Bosnia's political culture
Nov 24th 2005 | MOSTAR AND SARAJEVO
From The Economist print edition
Trained by the centuries not to take decisions
WE IN the international community must now begin to move from heavyweight, intrusive interventions to a new role of adviser, persuader and partner.” So says Lord (Paddy) Ashdown. Like most policymakers who deal with Bosnia, and a growing number of locals, he believes it is high time for Bosnians to take responsibility for their own affairs. The hope is that his powers as high representative will be used less and less often, and that Bosnians can be nudged into making more of their own decisions.
On November 25th, Bosnia is due to start talks with the EU about the first steps on the path to eventual accession. Early next year, Lord Ashdown will step down. His successor is expected to be Christian Schwarz-Schilling, a former German minister and Bosnia hand who favours handing full powers back soon.
The high representative is also the EU's special representative in Bosnia. It is hoped that, over the years, EU conditionality can be used to keep Bosnia, like other countries in the region, on course towards stable prosperity.
Some westerners are uncomfortable over the vice-regal role the high representative has played. They wonder whether such a colonial institution is appropriate in 2005. Yet the past ten years have shown that Bosnia's problem is not just the legacy of a brutal war, but also a culture of deference. The origins of this phenomenon lie in the distant past.
For many Bosnians, it seems natural for a high representative to give orders to their leaders. That is, after all, how Bosnia has been ruled since the Ottoman conquest in 1463.
From then until 1878, Bosnia was ruled by a pasha sent by the Sultan from Istanbul. Between 1878 and 1918, it was governed by a representative of the Austro-Hungarian Empire sent from Vienna. From 1918 to 1992, the buck stopped in Belgrade. Now the high representative rules with orders given in Brussels, which has become Bosnia's latest imperial capital.
Two years ago the EU told the Bosnians to do 16 things before they could start talks on eventual accession. With much cajoling and bullying from Lord Ashdown, all were done by last month. Few believe that anything would have been achieved without him. Indeed Bosnian politicians like the role he has played, because it means they never have to take unpopular decisions. Sometimes they even ask him to impose decisions, knowing that, to their own voters, they can “blame it on Paddy”.