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Assuming Bosnia: Taking Polities Seriously in Ethnically Divided States

Deconstructing the Reconstruction: Human Rights and Rule of Law in Post-War Bosnia and Herzegovina, D. Haynes, ed., Ashgate 2008

46 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2006 Last revised: 12 Jun 2012

Timothy William Waters

Indiana University - Maurer School of Law; Max Planck Institute (International Law)

Date Written: June 11, 2012


This essay is a reflection on democracy, justice and intervention. It focuses on the Bosnian experience, and this requires one to consider several elements and actors: Bosnia as a state, Bosnians as a people or peoples, and the international community. For since Dayton, the indispensable context for reform in Bosnia has been the international protectorate, which is to say the deliberate abrogation of autonomous, democratic, domestic processes for some defined, and hopefully higher, set of purposes. These purposes are expressed in the Dayton Accords, though increasingly the structures of Dayton Bosnia itself are seen as a real obstacle to stabilization, efficiency and prosperity - to the dual values of integration and denying victory to genocide.

This essay examines the processes used by the international community to govern Bosnia since the war, the assumptions underlying that project of governance, and the consequences for the population. Those processes and assumptions suggest a policy premised upon resistance to the fragmentation of the state under any circumstances, and an abiding commitment to reducing the degree of separation among the populations within that state which the international community has willed into being. How necessary - indeed, how related at all - are those commitments to the dictates of justice? What is the relationship of such premises, which justify our intervention, to another set of commitments to democracy?

International commitment to Bosnia is intense, but not profound. It rests on a powerful emotional conviction - and a sense of guilt for what we failed to do - but a conviction whose connection to actual policy choices is essentially arbitrary. The international community's - and Bosnians' - desire for stability, prosperity and justice might be better served by allowing more meaningful debate about Bosnia's future, and our own commitment to democracy makes it essential that we let Bosnians decide.

The essay first describes the shape of the Bosnian polity and the role of the international community in shaping it; it then assesses core assumptions about the integrationist agenda of the international community's intervention, including the problematic tension between its concept of justice and democratic autonomy; finally it considers several potential objections to allowing more open democratic processes in Bosnia. This essay discusses Bosnia, but it has implications for re-conceptualizing claims about the democratic nature of states - and when it is right to intervene in them - much farther afield.

Keywords: democracy, self-determination, autonomy, intervention, justice, genocide, elections, ethnicity, ethnic conflict, war, protectorate, international community, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Balkans

JEL Classification: Z00, R23, R00, P50, P33, O52, N40, K40, K33, J70

Suggested Citation

Waters, Timothy William, Assuming Bosnia: Taking Polities Seriously in Ethnically Divided States (June 11, 2012). Deconstructing the Reconstruction: Human Rights and Rule of Law in Post-War Bosnia and Herzegovina, D. Haynes, ed., Ashgate 2008. Available at SSRN: or

Timothy William Waters (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Ave.
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

Max Planck Institute (International Law) ( email )

Im Neuenheimer Feld 535
69120 Heidelberg, 69120

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