Democracy Lab

Doing Away with Et Cetera

Bosnia's current constitution leaves some people unrepresented. It's time to move away from ethnicity and toward citizenship.

In August 1995, three years after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the onset of war in Bosnia, the United States decided to intervene. After a Croatian-Bosnian offensive and a NATO bombing campaign against Serbs in August, the U.S. negotiating team concluded the Dayton Peace Accords on November 21, 1995. Ending a conflict that had left more than 100,000 killed and almost half of the population displaced, the Dayton Peace Agreement established the newly-minted constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina with one primary goal: to prevent further conflict. Prioritizing stability over democracy, the constitution was successful in keeping the country relatively peaceful till present day. Today, however, the constitution is a main source of the country's substaintial democratic and functional problems. It is high time for reform.

The constitution divides Bosnia along ethnic lines into three constituent peoples ( the Bosniak-Muslims, Serbs, and Croats) and two entities (the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Republika Srpska). For the sake of peace and stability, the constitution also divides state and legislative positions among the three ethnic groups. The country is governed by a rotating State Presidency with three members, one from each constitutional ethnicity. Yet this division excludes a large number Bosnians who do not fit into any of the three constituent groups, including the Roma, Jews, and many descendants of mixed marriages. These Bosnian citizens, constitutionally termed as "others," account for anywhere between 7 percent of the population (according to the 1991 census) and 20 percent (based on other surveys).

Bosnia has the outward appearance of a functional democracy -- it holds elections more or less regularly, for example -- but this overshadows an undemocratic reality where almost every fifth citizen cannot run for elected office. The discrimination of "others" is only the most blatant example of undemocratic practices. Currently, the Bosniak and Croat presidency members are elected only from the Federation and the Serb member only from Republika Srpska. As a result, Croats and Bosniaks living in Republika Srpska and Serbs living in the Federation are not able to vote for their own ethnic representatives. Moreover, the Federation is elects both the Bosniak and Croat representatives to the Presidency; yet Bosniaks substantially outnumber Croats, which means that Bosniaks essentially elect the representative for the Croat ethnicity. The very structure of Bosnia's ethnically determined political representation model is betraying its citizens.

The most serious challenge to Bosnia's political system comes from a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) anti-discrimination case filed by activists Dervo Sejdic (a Roma) and Jakob Finci (Jewish). Sejdic and Finci argued that the Bosnian constitution is discriminatory because certain political posts -- such as the rotating three-member Presidency -- can only be held by a Bosniak, Croat or Serb. In its ruling, the court addressed the issue of trade-offs between democracy and stability in light of the relatively recent war in Bosnia. The ECHR ruled that Bosnia's constitution is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights for excluding all "others" from the Bosnian Presidency and the parliament's upper house.

The ECHR ruling's ramifications surprised Bosnia's elites. Instead of a mild reprimand, the European Commission suspended 47 million Euros of pre-accession funds for Bosnia, making them conditional upon constitutional changes that would allow minorities to run in elections. The EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fule, proposed a compromise model that would allow "others" to run for elected office and also ensures that the Croat member of presidency is elected by Croats and not Bosniak-Muslims. The EU proposal was met with harsh criticism, with Bosnia's foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija reportedly refusing the proposal outright while other Bosnian political leaders voiced numerous conditions.

In the EHRC's ruling, a dissenting judge warned that constitutional revisions would risk reigniting interethnic conflict. But after almost 20 years of political stability and concord with neighboring countries, the likelihood of renewed conflict is not significant. Constitutional changes are opposed not by ethnic groups, but by entrenched political elites who benefit from the ethnic division of power. Now is the perfect time, then, to change the constitution's priority from stability to democracy.

The biggest threat to Bosnia's insufficiently democratic system is its own dysfunctional and redundant structure. In the words of Miroslav Lajcak, the former diplomat who oversaw the Dayton Accords' implementation, Bosnia has "two entities for three constituent peoples; five presidents, four vice presidents, 13 prime ministers, 14 parliaments, 147 ministers and 700 members of Parliament, all of whom serve a population of just under four million people." Such an administration consumes up to 70 percent of Bosnia's annual state budget, according to local economic experts. Ostensibly, this costly administrational chaos is supposed to ensure political stability; instead, it threatens to destabilize Bosnia economically. Ironically, this economic burden increases the country's reliance on foreign financial assistance such as the suspended EU funds, making it likely that Bosnia will have to implement the constitutional amendments, in the end.

Bosnia's political system is in dire need of substantial change. Real change would allow minorities to participate meaningfully in the electoral process and to be able to hold high offices if elected. This change would do away with the three-way ethnic divisions of political power. Moreover, it would necessarily bring into question what it means to be Bosnian, emphasizing more contemporary criteria such as economics or social issues.

Indeed, it appears that Bosnia is already shifting in that direction. In the 2010 Presidential elections, the Croatian winning candidate Zeljko Komsic received the majority of his votes from Bosniak voters, with more Bosniaks voting for Komsic than for their own ethnic group's winning candidate. This seems to support the findings of a 2009 National Democratic Institute opinion poll, in which Bosnians were asked to rank the "most important tasks for government." They ranked 12 different social and economic issues, from unemployment to EU accession and reducing corruption, as more important than "protection of my ethnic group" -- indicating a shift in electoral thinking from ethnicity to policy.

More recently, activists are gearing up to take advantage of Bosnia's upcoming census (the first since the end of the war) to send a message to its government. Bosnia's political elites postponed the census for 12 years, fearing that demographic changes would affect how 180,000 political and civil service positions are allocated. In the census, Bosnia's people can respond by stating to be Bosniak, Croatia, Serb, or simply "Bosnian." A coalition of young Bosnians called Jednakost (Equality) is campaigning for people to protest the ethnic divisions that created the dysfunctional political system by declaring themselves to be only Bosnian. This would include them among the ranks of the "others" along with the ethnic minorities. If enough people participate, the balance of power could shift enough to change the core of the political system away from ethnic labeling to a more accountable and governable political structure. Whether they will be successful remains to be seen. For now, at least, it does seem to indicate that, to Bosnians, ethnicity may no longer be the most significant part of political identity.

The Dayton Accord constitution was a good short-term solution, but it lacks a robust framework for successful state building. Cyprus and Lebanon similarly exclude minorities from political participation and neither is an example of stability. Lack of democracy yielded a dysfunctional system that is hindering Bosnia's economic and political development and ultimate stability.

Lessening the emphasis on ethnicity-based representation would certainly have its fair share of vocal opponents, from Bosnian politicians to the members of the international community that oversaw the Dayton Accords' implementation. However, these reforms would create a more efficient government that could address the many socioeconomic issues Bosnian citizens care about. With pressure coming from its people, the EU, and the dysfunction of its own top-heavy administration, Bosnia's government will likely find itself on the path to constitutional reform whether its political elites like it or not.



The Clean Plate Club

From Senegal to St. Louis, the world wastes an astonishing amount of food every year. So why is it so hard to cut down on leftovers, save the environment, and feed the hungry?

The numbers are nothing short of astounding. According to the United Nations, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption every year simply gets wasted. In a world where global hunger still kills more people every year than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined, 1.3 billion tons of food annually is lost through inefficiency, ignorance, and mismanagement. That's disgusting, if not downright criminal.

The impact of such inefficiency is enormous, costing the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars, including among some of the poorest people in the world who can least afford it. The environmental impact is also significant, and the U.N. estimates that the carbon footprint from "food produced and not eaten," would rank behind only the United States and China when considered in terms of global annual emissions. The water annually required to produce this food that is never consumed equals three times the volume of Switzerland's Lake Geneva.

The problem of food and agricultural waste besets both the developed and developing world alike, but in starkly different ways as food makes it way from the field or fishery to your fork (or not, rather).

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, waste by actual consumers is very small, almost negligible. Poorer families tend to buy less food at a time and -- because these purchases represent an important percentage of their income -- they are quite efficient when it comes to food preparation and consumption. Instead, much more of the food waste in the developing world comes further upstream in the production process.

Crops are inefficiently farmed with outdated tools, and often harvested early because farmers are under economic and climactic duress. To get meat, fruits, vegetables and fish to market in the developing world often means navigating lousy roads, using warehouses without proper refrigeration, facing greater vulnerability to pests, and any number of other factors that drive up spoilage and losses. A gallon of milk doesn't last nearly as long when it is transported in a can that ends up sitting in the hot sun under a banana leaf.

Most of the fixes for agricultural waste in the developing world can be found through improving infrastructure (including providing more predictable electricity), better storage facilities, and improved techniques for harvesting and drying food.

The problems in the developed world are equally consequential, but remarkably self-inflicted. The U.N. estimates that households in Britain waste some 6.7 million tons of food annually, and the cost of wasted food in the United States surpasses $43 billion a year. The Natural Resources Defense Council places an even higher price tag on this waste, estimating $165 billion of food waste in America every year, or 240 pounds of food per American annually. (Just as a frame of reference, the average American adult male now weighs in at a disturbingly hefty 196 pounds.)

But in Europe and North America the problem isn't locusts, non-existent cold chains, or broken roads and bridges but how we perceive food and its use. For example, in the United State alone, grocery stores discard $10-15 billion in food that is close to its sell-by date or damaged. Yet, sell-by dates are something of a myth, and are designed to measure optimal quality rather than food safety. Most food is good well after the date by which many Americans view it as somehow becoming radioactive.

The pressure for "perfect looking" food also contributes to a great deal of discarded in more developed countries. Tristam Stuart, while researching the book Waste: Understanding the Global Food Scandal, visited a British carrot farm where he found that 25-30 percent of all carrots produced there were either discarded or used as animal feed because of aesthetic defects -- they weren't straight or orange enough to pass what someone's idealized view of the perfect Peter Cottontail carrot should look like. A recent article in Science Magazine confirmed what many have long suspected, that the perfectly uniform tomato varieties favored by growers for their appearance actually don't taste as good as their less uniform cousins -- thus the recent rise in popularity of "ugly tomatoes."

Farmers in the developed world also tend to plant extra crops in case yields are lower than expected, and then discard many of these crops if yields are higher or market prices are not competitive.

But there have been some important steps forward. The U.N. High Level Panel looking at the next round of Millennium Development Goals after 2015 suggested a global target on reducing post-harvest loss and waste, and reducing agricultural waste features prominently in the secretary general's Zero Hunger Challenge. The European Parliament has called for reducing food waste on the continent by 50 percent by 2025. "Love Food Hate Waste," a government-funded NGO in Britain, has run an aggressive advocacy campaign and worked with both consumers and food retailers in an effort that has already been cited as cutting waste in that country by 18 percent. The Department of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Agency launched a similar effort in the United States in June. And now, some Hong Kong restaurants have taken to charging patrons 64 cents per ounce for the leftovers left on their plates, reflecting the cost of food waste in landfills.

The most promising solutions will likely come from the private sector as they wake up and realize that billions of dollars in lost food are billions of dollars in lost profit. In fact, the former president of the Trader Joe's grocery chain has plans to launch a chain of stores selling prepared food made with past-sell-by-date products, and the Approved Foods website in Britain sold 300,000 past-sell-by-date Cadbury eggs in just two weeks. Sorry -- they're now out of stock. Waste not, want not, indeed.

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