Central Bosnia, Central Problems

With our local governance paper coming along and the daily edit, re-edit, merge, repeat cycle in full swing, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the actual structure of governance in Bosnia. The whole object of our project is to asses the impact of international aid on the local level, and it comes at a time when decentralization is still a hot topic in Bosnia. But, is the problem an even deeper, systemic one?

During the 1995 Dayton Peace Talks, getting agreement on anything was understandably difficult. The resulting Accords created a new Bosnia, nearly unrecognizable from its former self. (Or selves… Bosnia has been governed by almost every conceivable structure known to man.) The resulting government is convoluted and was designed to reach a nearly impossible compromise, but it has kept the country intact for the last 15 years.

Political power in Bosnia is divided into several sections. The national level represents the entire nation, and is led by three presidents: one Bosnjak, one Croat, and one Serb. Then, below that, the country is divided into two “entities“: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH or simply “The Federation”) and the Republika Srpska (RS). These have their own set of powers and assemblies. Then, below that, the FBiH boasts a structure of cantons. The local level, where our project is operating, is made up of municipalities. To make things even more complicated, on top of this entire structure, a high representative of the international community is endowed with near absolute political power; the OHR can mandate laws or remove troublesome political leaders.

This exotic and complicated political structure might keep the peace, but moving forward economically and politically has been a challenge. One potential solution has been devolving power to municipalities. Ideally, empowering local communities would mean depoliticized and ethnically-neutral deliveries of basic services and avenues for participation. However, especially in the Federation, the intermediary structures of power have been resistant to this kind of reform. Furthermore, the national and entity levels are still characterized by strong, ethnically-aligned political parties.

With targeted and effective international aid, Bosnia could potentially build its municipal capacity and strengthen its government and economy from the ground up. As we work with our case-study municipalities in Central Bosnia, we can only hope that our research will contribute to the greater dialogue of decentralization reform.