A surprising agreement by the leaders of Bosnia’s three strongest Serb, Croat and Bosniak parties over a new territorial and constitutional setup has brought more confusion and confrontation to the country’s political landscape.
A joint statement by the three leaders â€“ Milorad Dodik from the Bosnian Serb Union of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, Sulejman Tihic from the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) Party of Democratic Action SDA and Dragan Covic from the Bosnian Croat Democratic Union, HDZ â€“offered few details, but said that the agreement envisages the country with three administrative levels and four regions.
The current setup, adopted at the end of Bosniaâ€™s 1992-95 war, has four administrative levels and two ethnically-based entities.
But only hours later, officials offered contradictory statements and precious few detail, and early reactions showed its implementation was far from certain.
On a Monday night live TV program, Tihic was attacked by his main opponent and leader of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic.
â€œThis agreement is about the division of the Federation,â€ Silajdzic yelled at Tihic during the talk show 60 Minutes.
â€œDo not yell at me, the time when you were able to yell at me has passed,â€ replied an irrate Tihic. He appeared so frustrated that he couldnâ€™t even wait for the end of the show and started opening a pack of cigarettes while cameras were still rolling.
Dodik, Tihic and Covic said they would work on the details of the agreement ahead of their next meeting, and indicated progress on other problematic issues, such as the division of state property and the legalization of Brcko district. Both issues are crucial for closure of the Office of the High Representative, OHR, and continuation of Bosniaâ€™s EU integration process.
Even with such scarce detail, this agreement appeared to represent almost a historic shift from the three men’s previous dug-in positions, and immediately raised questions and criticism from other politicians. The OHR refused to comment, saying it needed time to analyze the agreement.
The situation became even more confusing after Dodik and Tihic gave contradictory statements about the deal. Tihic said that the four new regions will be identified in line with economic criteria, while Dodik said that the Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska will continue to exist, implying that the other entity, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, would be split in three new regions.
The possibility of more administrative division of the Federation â€“ occasionally suggested by Bosnian Croat and Serb leaders â€“ has been for years strongly rejected by Silajdzic and many other Bosniak politicians.
Local leadersâ€™ failure to agree on a more efficient and less complex administrative setup doomed the latest attempt at constitutional reform in 2005, leading to increased political and ethnic tensions and the worst political crisis since the end of the war, in which the country still remains.
Dodik, Tihic and Covic started meeting again at the end of 2008, in what they said was an attempt to find a way out of the current political deadlock. Their previous framework agreements were criticised by most other political parties, and despite their relative strength, the three parties do not have majority in parliaments at the state level and in the Federation to unilaterally adopt their decisions.
The main opposition Social Democratic Party, SDP, whose support could provide the SDA, SNSD and HDZ with enough votes in the Parliaments, has repeatedly rejected the framework agreement as too vague.
SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdzija went even further on Monday evening and openly mocked the three national leaders. He said that their agreement was â€œan agreement for a new disagreementâ€ and that the three leaders â€œcould not even agree over what they have agreed upon.â€