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Political development of Bosnia and Herzegovina after 1995: the establishment and functioning of "controlled" democracy

by Victor Bojkov

The subject matter of this paper is the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina - an ex-Yugoslav republic that was torn among its pro- and anti-independence citizens in the early 1990s, went through a devastating armed conflict that further distanced its mixed population and emerged in 1995 as a reconstructed federal polity with numerous political, social and economic difficulties to be overcome. According to Rogan, Bosnia and Herzegovina faced a triple transition from ethnic warfare to multiethnic peace, from socialism to democratization and from planned economy to market-oriented capitalism (2000: 183). All of his suggestions beg further exploration, especially the last one, bearing in mind the economic system in Yugoslavia during communism was employing the model of self-management, rather than central planning as in other communist states. Inevitably, however, these parallel processes influenced each other, the first logically taking over as the unquestioned priority and primary necessity. A fourth very important parallel process is that of reconstructing coexistence in another territorial dimension. The view is not uncommon that Bosnia and Herzegovina after 1995 is a miniature version of formed Yugoslavia in the days of its inception and existence in the sense that it combines multiple levels of governance in a polity composed of different ethnic and religious groups. Indeed in 2002, Bosnia and Herzegovina is a new state, with a very short experience in statehood and political independence. And a unique kind of independence at that. The struggle whether to remain or not under the umbrella of Yugoslavia is now replaced by the intricate and often unreadable struggle for more domestic responsibility and power in policy decision-making. The present work makes the case that the current political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina is ‘controlled democracy’ and assesses how it has been functioning so far and whether this has been conducive to consolidating the democratic enterprise throughout the polity. It is structured in three parts starting with a general theoretical discussion on democracy and two interrelated debates on its essence. The theoretical concept of controlled democracy and its elements is consequently placed within this wider framework as belonging simultaneously to one end of two sets of poles. The second part presents the post-1995 political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It makes reference to the state of affairs in the early 1990s in order to discern political continuity and rupture and to provide explanatory background for its further political development. The argument the paper advances is that the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina can reasonably be labeled as controlled democracy. In the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina the nondemocratic element of the regime is the more powerful one backed up by a commendable pool of international actors whose primary aim to date appears to be to keep the country together at all costs. Apparently objectives are prioritisied, which makes it important to reveal their interplay and assess whether the result is conducive or not to firmly embedding democracy as the only viable option of political organisation.

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