The Disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina

From Ethnic Cleansing to Ethnified Governance

by Alim Baluch (Author)
©2018 Monographs VIII, 308 Pages
Series: Nationalisms across the Globe, Volume 20


This book argues that the «international community» created and managed the dysfunctional state of Bosnia and Herzegovina by effectively rewarding ethnic cleansing, drawing up a transitional constitution which, in turn, generated a complex ethnifying polity incapable of independent reform. This constitution, which was only added as an annex to the Dayton Peace Agreement, has continued to encourage ethnification, understood in this book as the reproduction of imagined communities of descent.
While accepting that foreign interference was necessary to end the war in the late 1990s, the book offers a critical review of the actions of the Office of the High Representative of the International Community (OHR) and other foreign actors since that period. It includes meticulous examination of hundreds of OHR decisions, as well as secret diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks revealing how the US embassy intervened in the country's trade and foreign policy.
Drawing on a process-sociological perspective, the book interrogates the notion of ethnicity and offers a radical new perspective on post-war state-building in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • 1.1 Research context
  • 1.2 Research aim and question
  • 1.3 How can we examine the impact of international rule in BiH?
  • 1.3.1 (Meta-)methodological considerations
  • 1.3.2 How design shapes analysis
  • 1.3.3 Shifting the notion – from data collection to data production
  • 1.3.4 Content analysis
  • 1.3.5 OHR decisions
  • 1.3.6 Steering Board Communiqués
  • 1.3.7 Classified diplomatic cables
  • 1.3.8 Policy areas
  • 1.4 Structure
  • Chapter 2: Why a Process Oriented Approach to Ethnified Multi-Level Governance is Essential
  • 2.1 About the compatibility of process sociology and political science
  • 2.1.1 The problem of process reduction in social scientific language
  • 2.1.2 The drag effect of the social habitus and its resistance towards the integration of survival units
  • 2.1.3 Power and function in the context of game models
  • 2.2 Drawing upon European integration and IR theory to contextualize the process sociological approach
  • 2.2.1 Federalism – similarities and differences between BiH and the EU
  • 2.2.2 Governance in a dynamic multi-level system
  • 2.2.3 The neo-functionalist approach to integration
  • 2.2.4 From social constructivism to sociological institutionalism
  • 2.2.5 Using norms and rules as leverage
  • 2.2.6 Input and output legitimacy
  • 2.3 Ethnicity, nationalism and war – interdisciplinary considerations of anthropomorphism and inadequate rationalism
  • 2.3.1 Why ethnicity is imaginary
  • 2.3.2 From nationalism to irredentism
  • 2.3.3 Repudiating anthropomorphic terminology
  • 2.3.4 The psychological dimension of violence in group conflicts and its implications for BiH
  • Summary
  • Chapter 3: Bosnia and Herzegovina – Evolution of a Fragile Polity
  • 3.1. The trichotomy of predominant ethnifications in BiH
  • 3.1.1 Croatian ethnification
  • 3.1.2 Serb ethnification
  • 3.1.3 The emergence of Bosniak ethnification in the context of Serb-Croat enmity
  • 3.2 Bosnia-Herzegovina under the umbrella of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
  • 3.3 The impact of economic decline in the 1980s on Yugoslavia’s disintegration
  • 3.4 Violent disintegration of BiH, two irredentist campaigns, one unintended outcome
  • 3.4.1 Croatian irredentism in BiH
  • 3.4.2 Serb nationalist irredentism
  • Summary
  • Chapter 4: Polities and Politics of Post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • 4.1 The ethnification of the war in Yugoslavia in international politics
  • 4.2 The Annexes of the DPA
  • 4.2.1 Annex 1A: Agreement on the Military Aspects of the Peace Settlement
  • 4.2.2 Annex 1B: Agreement on Regional Stabilization
  • 4.2.3 Annex 2: The Inter-Entity Boundary Line and Related Issues
  • 4.2.4 Annex 3: Agreement on Elections
  • 4.2.5 Annex 4: The Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • 4.2.6 Annex 5: Agreement on Arbitration
  • 4.2.7 Annex 6: Agreement on Human Rights
  • 4.2.8 Annex 7: Refugees and Displaced Persons
  • 4.2.9 Annex 8: Agreement on Commission to Preserve National Monuments
  • 4.2.10 Annex 9: Establishment of Public Corporations
  • 4.2.11 Annex 10: Civilian Implementation (OHR)
  • 4.2.12 International Police Task Force (Annex 11)
  • 4.2.13 The Assistance Program
  • 4.2.14 Armed Forces
  • 4.3 The OHR in a multi-level principal-agent structure
  • 4.3.1 The PIC Steering Board
  • 4.3.2 Establishment of the OHR
  • 4.3.3 The Sintra Declaration and the Bonn Powers
  • 4.3.4 The Europeanization of the international agency structure
  • 4.4 Political parties
  • 4.4.1 Ethnifying Bosnian Serb parties
  • 4.4.2 Ethnifying Croat parties
  • 4.4.3 Ethnifying Bosniak parties
  • 4.4.4 De-ethnifying parties
  • Summary
  • Chapter 5: The Decisions of the OHR
  • 5.1 Low synthesis: The official OHR categorization
  • 5.1.1 Decisions relating to state symbols and state-level matters and constitutional issues
  • 5.1.2 Decisions in the economic field
  • 5.1.3 Decisions in the field of judicial reform
  • 5.1.4 Decisions relating to the Federation, Mostar and Herzegovina-Neretva Canton
  • 5.1.5 Removals and Suspensions from Office
  • 5.1.6 Media restructuring decisions by the HighRep
  • 5.1.7 Decisions in the field of property laws, return of displaced persons and refugees and reconciliation
  • 5.1.8 Decisions relating to individuals indicted for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia
  • 5.2 Higher synthesis analysis of OHR decisions (1997–2012)
  • 5.2.1 Legislative decisions
  • 5.2.2 Constructive decisions
  • 5.2.3 Punitive decisions
  • 5.2.4 Reconstructive decisions
  • Summary
  • Chapter 6: Analysis of OHR Impact on Policies in BiH
  • 6.1 Military matters
  • 6.2 Economic policy
  • 6.3 Police and intelligence
  • 6.4 Judicial branch and constitutional reform
  • 6.5 De-segregation and return of refugees
  • Summary
  • Chapter 7: Discussion and Conclusions – Change of OHR Impact over Time
  • 7.1 Pooling competencies at state level
  • 7.2 (De-)Ethnification
  • 7.3 Future perspectives: Disengagement and Europeanization
  • Bibliography
  • Communiques and legal documents
  • Diplomatic cables
  • Appendix
  • Interview with HighRep Valentin Inzko at OHR HQ, 14 March 2012 [English translation]
  • Index By Person
  • Index By Keyword
  • Series index

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Disintegration is not a suddenly occurring event, it is a process that not only counterbalances the forces of integration which keep Bosnia and Herzegovina together; rather, it seems to become the dominant direction of travel. This book examines how post-war international rule has unintentionally planted a seed of disintegration which is almost impossible to reverse.

The subject of institutional influence exerted by international organizations on governance in a federal polity is one that has been widely researched, yet nevertheless remains of vital importance to shed light on contemporary single cases such as post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). This study examines how international rule, first and foremost exerted by the Office of the High Representative of the International Community (OHR) and the United States Government, has turned the war zone BiH into a post-war confederation sui generis with a severely flawed constitution. Moreover, the supervision of the OHR, which has developed from a hyperactive interventionist body to a lethargic observer and mediator, has by no means had the desired effect of transforming the country into a functioning democracy.

The OHR was established with Annex 10 of the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) in 1995 to monitor its implementation on behalf of the “international community”. In December 1997, the competencies of the OHR were equipped with the so-called Bonn Powers, that is, the authority to remove any individual from public office and to substitute the legislative branch on all federal levels in BiH. These levels entail the state, the two so-called entities which have far-reaching, often state-like competencies, and the ten cantons.1 ← 1 | 2 →

The OHR has strongly intervened in decision-making on all levels of this asymmetric multi-level polity. Yet our understanding of OHR decisions and the process by which it impacts policy areas, its interaction with international institutions and local actors as well as the implications for societal integration (de-ethnification) of BiH remains scant. It is this broader impact on multi-level governance that lies at the heart of the research interest of this book.

Furthermore, I seek to shed light on how the influence of the international rule has changed over time. While the OHR still holds the legal power to remove individuals from office or to enact binding laws, the interventionism of the OHR has gradually diminished since 2005 with the most powerful international actors steering the OHR (Steering Board) becoming more and more reluctant to (openly) undermine democratic processes in BiH. This focus on change is crucial to avoid a static perspective of the OHR as a behaviour-guiding actor in terms of its structure, strategy, resources, legitimacy and control.

Since its establishment in 1995, the structure, competencies and strategies of the OHR have changed as has the federal state it operated in. BiH is a unique polity as it resembles a federal state that is, although a UN member, not fully sovereign given the far-reaching competencies of international actors to impact local decision-making, that is, above all the Bonn Powers of the OHR. In light of its historical context and “ethnic” composition, BiH provides a ripe setting for examining issues surrounding governance that is partially rooted in the so-called international community.2

This introductory chapter outlines the research context in BiH in brief, before highlighting the prior research on the international rule (the OHR ← 2 | 3 → in particular) in BiH and delineating the research aims and questions that this study seeks to address.

1.1 Research context

The influence of the OHR on governance in BiH may be considered to lack in democratic legitimacy; however, it is backed by international law. In order to understand this development, it is important to first return to the founding of the OHR and its related institutions. After the end of the war(s) in BiH (1992–1995), a Peace Implementation Conference was held in London which established the UN Peace Implementation Council (PIC) approved by the UN Security Council Resolution 1031. The PIC initially comprised 42 countries and 14 international organizations and nominated ten of their members to establish the PIC Steering Board which guides, triggers or curtails the actions of the OHR. The eleven Steering Board members are Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the Russian Federation, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the European Commission, the EU Presidency and the Organization of the Islamic Conference which is permanently represented by Turkey. The Steering Board was established to guide the OHR on behalf of the PIC.

Thus, the actions of the OHR are legitimized by more than 50 actors organized in a two-tier system, as depicted in Figure 1.

The first High Representative (HighRep), Carl Bildt, was able to establish the OHR as a coordinating and advisory body for the various international organizations and local actors. But he considered a more robust mandate necessary in order to create enough leverage to enforce decisions against obstructionism of local office holders who resisted the implementation of aspects of the DPA (Ebner 2004). At the semi-annual meeting of the PIC in Bonn in December 1997, the PIC granted the OHR the so-called Bonn Powers, allowing the HighRep to impose or rescind laws without the consent of the democratically elected legislative branch and ← 3 | 4 → remove individuals from public office in order to enable the implementation of the DPA (see 4.3.4).

Figure 1. The structure of the PIC, the steering board and the OHR.

The legitimacy of such interventionist measures depends on the broad international support which resides in the PIC. As the OHR represents the so-called international community, a certain threshold of international support is implied. However, the appropriateness of the already vague term international community was thrown further into doubt when the war in Kosovo developed into an international war, dividing the permanent members of the UN Security Council into a NATO faction endorsing airstrikes against military targets in Serbia, on the one hand, and the non-NATO members China and Russia opposing any draft resolution which justified the use of military force, on the other. Nonetheless, airstrikes on targets in Serbia were carried out by NATO without the legal backing of the Security Council.

Further developments were to exacerbate the already stressed relations among PIC members when in May 1999 a US airstrike hit the Chinese ← 4 | 5 → embassy in Belgrade. The Chinese government implied that the bombing was deliberate while the US government publicly deplored it as a terrible mistake. The strong OHR mandate was upheld, yet in May 2000, the People’s Republic of China resigned as a PIC member.

The United States government was nonetheless able to maintain a sufficient level of co-operation with the Russian Federation in the Steering Board in order to support the Bonn Powers of the OHR. The aim was not only to monitor the implementation of the DPA but also to take active measures if deemed necessary. Equipped with the Bonn Powers and backed by the Steering Board of the PIC, the OHR was therefore the most powerful actor in the BiH polity as long it was able to justify its interventions according to the exigencies of implementing the DPA. While the involvement of international actors has been crucial to ending the warfare in BiH (1992–1995), the DPA itself contained aspects which contradict international norms such as a constitution that is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (see 6.4).

The Bonn Powers, however, render the sovereignty of the state of BiH and its administrative units questionable on various levels. The function of the OHR can, on the one hand, be characterized as anti-democratic as it is able to intervene in governance in BiH without local branches of government having any say on the matter. On the other hand, it can be interpreted as helpful or even essential to jumpstarting decision-making in a dysfunctional political system. Unsurprisingly, the structure of OHR impact has changed significantly since 1997 as has the polity it operates in.

Post-war BiH remained what many consider “multi-ethnic”; a closer look, however, reveals that the war had triggered a homogenization amongst its regions, towns and communities. This is especially relevant given that this ethnified political system is composed of so many actors on different levels of governance often unable or unwilling to reach a consensus in order to provide necessary problem-solving competencies. The ethnification3 which ← 5 | 6 → permeates the DPA and therefore polities and politics in BiH reproduces a social and political trichotomy most notably in the Head of State, a rotating presidency comprising three members which correspond to the predominant ethnifications: Bosniak, Serb and Croat. Election campaigns on the state level, entity level, and in the ten cantons draw upon “ethnic” symbols and are rhetorically directed towards ethnically defined group interests.4

While any European federal state can be regarded as a dynamic multi-level system, only in BiH has the highest authority been pooled together in an undemocratic body representing the “international community”, and only in BiH is the federal level (i.e. state level) in many regards weaker than the entity level. Nowhere else in Europe is the polity of a state ethnified to such an extent. To better understand the dimensions of ethnification in BiH, it is important to draw on an illustrative example that highlights the degree to which politics and society are structured along Bosniak, Serb and Croat ethnification. The systemic reproduction of an ethnified polity in which every aspect of political decision-making, most political parties, media, and education is centred upon one of three predominant ethnic constructions (Serb, Croatian and Bosniak) increases the risk of ethnified violence. Yet, the ethnification of politics in BiH is not only a problem in that it fosters segregation among Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. It also poses a threat in that it virtually discriminates against the so-called “others”, i. e. individuals from smaller minorities such as Roma and Jewish citizens. These groups cannot run for certain public offices. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) states: “Persons who do not identify with one of the three constituent peoples are ignored in power-sharing mechanisms and other policies and programmes implemented to ensure an institutional balance between constituent peoples. ← 6 | 7 → They are still in a position of serious disadvantage and are […] victims of ethnic discrimination.”5

In a prominent example, the case of Sejdic and Fincí vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2009 that the constitution of BiH violated the European Convention on Human Rights, as members of national minorities were discriminated against in the political system and the political decision-making. As a result, the Council of Europe demanded a constitutional reform before the national election of October 2010. Another ultimatum was set for March 2012; however, no amendment was agreed on.

According to Human Rights Watch, even the ombudsman for Human Rights, which should be protecting minorities from discrimination, is “by law discriminatory in structure, requiring the appointment of three representatives from the three main ethnic groups to serve as ombudsmen with no room for Roma, Jews or other national minorities” (Human Rights Watch 2012: 3).

At the same time many BiH citizens do not identify with BiH to a degree that it constitutes the primal reference point of national identity. The self and other identification as (Bosnian) Serbs and Croats indicates a stronger identification with a nation that is embedded in another state territory outside BiH which some consider an artificial state-like construction. BiH may still appear as a multi-religious “ethnically” mixed country. However, cities and regions that were once multi-religious are now primarily populated by one of the three predominant “ethnic groups” as every region in the country has its own history of so-called “ethnic cleansing”. While NATO, the UN and the OHR were not capable of bridging the divisions in politics, it remains to be seen to what extent the prospect of EU membership may promote constitutional reform bringing about de-ethnification,6 civil rights and equality. ← 7 | 8 →


VIII, 308
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (October)
Bosnia and Herzegovina Office of the High Representative of the International Community and the European Union (OHR) Post-war State-building
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2018. VIII, 308 pp., 1 fig. col., 32 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Alim Baluch (Author)

Alim Baluch is a social scientist whose research interests include authoritarianism, the suppression of democracy, and governance exerted by supranational and international organisations. He teaches politics at the University of Bath.


Title: The Disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina