Sarajevo Canton amends its constitution

On the 5th of September I have attacked the EU Delegation to BiH’s position towards the lack of commitment by BiH politicians in implementing ECRH rule over the famous Finci-Sejdic case.

Apparently, I have committed a mistake, though.
Unfortunately this does not involves the EU Delegation, which harsh position towards BiH politicians is still very hard, and will not lead to any amelioration in the political life in the country.

I wrongly believed that no BiH government would have been able to independently modify its constitution, aligning the document to the ECHR ruling previously mentioned. Apparently, the Sarajevo Canton managed to accomplish such unmistakably historic deed.

I will try to acquire a translation of the document and than provide you, my dear readers, a socio-political commentary on it. It is however undoubtably remarkable that BiH politics shows some signs of life. 

I sincerely hope that this event won’t remain an isolated case.

Nurse, pass me the scalpel! Gotta amend my constitution!

Today, on the most relevant Balkanologists websites, you will find news regarding the last attempt of Bosnian government to sabotage itself. Most probably, today you’ll also read the word “Dayton” many, many times. We are of course talking about BiH incapability to amend its constitution so to comply with ECHR sentence on the Finci-Sejdic case.

I have always criticised the Dayton Agreement, I actually despise it so much I have once organised a conference in my university trying to make people understand how stupid, colonialist and inconvenient the treaty is. I have took BiH side in many discussions, claiming that the wounds opened by 91-95 war cannot be closed by a protectorate.

Well, I am taking Bosnian side again, today. SETimes reports that Andy McGuffie, spokesperson of the EU Delegation to BiH and EU Special Representative, lately declared: “All political leaders and representatives of BiH agreed on June 27th in Brussels on these tasks and corresponding timelines. […] It is entirely the responsibility of BiH leaders to make progress on the commitments undertaken.” Consequently, The Bridge Blog reports Mr. Florindi raising its eyebrows to an unprecedented inclination, shouting in the emptiness of his office: “I beg your pardon?!”.

It is clear that the EU Delegation to BiH does not hire historians. But honestly I find very disturbing that an EU official deployed “on the ground” manages to grasps the unmistakable incompetence of BiH leaders, but fails to understand the objective responsibilities of the international community on this matter.

Asking rotten BiH politicians to amend BiH constitution is like asking a wasted drunk patient to practice a self-surgery with a crowbar, in order to remove a previously transplanted, malfunctioning, rejected organ made of garbage.

In this rare photo, we can recognise Milorad Dodik practicing a complicated self-surgery to remove the Dayton Agreement from his entrails. Will the experiment work?

The bridge of contention

Courtesy of Al Jazeera Balkans

When I decide to start this blog and recalling the famous Andrić’s quote on bridges, I surely didn’t have in mind the monstrous Croatian project to connect its two mainland parts.

I am talking about a well known issue to Balkanologists, which has been recently brought up to the major media by SETimes.

The project of the bridge

What is the role of the EU in this inter-States issue?
As we all know, Croatia is about to become the 28th EU Member State, further expanding the borders of the Union, actually taking Slovenia’s place as the last EU “stronghold” before “No man’s land”.
As reported by SETimes, Croatia is willing to use the cohesion fund to finance a project which might hamper Bosnia and Hercegovina rightful access to the sea. It is my belief that the creation of a bridge to physically (and politically) “skip” BiH would not help neither Bosnia, nor Croatia and especially will harm the reconciliation process in the area. And lurch EU’s reputation in BiH (if needed…).

First of all, the United Nations Convention on the law of the see (Montego Bay)  apparently does not provide any lawful ground for an arbitrated settlement of the dispute. The territorial sea of BiH is entirely encircled by the internal sea of Croatia, thus creating an unprecedented case. Furthermore, as immediately noted down by Mladen Klemencic “Bosnia-Hercegovina does not have any port facilities on its strip of coast, all transportation will be directed to the nearest Croatian port of Ploce”. As we know, there is no theoretical right of peaceful passage in internal waters, unless bilater/multilateral agreements among States regulate such manner. However, since the project forecasts the construction of a bridge over the sea strip right in front of Bosnian territorial sea, it might be argued that the project would harm BiH rights to access high sea. Apart from fascinating legal theoretical rumination, it is clear that the only long term solution shall be based on a political, negotial agreement.

And here it comes the role of the EU.

Although BiH’s chances to join the Union in the medium term are proximal to 0%, in the unfortunate case the EU shall sponsor the bridge project, it will clearly further undermine its image, presenting a picture of EU as a “big brother”, willing to support who’s joining the club at the expenses of other, weaker States. Fortunately, it seems that DG REGIO Commissioner Hahn did not discuss any EU’s participation in the creation of the bridge. For now.

Even if the Commission will maintain a distant position from the project, it is clear that Croatia will do everything in its power to implement the infrastructure. It is necessary to find a more sustainable solution to the issue, bearing in mind the regional cooperation. I have passed through Neum more than once. Any traveller willing to reach Montenegro or Dubrovnik from Trieste will experience the unfortunate misadventure of crossing far too many borders. My love and passion for the Balkans, paired with a couple of coffees and the usual “traveling coma” typical of any Balkan busses customer, helped me sustaining the consequences of this ridiculous case of international law of the sea.

How to solve this issue? In my opinion the best solution would be an extraterritorial highway through Neum. Nothing new under the sun: extraterritorialities are common instruments in the hand of wise politicians to connect States. Given the lack of know how and the difficulties in finding resources from the Bosnian side, both States might find this solution profitable from the purely economic perspective. In fact, the construction of a high way shall result cheaper than then bridge, allowing travelers to shorten their trip.

Such a solution, however, lies on a broader normalisation of the relationship between BiH and Croatia. I humbly believe that 23km of Bosnian coasts are useless without dock facilities and clear and reliable access to the Mediterranean. Given the rightful and unquestionable Bosnian sovereignty over Neum municipality, it is necessary to find a common solution to what is, in fact, a common problem. Ideally speaking, BiH could offer part of Neum territory to be internationalised , in exchange of partial exploitation of Ploce port, based on an international agreement with Croatia. In this way, Bosnian rights over Neum coastline will be preserved, guaranteeing  the fruitful use of Ploce and allowing Croatia to build the highway within the extraterritorial regime hitherto created. Goods shall freely move from Ploce to Neum and from Neum to the rest of BiH without major delays. In the same way, Croatia would finally link Southern Dalmatia with the rest of the country.
The construction of the bridge is pointless and dangerous for two main reasons. The first is of a purely practical matter: in the moment Bosnia will join the EU and/or agreements regarding the permeability of the Croatian/Bosnian border shall enter into force, the bridge will be de facto useless. Furthermore, we shall keep in mind the volume of transports in the region, which, in my experience, do not justify the creation of such an expensive infrastructure. The second reason concerns political strategy and neighboring relations. Croatian attempt to build the bridge represents a brutal show off of political and economic power, which in the end denotes a politically obtuse and obsolete behaviour. Without undermining the importance of reconciliation, Zagreb and Sarajevo shall look at the bridge case as a chance to practically overcome nationalistic disputes, demonstrating political maturity and wise management of State resource.

In the end, the bridge case is one of the nth chances the Balkans have to show to the outer world (and demonstrate to themselves) that reconciliation is possible, necessary and it is not economically impossible (especially in the fields of common infrastructures).
Honestly, however, I do not expect a sustainable solution of the matter.

Predrag Matvejevic’s “Borders and frontiers”: what is the price paid by the participant observer?

As promised, here you can find the book review published (in Italian) on DADA (click here to download the Italian version).


Predrag Matvejevic’s “Borders and frontiers”: what is the price paid by the participant observer? 

140 pg
2008, Asterios Editore, Trieste.

Predrag Matvejević, one of the most controversial and internationally renowned experts on the Balkans, in “Borders and frontiers” draws a personal and peculiar picture of the political experiences in the region, before and after the violent implosion of former Jugoslavia. His work contains a variety of concepts and ideas worth analyzing from an anthropological perspective, especially in the field of political and juridical anthropology. At a first glance, the book would not be enlisted on the vast anthropological bibliography regarding the Balkans. Although, as for his famous “Mediterranean Breviary”(1), the poetic and dreaming style of Matvejević hides a more vigorous and deep message, the structure and objective of which are typical of the anthropological method.

Matvejević:“poethical prose” with anthropological message
In order to fully understand the value of this production, it should be placed on a timeline: the book gathers articles and memories converted into a written testimony between 1990 and 2002. The articles can be found in chronological order; each article is inspired by a concrete event, but goes beyond the pure analysis of this event, mixing the memories of the author with the history of the region marked by a series of milestones. However, Matvejević manages to compress in these 140 pages even a longer period of time, characterized not only by his personal experience, but especially by the societal changes of the Balkan communities, well-known by the author.

It would be of no anthropological interest to compare “Borders and frontiers” with previous ethnographical oeuvres on the Balkans(2). Nevertheless, general awareness of the ethnic composition of the Balkans is necessary to comprehend the inner and perceptive anthropological value of this book. The oeuvre lacks clear and notable ethnographical description of the groups: the author frequently uses quotation marks referring to Serbs, Croats and other ethnical groups. In spite of the phenomenal practical value of such approach, the proper meaning of this wording is clear for the reader initiated to the Balkan specifities.

“Between asylum and exile”: Matvejević as participant observer
Philip Bock describes the responsibilities of the anthropologist as following:

“l’antropologo ha certe responsabilità nei confronti della sua professione. Come scienziato sociale, egli è tenuto a usare la sua intelligenza critica, a scegliere argomenti sociali autentici per la sua ricerca, e a portare avanti tale ricerca con energia e immaginazione. […] L’antropologo, inoltre, ha la responsabilità di lavorare per una scienza integrata dell’uomo.”.(3)

Following these enlightening words, Matvejević work can be considered free from any political, ideological or historical “pollution”. He uses a very descriptive and “poetic prose”(4), depicting the reality of the current Balkan society from the perspective of the pure participant observer, as derived from Malinowski’s(5) work.

Before any further content analysis, it is worth to focus on the fundamental and unique situation in which the author finds himself. By the frequently repeated periphrasis “between asylum and exile”(6), the writer describes the peculiar position from which he analyses the Balkans: born in Mostar from a Jew Russian father, Matvejević fully lives the socialist dream of modern Jugoslavia. This will clearly leave its footprint on his life. The violent implosion of the Jugoslavian dream brought the seeds of a cultural and personal “renaissance” for Matvejević, forced to move from Croatia to France and then Italy. Here he refines his role of “conscience of the Balkans”, cubing his importance: if the Balkans are the superego of Europe, Matvejevic can easily be addressed as the superego of the Balkans. The Balkan “dark hole” gets discovered, almost violated by the simplicity of Matvejevic’s message, who is able to transpose his deep knowledge of the region in the mind of the Western reader, demonstrating also wide awareness of Western culture and values. For this reason, Matvejevic is a perfect example of participant observer, since his status of exiled/asylum applicant makes him detached enough from the political contingency of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia, from the dark chronicles of the last years. On the other hand, his cultural knowledge and deep interest in political issues, enable him to produce a perfect political anthropological perspective of the present situation in the Balkans, saving years of ethnographic research, indispensable for any other political anthropologist. His state of being attached/detached to the region, his fresh, succint and expressive style make us the gift ofthis insightful, sharp and concentrated anthro-political analysis of the most controversial years of the Balkans.

Responsibilities of historical mistakes: the role of the literate
Matvejević’s deep knowledge of the functioning of Balkan societies clearly emerges in his harsh and merciless critic of the Jugoslavian inteligencija after the passing of Drug Tito. The ultra-nationalist wave endorsed by several politicians back then is unconceivable for the uncompromising moral of the author. However, while the struggle of power leads(especially in the Balkans) to fight and clashes far beyond community values, the behaviour of the “sage”, of the poet, of the artist should be free from any political influence or, rather, should find its roots in an authentic and shared common cultural background, endorsed by the society or by a minority of it. Matvejević attacks those manneristic artists who passively served the several regimes responsible for the surge of violence and chaos in the ’90. Nevertheless, his pitiless judgement moves from an interesting, although hidden comparison between the responsibility of the intellectual towards the society with the traditional political structure of the Jugoslavian tribes.

According to our interpretations of Matvejević’s condemnations, the role of the literate resembles that of the kneža, of the vojvoda, of the serdar in traditional Balkan societies. It is possible, in fact, to make a comparison between segmentary societies existing in the region till the late ’70(7) and the way culture is administered in the Balkans. An excellent description of the leadership role is the one by Sahlins:

“ The typical leader of a tribal society is nothing but the distinguished copy of the authoritative elder […]. Here [in the tribal societies], is an interpersonal relationship based on charisma.”(8)

In the same line of argument, the artist, as the cultural and intellectual leader of the community, has the responsibility, along with Matvejević, to guide the members of the group, although considering their common background, working to find the compromise between stillness and changes, homeostasis and transistasis(9) in that society.

However, the slavish alignment of the same intellectual with Milošević, Izbegović, Tuđman, Karađić induces a fight between those responsible literates, aware of the roots of their culture and able to contribute to the common good, and those exploiting the gap between their culture and the general perception of the same culture, plagiarizing, raping, bending the traditions for the sake of political power and fake consensus.

When will the Balkans look themselves in the mirror?
Matvejević’s bitter criticism of the Balkan societies costed him 5-month imprisonment sentence by the Zagreb Court. An EU membership candidate country, demonstrated the lack of self-criticism and perceptibility towards what should be its own  voice of consciousness. However, Matvejević addresses problems too big and involving the totality of the Balkans beyond his person. In his most interesting articles “On the Danube”(10), and “Our Talibans”(11) he touches upon fundamental hot topics of international law andinternational relations such as the issue of global justice (ICTY mandate) and international economic cooperation. Furthermore, the criticism of the author towards his homeland can be interpreted as a feeling of closeness, of involvement, of care and missing, nostalgia and a hope for a better future.

In the end, however, it’s not Matvejević who is putting the Balkans on a trial, it is the rest of the international community who is asking uneasy questions. Matvejević’s questions to the reader are,  the ones that many countries posed when the madness of the ’90s Balkan wars exploded. In fact, regarding Milosević’s trial, the author asks:

“Perché Milošević deve essere giudicato all’estero, da giudici che non parlano la sua lingua, in una città olandese scelta dalle Nazioni Unite, dentro una prigione sterilizzata, automatizzata, ultramoderna, invece che da giudici serbi, dentro un carcere belgradese dove i rumori e gli odori della vita balcanica scavalcano le porte e le finestre e arrivano fino alla cella dell’imputato? […] Veramente la giustizia serba è inferiore a quella di altri paesi sparsi in Europa e nel resto del mondo?”(12)

Today Serbia, together with the other former Jugoslavian republics, is facing the utmost difficult obstacle of overcoming their past. “Ghost that we weren’t able to bury”, as Matvejević says in a subtitle of his oeuvre. Although a part of the world is currently speaking instead (and in the name of the Balkans), the fundamental question is when will the Balkan themselves find the ability to take the constructive criticism and act. That day, probably, people like Karađić and Mladić would have already been judged and sentenced by foreign tribunals supporting the non-genuine nationalism. That same nationalism so brilliantly criticized by Matvejević in his current work. And then, hopefully, he will be remembered as one of the first grasping and naming the core of the problem from such an internal/external perspective.

[1]P. MATVEJEVIĆ, Breviario Mediterraneo, Zagreb, 1987.
[2]Among the others, we mention the estimable effort made by the local author CVIJĆ, Peninsule Balcanique, Paris, 1918, whose compoeuvre inspired and resuted as a fundamental basis for further research.
[3]P. BOCK, Modern cultural anthropology, Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, 1969; Italian edition: Antropologia culturale moderna, Giulio Einaudi Editore, Torino, 1978, pg.476. Translation: “the anthropologist has certain responsibilities towards his profession. As a social scientist, he has to use his critical intelligence, to chose authentic and origianl social topics worth to be research upon, and to continue the research with energy and imagination. […] Moreover, the anthropologist has the responsibility to work for an integrated science of mankind”.
[4]C. MAGRIS, Matvejević, triste farsa di una condanna, Corriere della Sera, Milan, 8.XI.2005.
[5] B. MALINOWSKI, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, Routledge, London, 1999.
[6]P. MATVEJEVIĆ, Confini e frontiere, p.79 Trieste, 2008.
[7]It is well known that C. BOEHM produces one of its most appreciated oeuvres on the Montenegrin society based on research held yet at the end of the ’60: C. BOHEM, Montenegrin Social Organization and Values, political ethnography of a refuge area tribal adaptation, New York, 1983.
[8]M.D. SAHLINS, The Segmentary Lineage: an Organization of Predatory Expansion, in American Anthropologist, vol. LXII, 1961, pg. 327.
[9]Homeostasis (from Greek: ὅμοιος, hómoios, “similar” and στάσις, stásis, “standing still”; defined by Claude Bernard and later by W.B. CANON in 1926,1929 and 1932) is the property of a system, either open or closed, that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition.W.B CANON, Organization For Physiological Homeostasis. Physiol Rev. 1929; 9: 399-431.
[10] MATVEJEVIĆ, ibid, pg.43-100.
[11]MATVEJEVIĆ, ibid, pg 113-133.
[12]MATVEJEVIC, ibid,  pg 96-97. Translation: “Why Milošević has to be judged abroad, by judges who don’t speak his language, in a Dutch city chosen by the UN, in a sterilized, automatized, ultramodern prison, instead of being judged by Serbian judges, inside a Belgrade prison, where sounds and smells of Balkan life overwhelm doors and windows and arrive till the accused’s cell? […] Is Serbian justice inferior compared to the ones of other countries in Europe and in the rest of the world?”