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ESI on the European Raj

The European Raj

What is the true justification for the extraordinary powers that the international mission in Bosnia enjoys? The conditions that obtained in 1996 and the conditions that obtain today are separated by a gulf too wide to be bridged by the assertion that both represent a state of emergency that only a decisive and unquestioned authority can handle.

In fact, the history of the international mission in Bosnia suggests that its affinities with the British Raj in early nineteenth century India are more than superficial.

While the Bonn powers were conceived as emergency powers to confront concrete threats to the implementation of the peace accords, they have today become the regular instruments of an open ended attempt to develop institutions by decree. The OHR has been allowed to evolve into a latter day version of the Utilitarians' "vigourous despot," assuming ever wider responsibilities in the name of preparing society for self governance. Far from planting the seed of democratic politics in Bosnia's postcommunist political culture, this transformation implicitly teaches that technocratic rule at arm's length from the people is perfectly good governance after all.

This disappointing conclusion raises a further question. On the one hand, the early days of the Bosnian mission clearly demonstrated that some coercive powers were required in order to enforce the peace agreement. On the other, the introduction of these powers has led to the creation of a European Raj.

Does this mean that there was an inherent contradiction between the demands of democratization and the imperatives of peace building in an unstable environment? Or is there a way to institute extraordinary powers such that they do not expand indefinitely?

The problem of unaccountable power has also been highlighted by a recent ESI report on policing in Bosnia: On Mount Olympus. How the UN violated human rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and why nothing has been done to correct it.

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