18 August, 2009

The Mayor of Mostar

I have been reading a recent International Crisis Group report about the municipal politics of Mostar, the well-known town in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is very interesting, but I think I need to read more about recent developments in that former Yugoslavian country (fortunately the Crisis Group have another report on just that subject).

Mostar's politics seem to be ethnically based. At the moment, the city has a Croat majority, with a large minority of Bosnian Muslims (or Bosniaks, as people now seem to call them) and a teeny tiny minority of Serbs. The city has been without a mayor or budget since the last local elections in October 2008. The mayor is meant to be elected by the town council, but they have been unable to elect a candidate.

To become Mostar's mayor, a candidate needs the support of two-thirds of the council, something no candidate has been able to obtain. However, the voting rules also state that if two mayoral candidates are tied, then the younger candidate wins. As mayoral elections are done by role-call vote of the councillors, there have been all kinds of disputes over what order the councillors should vote in, as the supporters of the younger candidate could tip the election to him by engineering a tie.

These eccentric mayoral election procedures seem to have been bestowed on Mostar by the Office of the High Representative, the international body that ultimately rules Bosnia-Herzegovina. They strike me, though, as having more in common with a Reiner Knizia boardgame than with anything intended to balance democracy, protection for minorities, and the need to provide a functioning civic government.

above: Mostar's ironic bridge

* * *

More generally, I have been finding anger rising in my heart when I read about Bosnia-Herzegovina, both from details contained in the Crisis Group's report on Mostar and other recent news report's on events in eastern Bosnia during the country's civil war. Before the war, Mostar had a three-way split in its population, albeit with a strong plurality of Bosniaks. Now Croats form a substantial majority, largely by running Bosniaks out of town during the war and forcibly preventing their return thereafter.

Other news reports recently focussed on the reburial of victims of the Srebrenica massacre (in which Serbian forces killed some eight thousand Bosniak men and boys while UN forces stood around ineffectually). I was reminded of how eastern Bosnia was brutally purged of its local majority population, to the extent that it is now a somewhat desolate land of shame and half-remembered horror. Terrible things were done during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I know that some of the monsters who played a leading role in that conflict's horrors have found their way to the Hague, but it does seem like there has not really been a true reckoning or any serious effort to restore the rights of the victims.

image source

No comments: