Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Democracy In Ruins

Comment: Bosnia is paying a heavy price for the West's backing of "democratic" nationalist politicians.
By Zlatko Dizdarevic

The international community has wasted five years and five billion dollars in Bosnia. They may have had good intentions, but they have little to show for their efforts.


The results are tragic. The nationalists, far from diminishing in influence as the international community would have liked, are stronger than ever.


In the recent general election, the war-time parties of the Bosnian Croats and Serbs won convincingly. Their Muslim counterparts did not do as well but still managed to cling on to power.


How is it that nationalists won when the international community spent so much money trying to bring moderates to power?


Was it because the West under-estimated Bosnia's problems or because the officials it sent to tackle them were incompetent?


I accept that we bear much responsibility for what has happened. After all, we fought the war. But the international community is resisting a serious discussion of its own mistakes.


Reasonable people in Bosnia believe the West's primary error was to push war-time crimes under the carpet. There was no "denazification" in Bosnia. The criminals and their accomplices were left in charge of the little states they fought to establish.


International funds earmarked for reconstruction and development ended up in the pockets of corrupt nationalist authorities.


The hundreds of thousands of foreign workers who descended on Bosnia in recent years believed, or wanted to believe, that they were dealing with legal administrations, democratically-elected representatives of the people.


No one stopped to have a serious discussion about the feasibility of building truly democratic institutions immediately after such a savage war.


Millions of dollars were spent on decorating the facades of government buildings so that foreign TV stations could show their viewers that the international community had transformed the war-torn country into a democratic state.


Bosnia's talented, educated and civic-orientated citizens were ignored by the international representatives who preferred to do business with so-called elected politicians, most of whom were extreme nationalists and corrupt businessmen.


The republic's intellectuals were invited to unofficial dinners in embassies, patted on the back and told that the international community was with them.


Western funds, meanwhile, continued to be misappropriated by Bosnia's "democratic" leaders and, it has to be said, some unscrupulous foreign workers. The latter leapt from one Balkan crisis to the next like circus acrobats, driven more by the prospect of huge salaries and perks than a desire to restore peace and stability to this long-suffering region.


In short, the entire Bosnian reconstruction effort was ill conceived. The tragedy is that many in the country were warning from the outset that this was the case. But Westerners chose not to believe them.


The mistakes made in Bosnia could now be repeated in Yugoslavia following the fall of Slobodan Milosevic's regime.


Milosevic may have been swept from power, but he continues to influence events in Belgrade - and looks likely to remain on the political scene for some time to come. Only last week he was re-elected leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia.


President Vojislav Kostunica appears reluctant to send him to the international war crimes court or to even prosecute him in Serbia for crimes against his own people.


At the same time, Milosevic loyalists are still in office despite public demands for them to be sacked.


The West, meanwhile, is falling over itself to back the Kostunica administration, despite its obvious shortcomings. International officials speak approvingly of his "democratic nationalism". Money is about to pour into the country and no one appears to have stopped to question whether the recipients of the funds will use them wisely.


What's clear is that post-revolutionary Serbia resembles post-conflict Bosnia in many respects. Members of the Milosevic regime are clinging to power in much the same way as the Bosnian warmongers. But will the international community learn from its mistakes. An old secondary school textbook says that "intelligence is the ability to learn from experience". We shall soon see whether the West has done so.


Zlatko Dizdarevic is a Sarajevo-based political commentator


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