Debate over the future of the international governing body of Bosnia and Herzegovina has pitted Turkey against the European Union, which wants to close the Office of High Representative, or OHR, in the country.
Turkey, backed by the United States, argues that conditions have not yet matured enough to end the mission of the international institution responsible for overseeing the implementation of civilian aspects of the accord that ended the inter-ethnic war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "We are not categorically against the closure of the OHR. But we still have to wait for conditions to mature," a Turkish diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Friday. Turkey did not block the decision made in 2007 to close the OHR, but formally noted its reservations. "We said the decision should be reviewed according to the conditions in the country, as well as in the region," the official said.
The OHR was created under the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, usually referred to as the Dayton Peace Agreement, and signed in 1995, a pact that ended three years of bloodshed. The high representative is tasked with managing the process whereby Bosnia and Herzegovina evolves into a peaceful and viable democracy. The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body guiding the peace process, concluded that the OHR should aim to close by June 30, 2008, to be replaced by a European Union Special Representative, or an EUSR. Turkey and United States are both members of the Peace Implementation Council, made up of 55 countries and agencies that support the peace process.
"As long as the OHR exists, Bosnia cannot drive for EU membership," said Gerald Knaus, the chairman of the European Stability Initiative, or ESI, a Berlin-based think-tank working on issues in Southeastern Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus and those pertaining to the future of European enlargement. With the exception of Serbia and Bosnia, all Balkan nations have applied for EU membership. Serbia is expected to apply in the fall. "It is dangerous that Bosnia is stuck behind. It will give the wrong signal to the Bosnians," Knaus said. The EU believes the accession process will enable Bosnia to more quickly take full responsibility of its own affairs. Compared with its situation in the 1990s, Bosnia is far from normalization, said another European expert on the country. "There is serious political crisis. Policy making is deadlocked." Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state comprised of two entities, each with a high degree of autonomy: the Republika Srpska, or RS, inhabited by Serbs and the Federation between Bosnian Muslims and Croats.
"The society is deeply divided. There is not only inter-ethnic competition, but intra-ethnic competition as well," Knaus said. He said he believes that accession talks with the EU will encourage all ethnic groups in Bosnia to cooperate better.
The Turkish diplomat said: "The Europeans have a point in drawing attention to the negative consequences of Bosnia falling behind in the EU enlargement process." Bosnia represents a complicated situation for Ankara. On the one hand, Turkey believes that the EU accession process can provide a fast track to normalization but on the other many believe the risks are too high.
"What happens if the conflict starts again? We will be back to square one," said the Turkish diplomat. "This is a post-conflict country in transition. There is a risk of war erupting again. What would we do? The EUSR will have less authority than the OHR."
Although Knaus admitted to the existence of rumors that the war would erupt again, he believes they are just that - rumors. The last meeting of the directors of the steering board ended without a concrete decision on the timing of the OHR’s closure. "As long as we say no, the closure will not take place. Besides, we are supported by the United States," the Turkish diplomat said. Countered Knaus: "The U.S. does not understand how accession to the EU could strengthen the country’s statehood."