How to change Bosnia's constitution?
The notion that Bosnia and Herzegovina's constitution does not provide an adequate political framework for the country is as old as the constitution itself. The charter, drawn up during peace negotiations at the US airbase in Dayton, Ohio, is part and parcel of the compromises needed to end the bloodiest European conflict since the Second World War.
For many Bosniaks, the new constitution's main liability is that it set up a state that was thoroughly decentralised, vesting only limited powers at the central level. For some, the decision to institutionalise the "Republika Srpska" as one of two entities (main federal units) of the Bosnian state was a political travesty, legitimising a political unit created through war crimes and genocide.
Many Serbs, meanwhile, had rather wished for the Republika Srpska to become an independent state. The Bosnian Croat leadership, for its part, initially refused to dismantle the war-time Bosnian-Croat statelet of Herceg Bosna, which continued to function until the early 2000s. There were also those who argued that the county's administrative structure – with two entities, ten cantons and one district – was far too complicated and expensive for a poor post-conflict society.
Already in 2002, ESI argued that constitutional changes should not be imposed but achieved through a political process. Two years later, ESI produced a proposal for constitutional reform. Citing a number of reform plans, the paper stated in the introduction:
"All these constitutional proposals suffer from the same fundamental flaw: they fail to indicate how to move forward from a dysfunctional here to a functional there. They do not begin from the current reality – from the constitutions, parliaments and governments which exist, and the real interests which lie behind them. Their supporters make no serious attempt to persuade anyone who does not already share their particular vision of Bosnia's future. Nothing ever happens with these proposals, because nobody knows where to begin. As a result, many Bosnians feel trapped – dissatisfied with their present constitutional system, but unable to conceive of a practical way forward."
The paper outlined a process on which the majority of Bosnia's politicians and citizens might eventually agree – and which would be implemented step by step.
"The proposal is to progressively abolish the Federation, and with it the constitutional category of 'Entity'. The result would be a simplified, three-layered federal state with twelve autonomous units: the ten cantons of the current Federation, Republika Srpska and the District of Brcko. This would represent a fundamental change to the structure of the state, turning it into a normal, European federal system with central, regional and municipal governments. As all of the institutional building blocks are already in place, it is readily achievable within a few years, before Bosnia begins negotiations for full EU membership. The process of dismantling the Federal government could begin immediately, through legislative actions in the Federation and cantonal parliaments. This is a reform which can be, and indeed would have to be, negotiated and implemented by Bosnia's own democratic institutions."
The proposal was debated at a major event organised by four German political foundations, bringing together the Bosnian political elite in Sarajevo. Participants included Milorad Dodik, Branko Dokic, Safet Halilovic, Dragan Kalinic, Zeljko Komsic, Martin Raguz, and Sulejman Tihic.
While there has been little movement in the area of constitutional reform to speak of, as Gerald Knaus recently described in a short article on ESI's Rumeli Observer, ESI's proposal still offers a starting point.
20 August 2012
Rumeli Observer: What is really wrong with Bosnia? (2010)
Discussion paper: Waiting for a Miracle? The politics of constitutional change in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2004)
Proposal: Making Federalism work – A Radical Proposal for Practical Reform (2004)
Discussion paper: Imposing Constitutional Reform? The Case for Ownership (2002)
Back to main page