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Recapitulating Yugoslavia: Culture, Politics, and State-Building in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Recapitulating Yugoslavia: Culture, Politics, and State-Building in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Originally published in July 2009, this brief argues that it is time that the international community paid greater attention to reforming formal and informal institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina as it continues to seek to create a true liberal democracy.
Originally published in July 2009, this brief argues that it is time that the international community paid greater attention to reforming formal and informal institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina as it continues to seek to create a true liberal democracy.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Sep 27, 2010
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Summary: Ever since the war in theformer Yugoslavia came to an end, the international community hassought to establish new politicaland constitutional arrangementsfor Bosnia and Herzegovina thatwould bring the country togetherwithin a framework of democracyand the rule of law. Today, Bosniaand Herzegovina suffers, as it has throughout the postwar period,from a lack of consensus, commu-nity, legitimacy, organization, effec- tiveness, and stability in its political
life. This deciency is impeding its
 transition to liberal democracy.In many ways Bosnia and Herzegov-ina resembles a mini-Yugoslavia.“Ethnonationalism” dominates not just the country’s constitution butalso its governance and its culture.Because of this it cannot truly be-come a liberal democracy until itsgovernance and its political institu- tions begin to function properly andin the interests of all its citizens. Be-cause democracy is more than justa set of formal institutions, it is time that the international communitypaid greater attention to reforming both kinds of institutions—formaland informal—in Bosnia and Her-zegovina as it continues to seek tocreate a true liberal democracy in that troubled country.
Wider Europe
Getting its history wrong is part o beinga nation.
- Ernst Renan
Te history o politics in Yugoslaviabetween 1919 and 1941 can be understood in terms o a succession o exclusions, withdrawals and attempts toredene the terms o reerence o politicallie, rather than constructive engagementwith issues which were common to acommunity whose boundaries, interestsand rules o political conduct were agreed.
- John B. Allcock
In December 1995, diplomats assembled inLondon or a Peace Implementation Con-erence to discuss the uture o Bosnia andHerzegovina. Tere, they set this goal orthemselves: Te establishment o new po-litical and constitutional arrangements orBosnia and Herzegovina that would bringthe country together within a ramework o democracy and the rule o law.More than 13 years later, this goal remainselusive, i only because it requires the will-ing cooperation and collaboration o thepeople o Bosnia and Herzegovina. It alsorequires proper democratic governance.Both still seem largely absent. In his book,
Political Order in Changing Societies,
the lateSamuel Huntington perhaps explained why:“Te most important political distinctionamong countries concerns not their orm o government but their degree o govern-ment. Te dierences between democracy and dictatorship are less than the dierenc-es between those countries whose politicsembody consensus, community, legitimacy,organization, eectiveness, stability, andthose countries whose politics is decient inthose qualities.Bosnia and Herzegovina’s politics isdecient in almost all those qualities. Tisdeciency is impeding its development asa liberal democracy, the creation o whichis the larger purpose o the internationalpresence that has now lasted nearly 14years. oday, Bosnia and Herzegovina hasall the trappings o democracy—too many perhaps—but orm and substance are notnecessarily the same thing. As ChristopherCoyne, in his book,
 Afer War: Te Political Economy o Exporting Democracy
, explains:“… ‘democracy’ is oen conused with‘liberal democracy.Democracy dealswith the method o selecting governmentocials, while liberal democracy dealswith the goals o government: theprotection o individual rights, the rule o law, and so on. In the absence o constitutional liberalism, democracy willnot necessarily yield the desired results asdened by U.S. oreign policy objectives…Although politicians and policymakersoen state the end goal o reconstructioneorts as ‘spreading democracy,’ what
Recapitulating Yugoslavia: Culture, Politics,and State-Building in Bosnia and Herzegovina
by Douglas Davidson
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
July 31, 2009
Ambassador Douglas Davidson is a visiting distinguished fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF). Theviews expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of GMF.
Policy Brie 
Wider Europe
they implicitly mean is the establishment o liberal democraticinstitutions along Western lines—i not in specic design thenat least based upon Western principles. Te dierence is morethan semantics. Compared to establishing a lasting liberaldemocracy, holding elections is relatively easy. During U.S.-ledoccupations, elections have been held in Haiti, Bosnia, andKosovo. However, it remains ar rom clear that these countrieswould be classied as sel-sustaining liberal democracies.”Why is Bosnia and Herzegovina not yet a sel-sustaining liberaldemocracy? Surely it is not or lack o eort, time, and money. TeUnited States alone has spent more than one billion dollars in develop-ment assistance there over the past 14 years. But it could be because, inits eorts to build a liberal democracy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, theinternational community has not spent enough o its time, money, oreorts on some important elements o such a democracy. One o theseis political institutions. Another is culture in its broadest sense.oday, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state divided, like Caesar’s Gaul,into partes tres. Its constitution recognizes three constituent peoplesplus “others” and privileges, as literary critics and social scientistswould say, the ormer over the latter. Te leaders, i not the members,o these three groups exhibit varying degrees o commitment to theircommon state. Te language many o these leaders employ in politicaland public debates has prompted constant demands rom the interna-tional community that they eschew “nationalist and divisive rhetoric”as well as attempts to challenge the authority o the High Represen-tative and the constitutional structures and procedures agreed atDayton. Many o these calls seem to have allen on dea ears, or suchrhetoric and such challenges continue to occur regularly.Americans believe by and large in “civic nationalism,” which holdsthat everyone who lives within the borders o a state is part o thenation, whatever their race, ethnicity, or religion. Americans alsobelieve by and large that Bosnia and Herzegovina should adoptsuch a orm o nationalism—a belie that is at the heart o theinternational intervention in the country. oo many Bosnian andHerzegovinians, by contrast, seem to preer another variety o nationalism, “ethnonationalism,” instead. Te basis o this kind o nationalism is the belie that to be a nation means to share acommon language, aith, and ancestry. With this comes theconviction that each nation ought to have its own state—a belie thatcontributed to the break-up o Yugoslavia.Benedict Anderson, the author o the infuential book,
Imagined Communities
, has argued that nationalism, like nationality itsel, is acultural artiact.Ernest Gellner, another infuential author on thesubject, has posited a specically Eastern or Balkan nationalism,in which the rapid transormation o a peasant culture into a literateculture laid the oundation or “ethnonationalism.Many contem-porary authors on nationalism, o which there seems to be no lack,contend that nationalism itsel arose in the 19th century—and inparticular that it sprang rom 19th century German romanticism.But it may be older than that. According to the British classicist SirMaurice Bowra, the Greek historian Herodotus once dened thecriteria or being a Greek as ollows: “common descent, language,religion, and culture.I you were to ask a Serb or a Croat or aBosniac in Bosnia and Herzegovina today what makes one a Serb ora Croat or a Bosniac, you would probably get a similar response.It is arguable that three o the our actors Herodotus mentions—descent, language, culture—are to a great extent common to thethree South Slavic constituent peoples o Bosnia and Herzegovina,though not many will admit this at the moment. But SamuelHuntington, in
Te Clash o Civilizations
, a book that has perhapsproved more controversial than the work quoted above, makes thisobservation, which applies very well to Bosnia and Herzegovina to-day: “People dene their identity by what they are not.He goes onto say: “People do not live by reason alone… In times o rapid socialchange established identities dissolve, the sel must be redened,and new identities created. For people acing the need to deter-mine Who am I? Where do I belong? religion provides compellinganswers… In this process, people rediscover or create new historicalidentities.” As i to prove his point, villages and towns in those partso Bosnia and Herzegovina with mixed ethnic populations have inrecent years sprouted large crosses in order to prove that they areCroat areas. Similarly, in the eastern part o the country brand newOrthodox churches abound. Sarajevo today has more mosquesthan ever—perhaps more than a hundred in a city whose popula-tion is now mainly, i still in many cases nominally, Muslim. Allthese serve as markers o identity and boundary. Where it oncehad only one, today, the country also has three ocial languages—Bosnian, Croatian, and Serbian. Tat they remain mutually intel-ligible makes them no less distinct in the minds o those who arguethat they are separate tongues spoken by distinctly dierent peoples.Te three constitutive peoples o Bosnia and Herzegovina are alsorediscovering or creating new historical identities. Because schools,newspapers, and television broadcasters divide along ethnic lines,the means to create these new historical identities are readily athand. Tis is not a new phenomenon, either. Beore the war,political leaders in Yugoslavia, seeking to bolster their power andincrease the territory under their control, used the mass media tospread ear and to call their people to arms. During the war, schoolsin Bosnia and Herzegovina began to split along national lines.
Policy Brie 
Schools and universities, arts and culture, and the mass media werethe very institutions that itoist Yugoslavia once used to create
brat-stvo i jedinstvo
—brotherhood and unity—and a sense o Yugoslavi-an identity. Andrew Baruch Wachtel, in his book 
 Making a Nation,Breaking a Nation
, discusses the our ways that the partisans o Yu-goslavia attempted to advance their idea o national unity: linguisticpolicy; the promulgation o a Yugoslav literary and artistic canon;educational policy, particularly relating to the teaching o literatureand history; and the production o new literary and artistic worksthat incorporated a Yugoslav point o view. Nationalist communi-ties in Bosnia-Herzegovina, having clearly learned the lessons o therecent past, are now employing these same means to advance theirparticular and narrower concept o “national” unity. In this way,they are doing their own version o nation-building, which is work-ing directly against the international community’s attempts to builda stable and cohesive state in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina.Culture, in other words, counts. In Bosnia and Herzegovina it is,in eect, counting backwards, working against attempts to build a“liberal democracy.As Christopher Coyne notes:“In his analysis o Central and Eastern Europe, the economistSvetozar Pejovich concluded that the transition romcommunism to capitalism is not merely a technical issue.In other words, the same expenditure o resources in dierenttransition eorts will yield dierent outcomes. Similar reasoningapplies to the case o reconstruction. Why is this the case? oborrow a phrase rom Pejovich, ‘It’s the culture, stupid.’...From this viewpoint, a society’s culture is the existing array o  values, customs, traditions, belie systems, and other morespassed rom one generation to the next. By this denition,culture is an ‘inormal institution,’ which means that it is notormally mandated but coexists with ormal institutions suchas constitutions and written laws… Culture constrains theactions o individuals and the various organizational orms thatindividuals can achieve within a given set o political institutions.In other words, the creation o a wide array o organizations—political groups (parties, councils, senates), economic bodies(amilies and rms), and social bodies (associations)—will beconstrained by the existing endowment o culture…Culture is perhaps the greatest constraint on reconstructioneorts… In other words, controllable variables matter, but only up to a point. Te same level o resources—monetary aid,troops, organization o elections, and so on—as was invested inWest Germany and Japan in 1945 will generate a drastically dierent outcome in Aghanistan and Iraq in 2005. Tis isdue to the act that these countries have dierent endowmentso culture—capital and knowledge that constrain theeectiveness o these resources.”Democracy is, as Coyne suggests, more than just a set o “ormalinstitutions”—elections and parliaments and government minis-tries. It also consists o the culture that inorms and guides theseinstitutions. Bosnia and Herzegovina has unortunately inheritedrom Yugoslavia the conviction, which is embedded in its con-stitution and its governing structures, that individual rights are aunction o “national” rights. Bosnia and Herzegovina is thus still aconstitutional republic composed o three constituent peoples ornations, where group rights take precedence over individual.Attempts to alter this through constitutional changes have notsucceeded. Te Dayton settlement, which reied i not ratied thenotion o territory as contiguous with ethnicity, along with postwarpopulation shis, have only strengthened this notion. Tis was,ironically, more or less the goal o those who prompted the war inthe rst place. Nevertheless, the process o ethnic homogenizationis not complete and may never be. Even i it is, within its inter-nationally-recognized borders Bosnia and Herzegovina will stillremain a multi-national and multi-conessional, though not really a“multicultural” state.Te key to building a Bosnian-Herzegovinian state whose politicsembody consensus, community, legitimacy, organization, eective-ness, and stability—a state, in other words, ready to join such bodiesas the European Union and to strengthen regional security—lies inchanging the way the people who inhabit the country think aboutthe country they inhabit. Te key, in other words, is to encouragea sense o “Bosnian” identity or at least a common commitment tomaking the country’s common institutions unction in everyone’sinterest. oday, this sense and this commitment is hard to nd.Susan Woodward has claimed that, just beore the war broke out:All the evidence suggested that there was majority support or aBosnian identity and survival, rom public opinion polls onthe constitutional debates up to 1990, the civic initiatives,editorial policy in leading mass media, intellectuals’ projects ora Bosnia based on individual citizenship and rights, and antiwarrallies in the all o 1991 and March-April 1992…”But she also notes that … in contrast to the other republics,Bosnia-Herzegovina had no political orce to represent the republicas a whole against outsiders or its idea o multicultural identity andcivilization, any more than Yugoslavia itsel had.Attempts to buildsuch a political orce, which normally go under the rubric o “civil
Wider Europe
Policy Brie 

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