.

The Dayton Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina is in nearly all aspects radically different from the pre-war Bosnian Constitution, although it contains the important provision saying that the Muslims, Croats and Serbs are the "constituent nations" of this Republic. The difference is in that the new Constitution foresees only narrow competences of the republican bodies, while the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina is actually to be ruled by the assemblies and executive bodies of the entities. Following the fatal pre-war logic that Yugoslavia is that "what we agree it is," the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina introduces the idea that the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina is only that what is agreed upon by the entities each of which has not only full control over its territory but also its own army.

The only things which are not a matter of the mutual agreement of the entities are the state borders, place in the United Nations, future foreign policy and the seats in the United Nations' bodies, certain foreign trade deals and issues such as money, immigration, refugees, membership in international organizations, etc. However, these are the issues in which the Republic will have no independence anyway, since international protectors, governors, sponsors have been imposed on it by other provisions of the Dayton agreement.

Supervision of the implementation of the Dayton agreement, the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina being only one of its annexes, will be entrusted to a powerful ranking official who will have broader competences when it comes to the interpretation of the Dayton agreement. He, too, will be chosen by the international community (Carl Bildt is likely to be chosen).

The former Bosnian Constitution basically banned the decisions which would endanger the vital interests of one of the three constituent nations, but did not develop the mechanism to block such decisions. The war broke out due to the decision of the majority of the Bosnia-Herzegovina population to proclaim the sovereignty of the Republic, which one of the three constituent nations opposed by leaving the Parliament. The Dayton Constitution, however, has worked out the details concerning the veto of one nation, i.e. entity, on the decisions of the other two nations, i.e. the other entity.

Every decision, whether made by the Parliament or the Presidency of Bosnia-herzegovina, can be blocked easily and with no consequences, i.e. it can be ignored in the territory of a certain entity. The functioning of the Parliament can easily be blocked if a number of MP's refuse to attend the sessions of the Chamber of Nations. The Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, however, does not say what ought to be done in case one of the three delegations simply decided to ignore the Parliament. There is no mention of a possible dismissal of the Parliament, new elections, etc. Asked whether a state as foreseen by the Dayton agreement existed anywhere in the world, expert on the Balkans Prof. Robert Hayden of the Pittsburg University said the closest he could think of was America in 1777 when the so-called Articles of Confederation were in effect. These Articles prescribed a state similar to that imagined by the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina: Alexander Hamilton called it a territory without government, whose representatives abroad pageantry of mimic sovereignty. Ten years later, the Constitution of the United States was adopted and the confederation became a federal state. Prof. Hayden sees the existence of the Bosnian Serb Republic as something similar to the Turkish Republic of Cyprus: no one in the world has recognized it, except Turkey, but it still exists. As for the possible confederal relations between the Bosnian Serb Republic and Yugoslavia (the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina uses only the term "special parallel relations," while the term confederation is not even mentioned) Hayden says they are of no importance because the Government of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina has no authority over the Bosnian Serb Republic anyway.

American government officials who mediated in the making of the Dayton agreement defend it as the "lesser of two evils" while the former ranking officials, members of both parties in the U.S., who do not have to defend the official course, are openly sneering. During last week's discussion on CNN, George Bush's national security advisor Brent Scowcroft said that how successful America would be in Bosnia depended on what its aim was. He said intentions to build a state of Bosnia would have catastrophic consequences for the US. "This state is a joke, including its constitution". On the same occasion Jimmy Carter's defence minister James Slazenger was sceptical concerning the incentives of the American military mission in Bosnia. He said Americans pushed elections by fraud in Vietnam and were doing a similar thing in Haiti. He said it was a kind of cover-up whose aim was to convince the domestic public that America was doing the right thing.

Thus, the Dayton Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina will not be an unsurmountable bluff which will prevent the disintegration of the Bosnia-Herzegovina political space if the life and political relations choose such a course. It is equally important that the text of this Constitution will not be an obstacle for re-integration, should mutual economic, political and cultural needs require such a thing. The Constitution allows the entities to negotiate a much greater scope of competences of the republican bodies, should the political will allow it.


War of Symbols

The part of Bosnia-Herzegovina which is under the Muslim-Croat rule has recently adopted the Anthem of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will certainly not remain after the forthcoming elections. The title of the anthem is "You Are the One and Only" and it goes: The thousand-year-old country/ I pledge allegiance to you/ From the sea to the Sava/ From the Drina to the Una. According to the Constitution of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Parliament is to adopt the symbols of the new state. The war broke out in the former Bosnia-Herzegovina during the rule of the parliamentary coalition whose leaders Izetbegovic, Karadzic an Kljuic completed the election campaign embraced and their coalition nearly fell apart at the first session of the Parliament when they hardly reached a compromise on the text of the solemn oath to be said by all MP's. Three things were disputable: the alphabet, the language and the ideological content of the text. One group refused to pledge allegiance to socialism, the other group to Yugoslavia and the third to both; one group was displeased with the Latin alphabet, the other with the Cyrillic while the Muslims demanded a Bosnian "translation." It is little likely that the three nations will adopt the anthem which begins with the Croat word for the thousand-year-old, let alone the mention of the Drina river, unless the three Bosnia-Herzegovina nations have changed their temper for the better in this war.


Living in Sarajevo, Voting in Foca

Everything that is of importance for the first post-war elections will be determined, carried out and supervised by the Organization for European Security and Cooperation. This was decided in Dayton just to show who has the right to vote and where. The right to vote will be given to all citizens aged 18 and over whose name can be found in the Bosnia-Herzegovina 1991 census. A citizen who no longer lives in the same municipality will "as a rule" be able to vote in that municipality either personally or in absence, from some other place, if the election committee finds that his intention was to return to Bosnia-Herzegovina and/or to that municipality in particular. This means that refugees might be able to influence the election results in the municipalities from which they were "ethnically cleansed," if they decide to use their right to vote in the municipality where they used to live. The question is how many Muslims in Foca will be interested to choose between several candidates of SDS, SRS, the Fatherland Front or the Socialist Party. The same thing is with Serbs from Mostar and Sarajevo. As for the Sarajevo Serbs, the ones who live or will be living under the rule of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (the official name of the Muslim-Croat federation since Dayton) will have the right to elect but not to be elected in the territory of the Federation. Muhamed Sacirbej explained in a recent TV programme that Serbs could not be a constituent nation in Bosnia-Herzegovina twice, in both entities. "The Dayton agreement placed our dear neighbour Serbs in this situation."

© Copyright VREME NDA (1991-2001), all rights reserved.