posted by mh on 2007/08/01 00:13

[ Features ]

It has been a long time since any constructive suggestions have been made in order to resolve the impasse concerning “constitutional reform” (read: administrative structure) in the bi-entity country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. While Republika Srpska (RS) officials are currently (and repeatedly so) suggesting a federalization of the country into 2 or 3 ethnically defined units with greater autonomies and do not plan to yield any more powers to the (multi-ethnically governed) central state, an interesting suggestion has recently come from where one would have perhaps least expected. To see how this relates to the theme of this blog, read on by clicking on “more” below…
Foca (RS) is a small town of 12,000 (municipality: 25,000) in the east of Bosnia whose reputation had so far been that of an ethnically-cleansed Serb nationalist stronghold; a safe haven for war criminals, and a place which most international visitors had plainly described as “gloomy”. As a result of the 1992-1995 war it had also acquired the name Srbinje (perhaps best translated as "Serbville"), a renaming again reversed by the constitutional court in 2004. Now suddenly we receive news that the town’s demolished Ali Pasha Mosque has been rebuilt and re-opened for Foca’s shrunken Muslim community in an inauguration ceremony (see a clip from RTVFBiH) on which Foca’s mayor, Zdravko Krsmanovic, spoke of the importance reconciliation and tolerance for his commune. This in itself may be no real news. The difference: he seems to mean it.

Over the past years in office he has established a close relationship with the neighbouring municipality of Gorazde (see map of region), a Muslim-dominated town across the entity-border in the Federation BiH (FBiH), to which a large number of Foca’s pre-war Muslim population (then constituting a slight majority over the Serbs in both city and municipal area) had fled. It is on the local level, the 50-year old Krsmanovic believes, that such tensions can be best resolved.

What has recently brought him into the media, however, was his suggestion concerning the reform of the administrative structure of Bosnia. Unlike most RS politicians he suggests not a greater federalization of the ethnically-defined entities (something that, as observers believe, would be a step towards actual independence) but a “municipalization” giving greater autonomy to the municipalities while doing away with two levels of governance in Bosnia’s bloated bureaucratic apparatus which he believes to be unnecessary: the cantons/regions and the entity governments.

The current administrative structure consists of state level (“Council of Ministers), 2 entity (the Serb RS and the Muslim-Croat FBiH; each with a government of its own), 10 cantons (in the FBiH) and 7 regions in RS, and 142 municipalities (in both entities, 64 of which in RS). With these multiple levels of government weighing heavily on Bosnia’s transitioning economy, Krsmanovic finds this system “irrational, inefficient, and economically unsustainable”, and one can hardly disagree. Local government, he insists, is best suited to provide for the needs of its residents, the concerns of whom often go unheard on higher levels. His suggestion is so to reduce the number of Bosnian municipalities from 142 to 60-70. The municipal reforms in Macedonia in 2001, which had given the country’s ethnic Albanian’s greater political clout, he cites as a model.

Polls would suggest that these suggestions are actually in line with what most Bosnians think. According to these polls, it is the local level governance they trust most, but it also appears that the citizens have a greater appetite for radical change than their elected leaders - an intransparent caste of politicians which in such “municipalization” would of course lose its standing.

To more effectively address residents’ concerns, Krsmanovic continues, the municipalities must be given more freedom from political and fiscal intrusions and economic parasitism from other levels of government. Foca, he complains, had been exploited by the RS government who profited from its relatively rich natural resources, timber and hydroelectric power, but had not returned the revenues in the form of capital investment, whereby citizens have to cope with an inferior infrastructure.

For the local infrastructure Krsmanovic seems to have great plans, as we can read on his municipality’s website. He wants to position his town on future major roads Belgrade-Dubrovnik and Sarajevo-Podgorica, and re-establish Foca as the economic and cultural centre of the region. With American money he recently had the town's theatre (closed for more than 30 years) restored. Great potential for tourism he sees in the region’s natural sites (e.g. the Sutjeska National Park, with Bosnia’s highest peak at Maglic). Much of the town’s architectural treasures, including the famed Colored Mosque (1, 2, 3, 4 [pdf], 5 [mov] – a 16h century masterpiece of Ottoman art in the Balkans – are, unfortunately, not there anymore to attract visitors.

Main Source for this text: “Bosnia: Mayor With a Plan” (July 27, 2007) by Vanja Filipovic and Kurt Bassuener for Transitions Online.


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