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Bosnia and Herzegovina, Government

Croatian money, Croatian elections, unicameral legislature, bicameral legislature, governmental functions

When Bosnia declared independence in 1992, it operated under a modified version of the Yugoslav constitution, which provided for a bicameral (two-chamber) legislature, a government headed by a prime minister, and a collective presidency with one representative from each of the three major ethnic groups. After the 1990 elections, in which Bosnians voted along ethnic lines, Muslims enjoyed a slight advantage in representation. However, the Muslim-dominated government was paralyzed during the war as the Croats and the Serbs established governments of their own and rejected its authority.

A new constitution was drafted as part of the Dayton accord, providing for a national government structured much as it had been under the previous constitution. There is a three-member presidency and a bicameral legislature. The central government has very little authority within the country, however, and for the most part its power extends only to foreign trade and foreign affairs. The new constitution recognizes Bosnia as a state officially composed of two entities, the Serb Republic and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. All governmental functions not given expressly to the central government belong to the entities.

The Muslim-Croat federation has its own government. Its constitution was drawn up by U.S. government lawyers in 1994. The federation’s government is headed by a president and a bicameral legislature. However, this government has no authority except over foreign affairs. In addition, the legislature can easily be deadlocked when the deputies vote along ethnic lines. In reality, the federation has never really functioned, and the Croat-controlled areas of Bosnia remain free of control by the federation authorities, being closely linked with Croatia instead. In 1992 the Croats formed a breakaway state, the “Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia.” Herzeg-Bosnia continues an unofficial existence. Its territory is integrated into the Croatian telephone and electrical networks, and residents use Croatian money and vote in Croatian elections. Like the Muslim-Croat federation, the Serb Republic has its own constitution (drafted by Serb leaders in 1992) and complete governmental structure, including a president and unicameral legislature, the People’s Assembly. The government of the Serb Republic wields authority over domestic and foreign affairs.

In practice, the constitutional system of Bosnia does not provide the structure for a workable state. From 1995 through 1998 the only effective governmental decisions were those made by the High Representative, the position established by the European Union and the U.S. government to oversee implementation of the Dayton accord. By 1998 the High Representative, Carlos Westendorp, was proclaiming laws when the national legislature was deadlocked. The High Representative also removed elected officials from the governments of the entities and disqualified candidates for the 1998 elections on political grounds, primarily if he believed they could jeopardize implementation of the Dayton accord. Westendorp selected the flag for Bosnia when the presidency and central legislature could not agree on a design. The major qualification for this new flag was that its elements had no traditional political meaning to any of Bosnia’s ethnic groups. Bosnia is a member of several international organizations, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN).

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