Dysfunctional Power-Sharing and the Security Sector in Bosnia By: Chelsea Winn | Bosnia-Herzegovina | Jun 20, 2014

Power-sharing has gained prominence throughout the last two decades as a means of mitigating intractable conflicts. As mechanisms of conflict management, power-sharing arrangements are based on the principle of ensuring that all major segments of society have permanent political representation. While seemingly virtuous in theory, in practice power-sharing structures can become plagued by dysfunction and deadlock if groups feel unfairly represented, lack genuine political will to cooperate, or remain fixated on lingering hostilities from the conflict.

Bosnia’s government structure, established by the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, is an example of such a dysfunctional power-sharing arrangement. Indeed, Bosnian citizens have become disillusioned with their government and its structure, voicing their dissatisfaction in the ‘Bosnian Spring’ protests of February 2014.

The foundational issue of the protests was the inherent inefficiency of Bosnia’s power-sharing institutional structure, inextricably linked with issues of corruption and high rates of unemployment. Each of the three major ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats – are constitutionally recognized as constituent peoples of Bosnia. The resultant institutional composition is bloated and expensive, comprising triplicate institutions to accommodate the three predetermined groups, as stipulated in Dayton.

In the political realm, Bosnia’s power-sharing model has discouraged inter-group cooperation and reconciliation. Political elites have pandered to ethnic fears, resulting in the electoral victories of ethno-national parties via the phenomenon of ‘ethnic outbidding.’ In the wake of the recent Balkan flooding, financial squabbles between the two entities (the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat Federation) over the allocation of humanitarian aid from foreign donors took precedence over the actual provision of aid to those in need.

For example, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik accused the Federation of taking an unfair portion of the relief aid, saying on June 10 in Sarajevo: “It is clear that the damage done in [Republika] Srpska was far worse than in the Federation. However, at the expense of our suffering, the Federation wants to use the money coming from abroad.” Although both entities were equally affected by the flooding, the elite level priority remains ethno-political competition.

The quandaries of power-sharing and the unwillingness to cooperate with ‘the other’ have likewise manifested in the security sector of Bosnia. In terms of military reform, Bosnia-Herzegovina has seen significant positive development under the guidance of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program. In 2005, pursuant to the Law on Defense of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the formerly warring armies (the Bosniak-Croat Army of the Federation and the Bosnian Serb Army of Republika Srpska) were unified as a single military force – the Armed Forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is inclusive of members from all three constituent ethnic groups.

While military reform has been progressive, police reform in BiH has stagnated and remains ethnically divided. The United Nations International Police Task Force (IPTF) operated in Bosnia from 1995-2002, succeeded by the European Union Police Mission (EUPM) in Bosnia-Herzegovina from 2003-2012. Both missions had non-executive mandates and were primarily responsible for training, institution building, and the implementation of reforms, with the ultimate goal of bringing the Bosnian police forces up to meet the “best European standards,” thereby paving the way for European Union (EU) integration.

Despite the huge amount of resources dispensed by these international organizations over this 17 year period, Bosnia’s police force remains in need of further reform and continued assistance for their implementation. In a recent blog post, Branka Marijan and Dejan Guzina detail the trajectory which police reform has taken since 1995, asserting that although police reforms have been beneficial to date, the country remains at risk of regressing on previous gains without international assistance.

The biggest obstacle to police reform, of course, can be found yet again in the realm of politics and the unwillingness of elite level politicians to cooperate. There are currently 16 independent police agencies operating in Bosnia; 11 cantonal agencies in the Bosniak-Croat Federation, one centralized agency in the Republika Srpska, one in the autonomous Brcko District, and three state level police agencies ratified by the IPTF and EUPM – namely, the State Border Police, the State Information and Protection Agency, and the Directorate for Police Coordination Bodies.

Despite the creation of state level agencies, ethnic segregation remains a primary characteristic of the police structure. Repeated attempts to centralize and integrate the police forces of the Federation and Republika Srpska have failed, with Republika Srpska politicians often opposing any reformation that would generate a united police structure. Hence, elite level political control persists in the continuation of ethnic politics and the stagnation of police reform.

Assessing long-term projections for police reforms, Amelia Padurariu at the Institute for European Studies in Belgium concluded that the EU must pay closer attention to the political level in Bosnia if police reform is to be sustained into the future, as this is “where most of the stumbling blocks for the implementation of police reform lie.”

A recent Freedom House study, titled Nations in Transit 2014, noted a “decline in standards of national democratic governance [in Bosnia].” Nearing twenty years after the culmination of the war, Bosnia is still described as a “transitional regime.” Both the UN and EU have been heavily involved in state-building initiatives and security sector reform since 1995, thus far leaving Bosnia without the opportunity to prove itself as a stable country without robust international support.

Although the so-called Bosnian Spring did not inspire radical change in the country’s institutional structure, these protests do represent the populace’s growing disenchantment with the post-Dayton government and desire to engender a more competent system. Among civil society, there seems to be an emerging eagerness to reject the ethnic divisions which characterize every aspect of political life. The protests, although initially ethnically exclusive, saw displays of solidarity amongst the three groups in Bosnia. More inspirational, however, was the willingness of Balkan citizens to help each other during the devastating floods this past May, regardless of ethnic or national differences.

Recent events in Bosnia seem to show that the willingness for the grassroots to reconcile has outpaced the elite level desire to do so. The power-sharing system has not only been exorbitantly expensive and inefficient, but has also entrenched ethnicity as the primary mode of political identification. As Bosnian civil society continues to mobilize, the dysfunctional power-sharing institutional model may need to undergo profound revision.

Chelsea Winn is a Research and Communications Intern at the Centre for Security Governance.

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