Bosnia Plan Inconsistent, But May Be Best Hope

February 07, 1993|By ROBERT M. HAYDEN

The plan for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina that Cyrus Vance has asked the United Nations Security Council to force upon the warring sides has been widely criticized. At first glace, it does seem to be inconsistent to the point of incoherence.

On the one hand, the plan is based on the vigorous assertion that Bosnia will continue to be one state, formed of three constituent peoples (ethnic Serbs, ethnic Croats and Bosnian Muslims); everyone condemns ethnic cleansing and says that all who have been displaced must be permitted to return home; and human rights and democracy are to be guaranteed for all. A constitutional framework for a decentralized state seems to provide mechanisms for achieving this happy result.

The map showing the borders of the provinces, however, tells a very different story. The map-makers worked hard to ensure that eight of the provinces have large majorities of one ethnic group. It divides existing "mixed" counties in such a way that the assumption must be that their segments will exchange populations, like India and Pakistan in 1947.

While the province of Sarajevo is declared to be multinational, it will have a great majority of Muslims. Indeed, out of all ten provinces, only one would not have a large majority, with a population (based on prewar figures) of 45 percent Croats, 41 percent Muslims, and 10 percent Serbs. To correct this lapse, the Croats and Muslims have been fighting since mid-January over control of that province, and the Croats have won.

The implications of the map are clear when one considers the political dynamics in Bosnia since 1990. In the free elections in that year, even within the framework of the former Yugoslavia, the winners were the three major ethnic parties, and the election returns resembled an ethnic census.

While the winners proclaimed their determination to work together in the republican government, a process of political ethnic cleansing was initiated in each county at once. In each of the counties in which one ethnic party had a majority, it immediately purged local government of all officials not members of the majority group. The minorities faced a bleak future of discrimination by the forces that really mattered for daily life: local government.

If elections are held in the new provinces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is a safe bet that the chauvinism of the majority ethnic group in each will win big. Local government will be of those people, by those people and for those people, and aimed against the minorities.

The constitution seems to provide safeguards against this, by building in "the highest levels of internationally recognized rights" and mechanisms such as courts and ombudsmen for protecting them. The legal protections would be supervised by non-Bosnians for the indefinite future, to avoid local bias.

Enforcement of these human rights is another matter, however; by the constitutional framework, the only uniformed police forces would be those of each province. No other police, military or paramilitary force will be permitted.

This local monopoly on force brings home the second feature of the constitutional framework: The central government, attended by many safeguards, will have virtually no power over domestic affairs. It will be given jurisdiction only over foreign policy, foreign trade, citizenship and "taxation for central government purposes." Monetary policy and infrastructural matters (e.g. the electric grid) will be controlled by non-government "independent bodies composed of representatives of all of the provinces."

While the first draft of the constitution, in October of last year, gave the central government authority over national defense and called for the creation of an army, the final version drops national defense and prohibits an army. Bosnia will be demilitarized.

Read together, the map and the constitutional framework reveal a Bosnia of independent provinces and a supposed central "government" with no governmental power at all. Although "Bosnia and Herzegovina" would continue to be recognized as a state and to sit in the United Nations, it would not be, itself, a real state, but rather a collection of unrecognized (but real) little states, each completely autonomous in internal affairs, each likely to become increasingly ethnically "pure." The roads linking them would be under international control to ensure free passage, more likely of goods than of people. However, no real links between the provinces are envisioned.

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