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Understanding Persisting Ethnic Resistance

The two attempts at police reform in Bosnia between 2004 and 2008 demonstrated the limits of accommodation between political elites in the country. In both instances the elites resisted the proposed reforms and used the institutional and political tools available to block the progress of reforms, despite the coming under pressure from the HR and the EU. The strongest resistance came from the Serb elites, although some Bosniaks also resisted compromise, which prevented the adoption of constitutional reforms that could have brought about agreement on police reform. The cases suggest that two main factors can explain the politicians' persistent resistance across ethnic lines – overlapping functional and territorial autonomy and lack of consistent and credible external input.

The specific nature of the police as an institution proved as problematic at the practical political level. Since the police are responsible for providing everyday security to the public and for enforcing the laws and order, their control is of importance to both political elites and the people. The link that RS's elites constructed between police reform and sovereignty was more than a rhetorical tool; it drew on the history of the conflict and the police's role in establishing and protecting RS as a quasi-state entity. Serbs feared that 'RS would lose its identity if it gave up the police'.32 Ashdown was certainly aware of this fear, that for the Serbs the police was much more of a symbol of maintenance of a separate identity, than their army. Yet, instead of pursuing police reform in a manner that would reassure the Serbs that the reform was not aimed against RS and its sovereignty,

32 Anonymous, Journalist in a weekly magazine in Banja Luka: personal interview with the author, Banja Luka, 21 September 2010. he opted to try to centralise it, despite the availability of other options (in the Functional Review).

The overlap of two other power-sharing instruments helped perpetuate political elite resistance. Extensive territorial and functional autonomy made the compulsory executive coalition at state-level virtually powerless in policerelated affairs, as the police were not among its competencies. All power was concentrated in the entities, whose assent was required in order to transfer police to the state-level. Functional autonomy awarding substantial sovereignty traits (such as security) to entities instead of the central government further enhanced the link between police and entity power. Having enjoyed full control over the police for ten years after the end of conflict, political leaders proved unwilling to give it up. Rather, as critics of ethno-federalism have suggested, they used autonomy as an 'institutional tool' to launch attacks on the central state and to prevent police reforms.33 Previous federal experience and Yugoslav legacies further exacerbated the effect of territorial autonomy, by disinclining the RS political leadership from considering reforms that would centralise police control. Instead, Serbian politicians treated the proposed reforms as a backdoor attempt to take competencies away from their entity and strip from them yet another area of self-governance. Numerous examples of decentralised police structures across the world, particularly those of EU members who were advocating centralisation in Bosnia, diverted politicians' attention away from the merit of the proposed reform. Instead of focusing on the poor quality of policing in Bosnia, they spent their energy on attempts to discredit the proposal.

Despite initiating police reform and keeping it on the political agenda, external actors in this case failed to facilitate accommodation. The EU did not apply clear and consistent conditionality in SAA negotiations and ratification. Instead it revoked its own three criteria for successful police reform and by the end of the process was ready to accept much less than it initially required. To the RS leadership, which had no interest in changing the status quo, the EU's inconsistency demonstrated that they could win SAA without making many concessions over police reform. Inevitably this led to greater resistance among RS politicians, especially in implementing the agreed reforms. Moreover, on the Bosniak side, the EU's hesitation led to the SBIH coming up with its own demands that went far beyond EU's criteria, calling for RS to be abolished and the state fully centralised. The result demonstrated the limits of EU conditionality and increased resistance on all sides, rather than the compromise and accommodation the EU had aimed for.34

33 Phillip Roeder, Where Nation-states Come From: Institutional Change in the Age

of Nationalism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

34 On limits of EU conditionality in Balkan politics see: Gergana Noutcheva, 'Fake, Partial and Imposed Compliance: Limits of the EU's Normative Power in the Western Balkans', CEPS Working Document No.274/July 2007. Available at: (accessed 20 November 2010). By failing to provide a safe and neutral environment for negotiations and compromising his own neutrality, HR Ashdown failed to facilitate interethnic accommodation during the first attempt at police reform. At the start of negotiations, the working rules of the PRC signalled a departure from previous examples of reform commissions, such as the DRC. Instead of allowing veto to all sides, the PRC Chairman would not resort to voting, but would personally decide when sufficient consensus had been reached. As this did not guarantee to Serb members that their objections would be considered or addressed, they rejected the PRC as an appropriate forum to negotiate police reforms. The HR's failure to establish any space for negotiations that would obviate the need for formal vetoes made their actual use more likely.

Moreover, in two instances: when Lord Ashdown refused to change PRC rules of procedure; and when Miroslav Lajčak tried to relax voting requirements in BIH Parliament, as external actors they failed to consider the interest of at least one ethnic group and to act in an unbiased manner. Such behaviour affected the HR's position as a neutral arbiter between the three groups and caused distrust and resistance, especially among the Serb politicians.

More generally, these two cases show that fifteen years after Dayton's adoption, the political system it introduced is seen as temporary and subject to renegotiation both by members of the international community and by domestic politicians. Lord Ashdown's frequent statements that 'Dayton is the floor not the ceiling' and the need 'to go beyond Dayton', along with Haris Silajdžić's calls for abolishing RS and Lajčak's attempts to relax voting and quorum rules in Parliament, provide evidence to many Serbs and Croats that the mechanisms guaranteeing them protection from being outvoted are under threat. Such fears about the transience of power-sharing mechanisms give rise to fears about becoming a minority in a Bosniak-majority dominated state, echoing similar fears from the time of the break-up of the Yugoslav federation.35 Although proposals for reforming Dayton often stem from a desire to create a more efficient state structure, especially among international actors,36 Croats and Serbs in Bosnia still fear the efficiency of a state that would work against their groups' interest. This makes Bosnian elites fundamentally still divided over the basic structures and principles around which to organise the common state.

35 D. Jovic, 'Fear of becoming a minority as a motivator of conflict in the former Yugoslavia' in Balkanologie. Vol.5, No.1–2. (2001) Available at: balkanologie.

36 Paddy Asdown, Swords and Ploughshares; International Crisis Group reports on Bosnia and Herzegovina 1999–2010.

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