AIM: start

THU, 03 JAN 2002 17:16:17 GMT

Striving for Equality

AIM Banja Luka, December 26, 2001

Fierce debates have reached the final stage in Republika Srpska on equal representation of the constituent peoples in all government bodies, but a solution is not yet in sight. The RS constitution has to be adjusted to comply with a ruling of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of 2001, and the RS Assembly is supposed to decide the matter at a session scheduled for Dec. 21.

Representatives of Serb and Bosniak political parties in the Assembly's constitutional committee are still entrenched in their initial positions. The Serbs demand that the ethnic structure of the executive branch should reflect the ethnic structure of the assembly, whereas the Bosniaks say that it should correspond to the situation existing at the time of the 1991 census. The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia (OHR), apart from insisting that the deadline should be observed, also insists that the 1991 census should serve to determine the future ethnic structure of executive bodies. Obviously, the OHR believes that such a solution would encourage the return of refugees and neutralize the political consequences of ethnic cleansing.

All Serb parties are unanimous in rejecting this principle. Their joint argument is that anything else would mean ignoring election results and paralyze government. "This makes the multi-party system and voting look absurd," says RS Premier Mladen Ivanic. He claims that a cabinet created along such ethnic lines would be inefficient and could even cause it to be deadlocked. Not denying the need to have representatives of other ethnic groups at all levels of government, he says that should be done through elections. His key argument is the following: "If we stick solely to the principle of ethnic representation, that would take us back to the single-party era."

Politicians see the principle of ethnic equality as a return to the brotherhood and unity of the past, pursued by former Yugoslav president Tito, and the communist model of affirmative action. Constitutional law professor Radomir Lukic warns that the ethnic representation principle could lead Bosnia towards a deep political crisis and destabilization. "Multi-ethnicity ought to be supported and developed gradually, on the basis of election results and the ethnic makeup of the assembly," he says. University professor Predrag Radic shares this view. "If there are multi-party democratic elections, then those who win the most votes have the right to have the most representatives in government bodies," says Radic and warns that deviation from this principle would make elections senseless. A senior official of the Party of Independent Social Democrats and member of the constitutional committee, Krstan Simic, is against the principle of ethnic keys, calling it a danger to Bosnia's political stability and future. He favors a civil state, which he says is the only way to ensure the equality of all citizens. "We need a civil state based on the rule of law, and protection of human rights in line with standards valid throughout the civilized world," says Simic.

Bosniak political representatives in the RS Assembly claim that its makeup reflects the results of ethnic cleansing, and that it cannot be accepted as a basis as long as Annex 7 of the Dayton agreement is not fully implemented. They have urged the committee that the Constitutional and Supreme courts be formed on the principle of parity, the National Assembly on the basis of election results, and the executive branch on the principle of ethnic representation in line with the 1991 census results. RS Vice Premier and committee member Sulejman Tihic warned that insistence on preserving Republika Srpska in its present form could lead to its demise. According to the new equality model, Republika Srpska would have one president and two vice presidents that would rotate within a certain period. The same would go for the assembly speaker and the premier. Representatives of the same nation could not simultaneously hold key positions.

A day before the last session is held, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch is supposed to meet in Banjaluka with the Serb entity's political representatives in order to once again stress the importance of reaching an equal representation agreement. According to the latest information from the OHR, Petritsch will not force a decision. The high representative can use other measures at his disposal to deal with those who obstruct the process.

The problem is very serious, and the two sides' starting positions so distant that a resolution cannot be predicted at all. The negative attitude of the Serbs towards the ethnic key principle, dating from the socialist era, is quite understandable, as are the arguments of the other side. The Serbs believe a compromise is possible, but most analysts are convinced Bosniaks will not abandon their positions so easily. The only certainty is that Bosnia and Herzegovina is entering a stage of far-reaching constitutional reforms that will essentially transform its political and legal configuration.

Branko Peric