Interview by High Representative Inzko to “IL PICCOLO”
Three months have passed since the elections and Bosnia-Herzegovina still doesn’t have a government. Who, according to you, could be held responsible for this stalemate and what to expect in the next weeks?
The elections continue to offer the best chance for a new start. I continue to hope that the incoming leadership will seize the chance to move the country forward. However, the fact that BiH politicians have made no progress in forming constructive and workable authorities over one hundred days after the elections amounts to betrayal of the trust given by the voters. Voters did not go to the polls on 3 October 2010 to have no government, to have to witness endless negotiations, disgraceful political bickering or a further four years of political deadlock. They voted because they want an effective government and finally progress again towards Euro-Atlantic integration. But surely not everybody is guilty to the same extent.
What kind of impact on BiH will the current absence of a government have and what could the OHR concretely do to solve the issue?
The result of political gridlock, confrontation and finger-pointing over the last four years has been unemployment and poverty. The negative political situation has impacted the areas where BiH so urgently needs reform; the country must get back on track in key policy areas including State and Defence property, Constitutional reform, the EU partnership requirements and census. The current situation has a debilitating effect on the economic situation and vice versa. It is a vicious circle and continuation is not an option.
The OHR is not in the business of forming coalitions or governments and does not support individual parties or coalitions. This is the job of the parties that received the support of the voters at the ballot box. However, I strongly support all efforts to put in place coalitions that will in practice be able to deliver long overdue reforms and I will work together with any coalition formed.
It is up to Bosnian political leaders to resolve differences, eliminate obstructions and find compromise agreements. The incoming leadership will succeed if its members can agree to uphold the interests of the citizens and formulate a common vision of the future of the country.
More than 15 years after the end of the war, the country is still placed under the rule an internationally-appointed figure. How is possible that so much time has passed and still BH has (or needs?) an international referee?
A little more than 15 years ago, the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the brutal war in BiH. It preserved the country in its old boarders and gave it its constitution. The agreement has proved a huge success providing the country the basis on which to set itself on the threshold of Candidate status for the EU and a membership action plan for NATO.
However, obviously in those days of intense peace negotiations at the Dayton airfield not every single issue of the set-up of the state could be resolved and like any state BiH needs to develop and adapt to the challenges that it’s citizens are faced with; Constitutional reform is needed for BiH to bring itself into line with recent rulings of the Human Rights Court in Strasburg, and to streamline it’s decision making process in order for it to be able to meet the challenges of deeper integration with the EU. The OHR will close. I want this to happen as soon as possible – equally this must not happen before it is prudent to do so and the domestic politicians demonstrate a lasting commitment to the country’s future. The International community has defined the steps needs for a decision on OHR’s closure to be considered; BiH politicians know perfectly well that it is they who must take these steps and that the international community will respond accordingly.
A week ago the ICG suggested that “European Union member states should make 2011 the year when the lead international role in Bosnia and Herzegovina shifts from the Office of the High Representative to a reinforced EU delegation”. Could you comment on this statement?
The most recent ICG report represents but one view and in any case it is no secret that the EU is set to strengthen it’s presence in BiH; this is something that I as High Representative but also as EU Special Representative in BiH have been working towards. At the same time I believe that the OHR, whose role has changed to encourage BiH leaders to take ownership for the country, continues to have a role to play.
Do you perceive an increasing international pressure aiming at the closure of the OHR?
The mechanism for OHR closure is this: The Peace Implementation Council in 2008 decided on a specific agenda with important objectives and conditions for BiH politicians to fulfil. Once this is achieved the PIC will be in a position to decide on OHR closure. So it is neither on the OHR to decide about its own closure, nor is it the OHR that will fulfil the preconditions for this to happen. We of course assist actively in the process. It is important that the IC remains firmly committed to the process to not loose credibility. Thus, pressure from international players in BiH on local politicians to work on fulfilling the agenda for OHR closure continues to be very welcome.
Do you think is still necessary an “outside force” as the OHR (or EU) to maintain law and order and stability in BH?
Yes, because unfortunately BiH politicians have not yet brought their country in a position to function on its own, some politicians even continue to question the existence of the State and act to undermine the rule of law.
You recently suspended a law on the status of state property in Republika Srpska, The decision de facto increased the level of the already existing divergences with Milorad Dodik. What is your strategy in relation to Dodik?
My goal is to ensure that BiH state institutions can do their job without obstacles, impairment or interference. A functioning and independent judiciary is not only a precondition for democracy and rule of law, but also for EU integration and this is a significant litmus test. Besides, the mutually agreed and lasting apportionment of State Property is one of the conditions for OHR closure. I find it absurd that the same politicians who call for my departure make everything to prevent it from happening. My order cannot have come to anyone’s surprise and I call on everyone involved to accept the decisions to be made by the BiH Constitutional Court.
Nationalistic rhetoric and slogans are still part of the political life of the country. In the previous years, both part of Sarajevo’s media and external observers have warned about increasing chances of a break-up of BH. Is the country stable?
Any kind of partition is not an option, the IC will never accept this as it would mean the rubber stamping of ethnic cleansing and war. Rhetoric in this direction serves as a means to obstructionism, distraction and narrow political interests and must stop.
Some influential officials – I would just mention former US-Ambassador Montgomery – have in the recent past suggested that a possible solution for the impasse in BH could be the creation of a Croat entity. What do you think about this proposal?
There is no agreement in Bosnia for the creation of a third Entity. BiH needs constitutional reform, but within the framework of the Dayton Peace Agreement. A third entity would not solve any of the real problems. But Croats must get a stronger feeling of belonging to this state.
I would like to ask you how you read the new role of Russia in BH. It seems that Moscow is going towards a kind of one-off confrontation position versus the OHR and other European countries, for instance not supporting some important decisions of the PIC Steering Board in relation to Republika Srpska.
Russia is part of the body that oversees the work of the OHR and as such is an important partner for fostering dialog, compromise and progress. The country has in the past supported the communiqués of our Steering Board; why this has not been the case concerning the OHR decision on the RS State Property Law I refer you to them to ask the reasons behind that.
One question about economy: the global recession has hardly hit BH. Do you think that the country will continue to face hard times in relation to the economy in 2011? And, if yes, do you think this could contribute to a further deterioration of the political scenario?
It is scandalous that while citizens across Southeast Europe are getting richer, citizens all across Bosnia and Herzegovina are getting poorer. Living standards are falling, job opportunities are shrinking, investment is down, public services are stagnating or deteriorating – the statistics are bad throughout the country. The fact is that investment in Bosnia and Herzegovina is down because governments have been unable to get rid of pointless obstacles to investment. BiH’s economy was ranked “least free” in Southeast Europe, coming 104th out of 183 countries (just behind Bhutan and just ahead of The Gambia) in the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom, published at the beginning of January. Bosnia and Herzegovina remained well behind the rest of the region because it is plagued by “inefficient and high government spending, weak protection of property rights, and widespread corruption”. So, BiH politicians should acknowledge that it is not only the global recession that has hit BiH – far from it. With constructive and determined political leadership making the right policy decisions, BiH could in 2011 catch up, like everyone else.
How would you assess your experience as High Representative and EU Special Representative? Which are your main achievements, and which the failures?
Obviously – and in a way also unfortunately – the time for me has not come to draw those conclusions yet. BiH has taken important steps during my presence such as the Visa liberalisation, but it has also suffered regrettable drawbacks, such as the continuing political stalemate since 1996. These developments show that provided enough will and common vision politicians can agree on what is necessary to move BiH forward. But only then, and this also applies to the broader reform process that is necessary to close the OHR. In a way you can say that my task is to get rid of my own job. I don’t want to occupy this post any second longer than necessary, so I can and do assist in this process, but it has to be undertaken by BiH politicians themselves.