Bosnia Deal Triggers New Tensions

10 November 2008 Sarajevo – Leaders of Bosnia’s three main political parties have reached an agreement over some of the most hotly contested issues concerning the future of the country, whose debate has poisoned the political atmosphere for the past two years.

The consensus has been hailed as “historic” by local media and international officials. But two junior parters in the ruling coalition – which were not invited to the meeting – slammed the deal and accused their coalition partners of treachery.

Leaders of the three strongest national parties, Milorad Dodik from the Serb Union of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, Sulejman Tihic from the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) Party of Democratic Action, SDA and Dragan Covic from the Croat Democratic Union, HDZ, met on Saturday near the northern town of Bosanski Samac with the aim of reaching an agreement over several highly disputed issues that are crucial for country’s EU membership as well as the closure of the Office of the High Representative, OHR.

In only two hours, they reached a general agreement on a process of future constitutional changes, questions that would be covered in 2011 census, as well as regulation of the status of the Brcko district and state property.

“After more than two years of stagnation, full of fears and disturbing news, it seems that the light appears at the end of the tunnel,” said editor of the influential Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz, Sead Numanovic, in his column on Sunday. He added that Saturday’s agreement introduces the word “compromise” in Bosnian political vocabulary.

Bosnia’s High Representative Miroslav Lajcak praised Saturday’s agreement and the three leaders for reaching it. “This is a proof that when there is readiness for open dialogue, compromise is possible,” he told journalists.

But much of the debate following the agreement has been almost as heated as the debate preceding it. The agreement was made possible because two parties from the ruling coalition – the Bosniak Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, SZBH, and the Croat HDZ1990 – were not invited to the meeting. Both parties are junior partners in the ruling coalition at the state level as well as in the Bosniak-Croat-dominated entity of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and have been sticking to their maximalist requirements regarding the most disputed issues.

HDZ1990 President Bozo Ljubic said the agreement on the process of future constitutional changes is “unacceptable”. He accused the three parties of trying to establish “a monopoly” in representing the three main ethnic groups, as well as full control over the most lucrative public companies.

Haris Silajdzic from SZBH went further and accused Tihic and SDA of “betraying” Bosniak national interests and yielding before Dodik and Bosnian Serb pressure. Silajdzic stressed that only the agreement on the legalisation of the status of Brcko is acceptable, and rejected all other agreed items.

Media speculate that this fierce opposition to the agreement is likely to trigger new political rearrangements or even early elections.

Furthermore open animosities between SNSD’s Milorad Dodik and SZBH’s leader Silajdzic, who is also the Bosniak representative on Bosnia’s rotating presidency, have triggered political deadlock and heightened ethnic tensions in the country. Over the past few weeks the international community has launched a new diplomatic offensive and started discussing contingency plans and new approaches aimed at resolving the deadlock.

The criticism was rebuffed by Tihic, who claimed that SZBH and Silajdzic “don’t know how to solve problems but only know hot to make them.”

“Exactly because of their behavior, over the past two years Bosnia and Herzegovina has suffered from blockades and lack of progress on the EU path,” Tihic said and added that Silajdzic “should stop protecting Bosnia at press conferences and round tables.”

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