SARAJEVO – The international envoy tasked with overseeing a 1995 peace agreement for Bosnia has raised eyebrows with an angry outburst against the country’s political leaders in response to a journalist’s question about their failure to agree changes to voting laws.
Christian Schmidt, who took over a year ago as the international high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina, previously indicated he would consider imposing election law changes if Bosnia’s ethnic leaders continued failing in that task.
The threat prompted the political leaders of the country’s three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – to accuse Schmidt of planning changes that would undermine their constituencies.
A video showed Schmidt, a former agriculture minister of Germany, reacting furiously Wednesday to a reporter’s question about those accusations.
“Rubbish, full rubbish,” he shouted, adding that in his view the nationalist leaders of Bosnia’s three ethnic groups were playing “political games” at the expense of the population.
“People here, they deserve that the politicians whom they are electing are working and not just complaining. This is the key issue,” Schmidt said.
“I will not accept that in this country everybody makes only the blame game. No, sit, be constructive,” he added.
The U.S.-brokered Dayton Agreement that ended Bosnia’s brutal 1992-95 interethnic war gave broad powers to the high representative, including to impose laws and to dismiss officials and civil servants who undermine Bosnia's the fragile post-war ethnic balance.
Amending the country’s constitution and voting laws has been under discussion in Bosnia since 2009, when the European Court of Human Rights condemned the country for barring ethnic minorities from running for the highest offices in government. So far, no changes have been made.
The peace agreement established two separate governing entities in the country — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs and another one dominated by Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats.
The two entities are linked by joint institutions and all actions taken at a national level must be reached by consensus of the three ethnic groups.
Bosnia's constitution, which was part of the Dayton Agreement, and its electoral law currently state that only members of the three main ethnic groups are eligible to stand for election to either the shared presidency or the upper house of the central parliament. Members of ethnic minorities that have existed in the country for centuries can't run for those offices unless they identify with one of the main groups.
Instead of changing the law and the constitution, the nationalist leaders of the country’s main ethnic communities have been using the process to further stoke ethnic divisions, demand special protections for their peoples and blame each other of trying to disenfranchise members of other groups.
Follow all of AP's coverage of Bosnia at https://apnews.com/hub/bosnia-and-herzegovina