What parliamentarians can do for peace and regional cooperation in the Balkans?


● Sarajevo School of Science and Technology


What parliamentarians can do for peace and regional cooperation in the Balkans?


It would be easy to send an appeal to all parliamentarians in the region to try to always be active in promotion of peace and regional cooperation. Most of them would certainly respond to such an appeal in a positive manner: after all, if nothing else, they have been given the mandate to maintain stability of their own countries, and long-term stability requires not only peace but also cooperation with neighbours.


However, even when we have a relatively long period of peace in the region, cooperation is still very poor and instability still dominates. So, what is it that parliamentarians can do about that? It may sound bizarre, but, paradoxically, they first have to be aware of what parliaments are. Once they recognize what actually makes parliaments so important, there will be no impediments for them to contribute to regional stability and cooperation. And then, there will be no reason for peace in the region to ever be put into question.


By definition, state’s parliament is its supreme lawmaking body. And, by definition, this is what makes it the point where state’s sovereignty resides. From the early modern theories by Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes to the present day, it is the capacity of making laws that has always been regarded as the distinctive and exclusive attribute of sovereignty, as much as sovereignty has always been regarded as the distinctive and exclusive attribute of the state. By definition, again, sovereignty is indivisible and non-transferable. And so is the power of making laws, so that the parliament cannot divide it and transfer it to any sub-state and sub-parliamentary bodies. Otherwise, the state ceases to be sovereign and inevitably falls apart. And, clearly, that causes instability and may even cause war.     


Yet, in Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Dayton Constitution sovereignty has been divided and transferred to the country’s three major ethnic groups. For that purpose, they have been renamed as “constituent peoples”, as if the state is constituted by them and as if it does not possess sovereignty of its own. Moreover, the state’s territory has been partitioned along the lines of the ethnic division, so that the ethnic groups can even claim their sovereignty over these territorial parts. The Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina also functions along these lines of divided and transferred sovereignty, so that the parliamentarians, who are constitutionally defined as representatives of these three ethnic groups and who have been grouped into the three sub-parliamentarian ethnic clubs, have been granted the sovereign power of blocking each other’s initiatives and the Parliament’s decisions.


Obviously, such constitutional arrangement has caused perpetual instability, having been a permanent threat to the state’s integrity and regional peace. Indeed, peace itself has been preserved only because the international peace agreement signed in Dayton stands as the arrangement’s protective framework. However, in the first place, this constitutional arrangement is conceptually unsustainable. For, sovereignty is the exclusive attribute of the state, and it can either be given back to the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, or these ethnic groups can form their own sovereign states. No middle solution can survive in the long-term and the parliamentarians have to become aware of it.


Also, the parliamentarians have to be aware that the right of making laws within a particular territory is exclusively derived from the assumption that the lawmakers represent all those who live in that territory. By definition, parliament possesses this sovereign legislative power over a given territory only because parliamentarians as a whole represent the territory’s population as a whole. If they no longer represent the population as a whole by not acting as a whole themselves, being divided into ethnic clubs and acting as representatives of their ethnic groups, they lose the right of making laws for the population as a whole in the territory as a whole. In other words, sovereignty as indivisible and non-transferable no longer resides in a parliament which is divided itself. So, if they renounce the state’s sovereignty by dividing it and transferring it to the sub-state bodies, such as ethnic groups, they renounce their own lawmaking capacity and cannot legitimately exercise their own legislative power. They lose legitimacy and they cease to be the parliament.  


Yet, such a misunderstanding of the very concept of sovereignty is not peculiar to the parliamentarians and other politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the neighbouring countries, Serbia and Croatia, the concept of ethnic sovereignty is also dominant in the local political discourse. This is evident in the frequent attempts by their leading politicians, including parliamentarians, to present themselves as sponsors and protectors of Bosnian Serbs and Croats, thus clearly violating the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the past, following such a concept, they sponsored the military efforts whose goal was creation of the so-called Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia, conceived as exclusive ethnic states that would presumably include all ethnic Serbs and all ethnic Croats. Nowadays, they officially claim to respect the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, their discrete sponsorship of the secessionist attempts by the Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat ethno-nationalists, and sometimes even their direct interference with the law-making processes taking place in the Parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina, demonstrates that they tend to project themselves as those who possess a natural right to encroach on the sovereignty and the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  And then, if they claim the right to represent parts of the population of Bosnia-Herzegovina, they lose legitimacy to represent the population of their own countries.


This logic led to the war in the 1990s. It will always lead to instability in the region, especially when combined with the long-lasting tendency among the politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina to misconceive the concept of its sovereignty as divided between, and transferred to, the country’s three major ethnic groups. Therefore, the first thing the parliamentarians in the region necessarily have to do if they are to promote peace and regional cooperation is to recognize and adopt the concept of sovereignty located exclusively in states’ parliaments, as it has been recognized and adopted in the rest of Europe. Only then will they be able to truly contribute to promotion of these two ideals.            


Ljubljana/Sarajevo, December 15, 2016                   

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