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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 January 2006, 03:56 GMT
Bosnia to build on Ashdown legacy
By Gabriel Partos
BBC South-East Europe analyst

Poster by  youth of the Social Democratic Party, Bosnia
See no evil: The SDP youth think Lord Ashdown has not done enough
The top international official in Bosnia and Hercegovina - UK politician Paddy Ashdown - leaves his post on Tuesday, after three and a half years steering that country through its post-war reconstruction.

Lord Ashdown is being replaced as UN High Representative by a former German government minister, Christian Schwarz-Schilling.

But what has Lord Ashdown achieved during his stint, and what are the key tasks facing his successor?

Lord Ashdown was the fourth and longest-serving of the High Representatives the international community has charged with overseeing the civilian aspects of Bosnia's post-war reconstruction since the Dayton peace accords were signed at the end of 1995.

That mission got off to an inauspicious start when former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt arrived in the war-torn country with only a handful of associates and a bundle of US dollars to establish an office.

It was not until 1997 that an international conference of the Bosnia Peace Implementation Council, meeting in Germany, conferred real authority - the so-called "Bonn powers" on the High Representative.

Tough talking

The Bonn powers made it possible for successive High Representatives to sack officials who were obstructing the peace implementation process.

They also gave the High Representatives the authority to impose legislation to help reintegrate two highly autonomous entities, the Bosnian Serb republic and the Federation which initially brought together mostly the Muslim and Croat communities.

So, by the time Lord Ashdown took over in 2002, Bosnia had already made considerable progress in a number of crucial areas, such as establishing the common symbols of the state and facilitating large numbers of refugee returns.

But in many ways the two entities were still behaving as semi-independent states.

You can't build loyalty, and you can't build identity... overnight
Paddy Ashdown

Lord Ashdown set as one of his key targets the strengthening of central institutions.

He has accomplished a great deal of that by frequently using robust methods, as allowed under the Bonn powers - including on one occasion sacking 60 Bosnian Serb officials on the grounds that they were part of a support network that was helping fugitive war crimes suspects evade justice.

"There are means within Dayton to change Dayton, and I've used those - some say too aggressively - in the last three and a half years," he said. "So it has allowed the beginnings of the building of the structures of a light-level state governing a decentralised country."

The achievements include strengthening the role of central government, including turning the previously frequently rotating post of prime minister into a stable job for the duration of the four-year electoral cycle.

While police forces remain, for the time being, divided along entity lines, specialist bodies such as the Border Police and the State Investigation and Protection Agency to deal with serious crimes have been set up on a unified basis.


From the beginning of this year, the two separate armies have been brought under a single civilian command. It's part of a process that should lead to the two armies' unification one day.

Bosnia's central government used to have barely any income. But that has changed with the unification of the previously separate taxation and customs systems. In addition, a single value added tax has been introduced to bring Bosnia in line with taxation practices within the European Union.

Christian Schwarz-Schilling
Christian Schwarz-Schilling still faces a full agenda ahead

Thanks to these and other reforms, which have helped turn Bosnia into a functioning, though by no means, successful state, Bosnia was given the go-ahead for starting talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU - the first step towards eventual EU membership. Substantive talks between the two sides finally opened last week.

However significant the progress made in reintegrating Bosnia, in many ways the results remain something of a formality. The unified institutions often lack the allegiance of people who continue to show greater loyalty to their entities or ethnic leaderships.

But Paddy Ashdown warns against impatience:

"You can't build loyalty, and you can't build identity - especially after a war of genocide and ethnic annihilation - overnight.

"This is a process, it's not an event. That's why making Bosnia functional is making sure that you do not have a state that spends 70% of a very poor country's income on governance and only 30% on the people.

"If you can turn that round then you can have decent health services, decent education services, decent pensions and that's how you build citizen loyalty to the state."


Ultimately, how the governments of Bosnia provide a better service is up to them, rather than to international officials, to decide. In any case, there are plans to reduce the role of the High Representative under Lord Ashdown's successor, Christian Schwarz-Schilling.

That would include the abolition of the Bonn powers - and, indeed, the replacement of the High Representative's post with that of the EU's Special Representative - perhaps around or just after Bosnia's next elections, due in October.

In the meantime Mr Schwarz-Schilling would probably like Bosnia's politicians to agree to constitutional changes that would streamline central government and replace the current three-member, ethnically-based presidency with a single president.

There is a busy agenda ahead for Mr Schwarz-Schilling.

And he will also want to avoid what Paddy Ashdown has described as his own biggest disappointment - that the two top war crimes suspects, former Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, are continuing to evade justice.

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