The Negative Consequence of Hyper-Political Integration in Bosnia & Herzegovina

By: Kaitlyn Lynes

Political reintegration is an integral component of a successful disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program. Ex-combatants, associated peoples, and communities must participate in decision and policy-making processes at regional, national, and international levels in order to ensure local ownership. The ideal conclusion of a DDR program is when fair and free democratic elections occur, which should follow the occurrence of a political reintegration process. Ex-combatants often have legitimate grievances, which fuels the wars and conflicts they fight in. Providing political opportunities is often a productive way of compromising with illegally armed groups, ensuring remobilization and the continuation of violence will not occur. Therefore, it is crucial for communities to be involved and supportive so that political reintegration does not appear to be only a buyout or reward for “perceived” war criminals. The transfer of ownership of civic responsibilities to communities and new political parties also serves as a transformative and restorative process for all actors involved. Subsequently, political reintegration has become one of the few durable solution in conflicts where the illegally armed group can not be decisively beaten or allowed to create their own state.

Prior to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina there was no established Bosnian government, as the war caused the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Political reintegration, therefore, faced a particularly unique challenge in Bosnia. Unlike most conflicts, there was no single rebel group looking to be given political opportunities in a previously established governance structure. Instead, the international community had to create a government that provided opportunities to the various groups within Bosnia, including the Muslim Bosniaks, Bosnian Serbs, and Bosnian Croats. This has led to a tripartite Presidency, directly elected, that consists of one Bosniak, one Serb, and one Croat at all times. Representatives can only claim one ethnic identity, and voters can only vote for one ethnic identity. Instead of creating an equal power-sharing government, the system has only served to institutionalize ethnic divisions from the war. Further segregating different ethnicities, politicians at the state level have little power over the entirety of the country. The defined territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina is separated between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, the self-autonomous district of Brcko, and ten self-governing cantons across the federation, all working at different levels of government. Superseding all of this, the internationally organized governance structure led by the United Nations still oversees much of the Bosnian state. While this highly structured and overlapping system of government was supposed to ensure equal access to political opportunity in the immediate post-war era for all ethnicities in Bosnia, it has instead allowed ethnic tensions and divisions to flourish while avoiding the reform it desperately needs.

 

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