Recognizing Bosnia’s Constituent Ethnic Identities – Analysis


A solution for Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be found in the progressive development of an enlightened, conflict-transformative civic culture that recognizes the country’s constituent ethnic identities along the lines of the Dayton Constitution and treats them in a non-discriminatory fashion.

By Dražen Pehar

When one enjoys the privilege of conversing with intellectual opposition as represented by Mr. Mujanović, why should one need another war?

Productive participation in intellectual debate of any kind depends on one’s readiness to endorse a number of dialogical, epistemological and ethical rules, principles and values that guide our common discursive practice and that, if endorsed, demonstrate our ability to remain within and uphold discourse as a common institution which is a prerequisite to all others. However, I am sorry to say that Mujanović showed no such readiness; actually, nearly all his replies to my contribution to the TransConflict debate demonstrate that he does not hesitate at all to violate such rules and principles whenever he wrongly thinks that such a violation should support his case. So, I start with a number of observations concerning Mujanović’s ethics of reading, argumentation, and epistemology. Then I will quickly proceed to say a few words about his historical and political claims.

Ethics of reading, argumentation, and epistemology

Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mujanović is imputing: this means that he openly attributes to his interlocutor the claims that the latter has not proposed at all. I am not sure, and ultimately I do not care about the pattern of motivation that drives Mujanović’s ‘contributions’ to the debate: he may be a too quick, or too inattentive, reader, or he may be trying to misrepresent his interlocutor’s propositions in order to make his own ideas more likeable to the reader. For instance, he presents my claims as follows: “….Pehar’s rather bombastic (and unsupported) claim that BiH is once again on the brink of war….”, and “Pehar’s belief in such a claim likewise informs the thesis of his book on Alija Izetbegović…” He also refers to what he wishfully thinks to be my “pointed critique of the Dayton system and the international community’s continued (un)involvement in BiH….” Now, all Mujanović’s attributions are false and, perhaps more importantly, misleading to the reader. It is untrue that I posed the claim that Mujanović attributes to me; and the claim is not informing my book on Alija Izetbegović either. Also, in my book on Izetbegovic I have not substantiated the view that Izetbegovic was an Islamic fundamentalist, but that he was an ‘Islamic supremacist’, which is not the same thing at all, and which is not the key aspect of my argument either. The fact that Mujanović imputes such ideas to me should serve as a prior warning to the reader not to take his proposals, or historical and political claims, too seriously. Namely, imputation is definitely one of the most severe violations of the norms of discourse – it puts an advocate of a view, in this case me, in the position of having to respond to a challenge that is founded on misrepresentation of the view, while on his part the challenger, in this case Mr. Mujanović, shows utter disregard to the actual content of the view and therewith attempts to discourage the advocate from responding to the challenge. In this case his attempt is, of course, unsuccessful.

Mujanović shifts his own, and the reader’s, attention to the themes and issues that are not directly relevant to the topic of the debate: My contribution to the TransConflict debate was not about Alija Izetbegović in the sense in which I analyzed the political agent in my book; but suddenly Mujanović sensed the need to say something about the book (which is false), and to introduce into the debate something that belongs more to an historian’s work than to the realm of political or constitutional theory. I will say a few words about his historical claims in the next section; the reader should here take note only of the fact that, by having introduced such historical considerations, Mujanović has watered down the discussion and tried to convince the reader by an ad hominem kind of argument (which is a logical fallacy): “I (Mujanović) am on the side of those innocent victims of the Bosnian war, hence I am decent, progressive…hence, my argument is valid.”

Mujanović is not engaged with the interlocutor’s argument: My contribution to the debate was primarily about the Dayton Constitution, the conflict of interpretations that ensued, and about the role of ‘international community’; it was not about any kind of discursive practice, as Mujanović seems to have concluded, but about a responsible discursive engagement within the confines of a legitimate debate in which all participants attempt to make their own contributions in accordance with the rules of civilized discourse – for instance, ‘when one claims something, one should provide an argument of inductive, deductive, or abductive kind,’ or ‘when your interlocutor claims something, make sure you understand the key points of the claim,’ and similar. Very basic stuff. However, Mujanović has simply passed over the key steps of my argument in silence. This makes me wonder. Is Mujanović able to formulate a political theory-informed opinion about the status of the High Representative in the country for which he, I mean Mujanović, has tried to do so much?

Mujanović does not care at all about persuasiveness, or logical-epistemological soundness, of his own contribution to discourse-debate: In response to my claim that the BiH citizens have in many ways legalized and legitimized the Dayton Constitution, he makes a number of heavy-handed and unreflective remarks; the remarks are of such a low epistemological-logical quality that I would strongly suggest to Mujanović to enroll into a very basic introductory course of logic (or first order logic, as it is nowadays called) before he submits his PhD thesis. He tried to persuade the reader by an analogy of “the ‘impromptu public grievances’ after the death of Kim Jong-il…” However, the analogy does not hold; it is irrelevant and focused on a wrong kind of problem. Simply speaking, the citizens going to election polls in any country (electing their representatives to the offices as outlined by a constitution), on the one hand, and the citizens expressing publicly a kind of emotion directed at their – loved or hated – leaders, on the other, are two distinct categories. The claims concerning the latter should not be directly, without a further logical-epistemological elaboration, transferred to the former. Mujanović’s analogy is therefore flawed and makes no sense – it suggests either that the BiH electorate elects ‘Kim Jong-ils’ (?!) or that it is insincere vis-à-vis specific party representatives-candidates when filling the ballot, which has no bearing at all on my claim concerning the wide-spread legalization of the Dayton Constitution. Anyway, here is, for Mujanović, a good introductory book with an instructive chapter on analogies.

Note also that Mujanović uses an elementary version of statistics (‘the voter turnout barely surpassing the 50% mark’) as inductive evidence in support of his thesis that the BiH citizens are increasingly dissatisfied with their political representation. But then the statistics must also surely mean that more than 50% of the BiH voter population is actually satisfied with the current situation or with their current political representation? This suggestion is flawed – people go to election polls for various reasons – some of them to preserve the status quo and express their satisfaction, some to signal dissatisfaction and to try to change something, some of them actually make-up their mind only at the polls, etc. In other words, a relatively low, and also a high voter turnout may indicate all kinds of things; to draw from it the conclusion that Mujanović draws is simply a very bad application of logic, a pattern of reasoning that should be used only as an example of sophistry or logical fallacies.

Finally, Mujanović claims the following: “My sense of the reaction to my work so far has been that the only people really complaining are foreign administrators and local apparatchiks who either stand to personally profit from the continued polarization and division of political life in BiH, or of the foaming-at-the-mouth, rabid-chauvinist sort.” Now, as I am definitely not a foreign administrator, this means that I am a local apparatchik. To which I should add that Mujanović’s attribution of ‘evil character’ to his intellectual opponents will ultimately lead to disengagement of all of them, which is probably the worst case scenario for any scholar.

Historical claims

Epistemological and discursive errors similar to those that permeate Mujanović’s discourse on my own discourse are an important part of his historical narrative, his discourse on the past discourses and agency of the others.

As already mentioned, he unashamedly distorts the key argument of my book on Izetbegović. In the book I presented an argument in support of the thesis that Izetbegović was co-responsible, or equally responsible, for the outbreak of the war in BiH. I presented and substantiated the thesis of Izetbegović’s equal responsibility in a very precise sense, which Mujanović has failed to address and of which I kindly ask the readers to inform themselves by reading the book. Now, instead of an historical, documented argument, Mujanović simply claims – and wants his claim to be taken at its face value – that Milošević was the villain who destroyed Yugoslavia; hence he must have been the villain who came close to destroying BiH too. But, again, Mujanović simply does not reach my argument – I do not care about Milošević – I claim that Izetbegović was equally responsible, not that Izetbegović was responsible and Milošević (or Tudjman) was not. Of course, my thesis of ‘equal responsibility’ is irreconcilable with another claim that Mujanović makes, again without any substantive evidence in support of it:

Izetbegović was, according to Mujanović, simply a reactive politician; he was, to put it so, forced into the war. This is historical inaccuracy. In late 1990 Izetbegović started threatening with the possibility of war (see his interview to A. Tijanić, Oslobođenje daily, 28 Sept 1990). More importantly, he started publicly expressing the view that the Moslem people of BiH are a guarantor of BiH, and that the other two constituent peoples of BiH (Croats and Serbs) are in possession of so-called ‘reserve countries,’ which for him conveniently implied that the BiH Moslems should enjoy a special, comparatively higher status in their only country (see his interview to M. Lučić, Borba daily, 13 Nov 1990). His view represented a flagrant violation of the BiH constitution that was then in force because, under the constitution, the three peoples were treated as equal in their status of the constituent peoples to BiH. In other words, Izetbegović openly contradicted the constitutional consensus as early as late 1990, and thereby started sowing the seeds of armed conflict. But, this is just one among many historically well documented examples on which I draw in my book.

Mujanović’s historical inaccuracies serve several purposes; one is to hide the fact that the war in BiH was an effect of the conflict of political ideas and projects. The war was not about the bad guys and good guys, or about villains and victims, or about civilization/multi-ethnicity and barbarism/mono-ethnicity. The war was about opposed political projects concerning the political-constitutional make-up of a post-Yugoslav BiH and the fact, that the war ended by an agreement that transformed the internal political structure of BiH in the way it did, proves my point to a sufficient degree. I know that Mujanović will scream here ‘genocide!’, and that his image of a small but brave David defending himself against two evil neighbor-Goliaths may be too deeply carved, but I am writing this for the reader, not for Mujanović.

I will just remind both Mujanović and the reader of Ambassador Holbrooke’s memoirs from Dayton in which he complained about negotiating behavior of the Bosniak-Moslem delegation who, as Holbrooke found out to his astonishment, seemed to have come to Dayton without a coherent negotiating position. In other words, Izetbegović’s ‘guys’ seemed not to have had a clear idea about the political goals they intended to achieve through the armed struggle in which they were fully involved and which brought about enormous human sacrifice. In fact this was a deception – the Bosniak-Moslem leader had a clear view of his own goals, but as the goals were set maximally, he spoke of them only on rare occasions. The following are Izetbegović’s words at the BiH Presidency session held on 28 January 1994:

“We [Bosniak-Moslem representatives-leaders] have been voicing different perspectives. Some objections come to me from abroad – tell us, Bosnians, what do you want? Tell us, we need to know. One of us claims one thing, another claims another, the third a third, and the foreign secretary claims a fourth thing. Those gents abroad do not know what we want. Now, watch out, what do we want? Something is missing in this formula – our views do indeed vary. Do you know why? That depends on our possession of weaponry, or our lack of weaponry. If we possess weaponry, the whole of Bosnia is a result. If we totally lack weaponry, then we have to accept something else.”

In other words, Izetbegović had no problems with the notion of BiH whose constitution is fully and exclusively dictated by the preferences of a single ethnic group, with ethnic cleansing, or subjugation, of both Serbs and Croats as a highly likely side-effect of such a policy.

Implicit historical claims are also an important part of Mujanović’s proposal of ‘the BiH civic constituent assemblies.’ The reader must have noticed that Mujanović believes that the BiH government is bad, whereas the BiH citizens are good. At least to me it seems that Mujanović suggests that the good BiH citizens have been constantly misled by the bad BiH politicians – hence, we need to address the citizens themselves directly, without involvement of those bad “nationalist klepto-crats” as Mujanović names them. Now, this is really a tricky issue. Because I think that Mujanović’s words are simply demagoguery. I would not dare to qualify the citizens of a country in the way he does. In a political sense, I do not think of them highly and I do not think of them lowly. They elect their own representatives freely, according to their own conscience, preferences, and well- or ill-informed opinion. But these are the facts: in 1990, the nationalist parties won by landslide the first free elections held in BiH; in 1996, following a bloody war, again nationalist parties win by landslide. In 2010 among Bosnian Croats and Serbs, again nationalist parties win; while among the Bosniak-Moslem population, the Social-Democratic (but predominantly monoethnic, Bosniak-Moslem) Party receives a relatively higher ratio of Bosniak vote. With marginal exceptions, BiH citizens support ‘nationalist’ or, to put it more precisely, their own ethnic constituency oriented parties.

Now, what is the key point and purpose of Mujanović’s historical fabrications? (I found one also in Elena Cirkovic’s paper: she claims that the Dayton Constitution is “an example of the elimination of an identity, and the creation of new ones or the recognition of only select identities.” This is entirely misleading – BiH has been defined primarily as a home to its three constituent peoples, its ‘local ethnic identities’, at least since the time of ZAVNOBiH, i.e. World War Two). To put it concisely, their purpose is to try to achieve, or call for, a radical destabilization and possibly disintegration of the Dayton structure for BiH. Revolutionaries do not write morally and epistemologically responsible, well-documented histories, they use history as a political weapon. To illuminate the politics that misrepresents itself as ‘the embrace of the ideal of difference’ I proceed now to the final section.

Political claims

Mujanović claims that he is not some sort of secret SDA cadre. For the debate, this is irrelevant. However, what is relevant for the debate is the fact that he has very clearly positioned himself within the landscape of Bosnian political theory and practice. For those of us who follow the developments within the landscape, it is not difficult at all to demonstrate that he belongs to the camp of Bosniak-Moslem revolutionaries who cultivate a peculiar attitude to the Dayton structure of BiH. Their attitude is defined by the following premises:

  1. The Dayton Constitution (DC) is fundamentally flawed – it rests on ‘ethnic principles’ and embodies a contract with the devil, or the fall into barbarism.
  2. The DC ought to be not amended or revised, but dismantled and replaced with a totally different structure as soon as possible.
  3. Those who are opposed to the idea are simply ignorant or evil – they serve either the butchers like Tudjman, Karadžić, Milošević…, or the foreign conspirators who aim to profit from continued polarization of the Bosnian politics.

The camp has its prominent members, around twenty public intellectuals with high-rank academic positions, and is located almost exclusively in Sarajevo – politically, it is a mouthpiece of the leaders of Bosnian Moslem-based ‘Unitarianism,’ Alija Izetbegović and Haris Silajdžić; the latter calling, throughout the post-Dayton period of his political career, for disintegration of the Dayton structure through the process of disempowering of the entities, the Bosnian federal units. Their ideas are to a large extent driven by a particular emotive condition – a feeling that Bosnian Serbs, and to a much lesser extent Croats, have won only a first part of the war (the cognitive part of the feeling is, of course, non-sense), and that now the ‘victory’ should be annulled or made irrelevant by repetitive expressing of the erroneous claim that the present constitutional make-up of BiH is so flawed that a normal human being could not endure it.

The camp’s core includes the following political and legal theorists and historians: Omer Ibrahimagić, Esad Zgodić, Asim Mujkić, Nerzuk Ćurak, Edin Šarčević (who has been propagating ‘Mujanović’s’ ideas over the last three years in Sarajevo, with a generous support by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung but with no tangible effect), and Tarik Haverić. Here I cannot discuss the more specific views of them all, but I responsibly claim that the foundations of their views, or arguments they present, are so frail that their political motivation is actually the only interesting part of the story. For instance, Asim Mujkić (to whom Elena Cirkovic refers as an academic authority) claims that the identities of ‘Bosnian Serbs’ and ‘Bosnian Croats’ are a product of ‘essentialist illusion’ (‘essentialism’ is a metaphysical view committed to the principle that the items, things, processes….in both social and natural world have some essential marks of features), but then he happily proceeds to treat ‘Bosnian-Herzegovinian’ identity as something that is not a part of ‘essentialist illusion.’ Interestingly, he does not argue more than that – a preposterous metaphysics and a preposterous argument. The camp members do not have only a problem with Bosnian ethnic identities, but with ‘Herzegovinian’ part of the Bosnian identity too. This, in their view, introduces a kind of undesired multiplicity within the Bosnian identity – Ibrahimagić, for instance, claims that the attribute ‘Herzegovinian’ is a historical error committed by Austro-Hungarian and/or Ottoman Empire in the second half of the 19th century.

Contrary to the camp’s school of thought, over the last fourteen years I have been advocating the following set of claims:

  1. The DC, and the Dayton Framework for Peace, is a compromise.
  2. DC contains both ethnic-identity-related and civic-integrative elements; those who claim otherwise have not read, or understood, the document.
  3. The ethnic-identity-related elements are there for a sound reason: they should ensure ethnic non-discrimination; the only way to ensure such non-discrimination is to refer to actual ethnic categories as are considered relevant by the BiH peoples.
  4. There is nothing in ethnic identities as such that makes them an enemy of civilization or democracy or a constitution…. One can be both a Croat and a cosmopolitan, or a Croat and a fascist. As Amartya Sen in his Identity and Violence: the Illusion of Destiny plausibly emphasized, human beings are made of clusters of collective identities, and the causes of the political problems that are from time-to-time generated by such identities cannot be reduced to a single identity as the only culprit. Also, it is up to individual human beings to bring some order into the cluster of identities through argument, well-informed reasoning and reasoned debate. In other words, there is no fundamental incompatibility between ‘a self-identifying Bosnian Serb from Republika Srpska who can defend his vital national interest’, on the one hand, and ‘a good BiH citizen who can identify and actively promote the cause of common good for all BiH peoples and citizens’ on the other.
  5. Hence, political culture is the only factor that is capable of upholding the DC structure. This also directly implies that there are no institutional solutions to the problems of Bosnian politics. A solution is to be found in a progressive development of an enlightened, conflict-transformative civic culture that recognizes Bosnian constituent ethnic identities along the lines of the DC, treats them in a non-discriminatory fashion, and solves the problems through communication and argumentation on a case by case- basis through a reasoned debate. But this applies to all other countries in the world too.
  6. A part of the international community and a part of Bosnian political-intellectual elite, especially among the Bosniak-Moslem population, are opposed to the previous five points, which is likely to produce bad effects on the process of implementation of the Dayton agreements in the long term. Expectedly ‘Santa Claus,’ the state of emergency and the state of political war are key realities of today’s Bosnian politics.

Now, why do I claim that Mujanović has positioned himself firmly within the Sarajevo camp of political comradeship as characterized and criticized above? I will give you two quotes from his reply to my paper:

“My personal preference would be for a two-thirds standard for implementing any future constitutional reforms (by which I mean, two-thirds of the population, rather than two-thirds of the three “constitutive” peoples for all the reasons I have previously outlined).”

Mujanović here simply repeats Izetbegović’s active policy prior to Bosnian 1992 referendum for independence. The policy brought catastrophic results, fully alienated the Bosnian Serbs because it deliberately failed to include and address the ethnic principle properly, and it ended with an anti-constitutional declaration of independence as the required two-thirds majority was not reached.

And another quote:

“I would prefer that vacuous “ethnic” principles be scrapped as political ideals in BiH. Not because I am secretly agitating for “Muslim domination,” but because I consider the very concept offensive and racist. I should like nothing more than if every significant government post in the whole of BiH were occupied by a self-identifying Serb, provided they were actually qualified for the position and pursued responsible, responsive, and democratic policies, which reflected the interests of all the citizens of BiH. Nor do I have any issue whatsoever with people identifying any way they would like, provided this identification does not result in or is premised on the discrimination of any other individuals.”

In other words, Mujanović finds ‘racism’ (which I thought refers to inter-racial relations!) in ‘ethnic principles’ of the Dayton, and the only self-identifying Serb that might be to his liking is, first, one whose ethnic identity is politically irrelevant and, second, one who must be very careful not to provoke by his self-identification as such an irrational feeling of discrimination on the part of other individuals. Contrary to Mujanović, I do not think that an ethnic self-identification as such may be premised on discrimination – discrimination is taking place between identities or against them, hence, you have to have a relationship between some identities, or self-identifications, already in place.

This has two important implications with which I bring this reply to a close. First, I see no trace of ‘the embrace of the ideal of difference’ in Mujanović’s musings. For Mujanović, a ‘good’ Serb is one who, in a political sense, does not care about his own ethnic interest or identity. Hence, what we find in Mujanović is, strictly speaking, ‘the ideal of politically tailored, politically irrelevant, and politically illusory difference.’ Secondly, as I already implied in my previous contribution but now claim very straightforwardly: Mujanović simply emulates Izetbegović’s policy – prior to the declaration of independence and the outbreak of the Bosnian war, Alija Izetbegović, with no shame or regret indicated in the aftermath to the war, did his best to persuade the representatives of the Serb people that he was ready to treat the people in the new state as individual citizens, but not as a collective identity and a constituent people with their own constitutional – both ethnic and political – rights (for more detail see my book on Izetbegović, chapters 2 and 3). Sadly, in some minds nothing changed since 1992.

Dražen Pehar has a PhD in politics and international relations from Keele University (SPIRE 2006), holds an assistant professorship (BiH) in the philosophy of law and in politics with sociology. Dražen is a DiploFoundation Associate, and previously served as Chief of Staff to the BiH Federation President (1996) and as a media analyst to the OHR (1999/2000).


TransConflict was established in response to the challenges facing intra- and inter-ethnic relations in the Western Balkans. It is TransConflict’s assertion that the successful transformation of conflict requires a multi-dimensional approach that engages with and aims at transforming the very interests, relationships, discourses and structures that underpin and fuel outbreaks of low- and high-intensity violence.

One thought on “Recognizing Bosnia’s Constituent Ethnic Identities – Analysis

  • August 16, 2012 at 9:48 am

    The logician at work- it’s like being transported to one of Ionesco’s plays. Ethnic politics a desirable thing, true works for Fiji and Saudi Arabia. Thank god you don’t have to live in a multi ethic democracy like the UK. Ah sorry you do- how do you cope?


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