As Paul Bremer and his
team of administrators are now learning in Iraq, building a
pluralistic democracy from scratch is a daunting proposition. It's
even more challenging when resources and patience are limited - and
ethnic and religious differences unlimited. In Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Paddy Ashdown, the international High Representative there, knows
this all too well.
By now, the Balkan state, long-aborning, should have had a single
customs service - along with one army and one intelligence service.
Instead, despite years of international unification efforts, there
are still two of each, one in the Sarajevo-headquartered
Muslim-Croat Federation, the other in the Republika Srpska, the
Bosnian Serb entity next door. The customs merger has been approved,
but foot-dragging by nationalist elements has prevented its
Meanwhile, long-discussed centralizations of military command and
spy services, crucial to reducing hostility and mistrust in this
fractured land, are still no more than topics of international
Hobbled by the Dayton Peace Accord of 1995, which confirmed the
existence of a country of Bosnia and Herzegovina but also allowed it
to be split into the two ethnic "entities," Mr. Ashdown is like a
conductor directing two competing orchestras at once.
An Englishman serving his second year as the fourth international
High Representative, Ashdown is under increasing pressure either to
show results or to give up, and let Bosnians (the common shorthand
for all residents of the state) fend for themselves.
Peacekeeping troop strength is down to 12,000 (1,800 of them
Americans, all National Guard) from a high of 60,000 after the war.
And having spent $17 billion here already, the international
community has been dramatically downscaling its physical presence
and cash outlays. The UN has largely withdrawn. Ashdown's own
mandate ends next May, and no one can say whether his stint will be
extended, or if another High Representative will replace him.
As crunch time approaches, a public debate has arisen over this
question: Can - or should - any foreigner try to 'make' a
The European Stability Initiative, an influential think tank
based in Germany, has called on Ashdown to head home soon, warning
that his authority "reinforces the passivity of Bosnian
politicians... Bosnia's governments will perform better ...once they
become clearly accountable not to you but to the elected
representatives of the Bosnian people."
But a wide range of observers agree that Bosnian elected
officials are hardly ready for prime time. "There's no link between
politicians and the electorate," says European Commission spokesman
Frane Maroevic. "They don't have to deliver any economic
Today's GDP is half that of 1991, and officially, unemployment is
at 40 percent. With government officials largely occupied with
political maneuvering and patronage, concrete change has largely
been the province of the legion of foreigners working for NGOs,
NATO-led peacekeeping forces, the European Union, and Ashdown's
Office of the High Representative (OHR).
A charismatic salesman, Ashdown peddles his plan for the coherent
structures and centralized institutions crucial to a functioning
market-based democracy with the slogan "Jobs and Justice." He's
pushed through a massive reevaluation of government staffers in an
effort to end endemic graft and patronage. He's backed a cleansing
of the judiciary in hopes of undergirding the rule of law. And he
convened a so-called Bulldozer Committee of businesspeople that
eliminated 50 key bureaucratic and legal obstructions to
transparency and initiative.
"Ashdown's greatest triumph is enlisting hope in the future,"
says Mark Wheeler, country director for the International Crisis
Group, a Brussels-based NGO. "People expect more of Paddy than of
their own political structures."
Small wonder. For a country of under 4 million, Bosnia has a
dizzying number of political parties and levels of government
bureaucracies, and a paucity of meaningful paths or options.
Doctors, teachers, even police, are on strike. Young people, sitting
dead-eyed in sidewalk cafes, dream of a future abroad. Ordinary
Bosnians say they see no improvement in their circumstances, though
domestic mafia figures seem to grow ever richer. Half of the
dispirited population didn't even vote in the last election.
That contest brought victory to an improbable alliance of
nationalist parties - the very Serb, Muslim, and Croat parties whose
extreme views ignited the war in the first place. Now each faction
fights for its share of the spoils. The ethnic Serb nationalist
party, the SDS, for example, has blocked the joint customs service,
which would have had the effect of clamping down on a black-market
economy said to be dominated by key SDS backers.
Most troublingly, nearly eight years after the end of a war
between ethnic Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims - in which a
quarter of a million died and millions more were displaced from
their homes - the core dispute remains unresolved.
"It's a ceasefire, nothing more," says one ordinary Bosnian.
"There won't be war, but there will be no real peace."
The fissure was confirmed in August, when a poll of Republika
Srpska residents found two-thirds amenable to the idea of ditching
Bosnia altogether to join neighboring Serbia and Montenegro - up
from one-third in a previous study.
Still, there are signs of progress here. Some nationalists have
proved surprisingly open to Ashdown's initiatives, acknowledging
that only by stabilizing the domestic situation can they gain
admission to the European Community and attendant economic benefits.
The massive foreign-funded rebuilding throughout the country is
cause for buoyed spirits. And Bosnia, a country with almost
universal literacy, is beginning to replace a generation of talented
young workers and intellectuals who died or fled.
To many, this is not yet the right moment for sink-or-swim. "We
think another couple of years of intrusive tutelage is necessary,"
says ICG's Wheeler. He pauses for just a second. "The dilemma is,
the deeper you get in, the harder it is to get out."