Brcko: An Example of Progress in the Basic Reforms In Bosnia
February 4, 2004
Staff-prepared summary of the EES noon discussion with Henry Clarke, Most Recent Brcko District Supervisor, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Less than four years after its foundation, the Brcko district has become a leader in reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) despite its troubled and sensitive history during and after the war in Bosnia. Brcko links the two main areas of the Serb-controlled region at a narrow three-kilometer strip. Therefore, determining its status was one of the most contentious issues of the 19995 Dayton peace process. The decision on Brcko's status was postponed until the 2000 international arbitration, when it was finally awarded to neither the Muslim-Croat Federation nor the Serb Republic within Bosnia, but was granted international status.

Since then, Henry Clarke observed that Brcko was the first jurisdiction to completely reorganize and rehire an independent judiciary and the first to introduce and implement modern criminal and civil codes. Brcko also established the first truly multi-ethnic police force in Bosnia and has been one of the few areas to successfully indict former officials for abuse of office and fraud. Considering the extent of ethnic cleansing in the area, the fact that it had been bisected by a rigid confrontation line between ethnic factions during the Bosnian war, and that nearly 40 percent of its housing had been destroyed, Clarke asked how Brcko could have moved forward so quickly?

Clarke attributed Brcko's success to three factors. The first is security. NATO troops, and the international community moved into Brcko immediately after the war and quickly separated the three factions—Muslim, Croat and Serb. American troops then built a large military base and made it clear that the international mission was to ensure security for all three of the ethnic groups. Today only a fraction of the international peacekeeping force, SFOR, remains, and this includes a reinforced American armored cavalry troop. SFOR and the UN helped to reform Bosnia's first multi-ethnic police force, which has gained the respect of all three ethnic groups. Second, judicial and legal reforms have been firmly established. This strong legal foundation has given Brcko an advantage in attracting foreign and private direct investment over the past two years and this has led to increased privatization. Third, Brcko has demonstrated the need for leadership coordination and diplomacy at the local level, where factors influencing the reform process in Bosnia are decisive. Experience in implementing the Dayton peace process showed the difficulties of top-down reform. Brcko has proven that reforms must begin at the grassroots level.

Clarke emphasized the importance of continuing the mandate of the international supervisor as well as an international peacekeeping presence, no matter how reduced, in Bosnia. Clarke observed that while he, as an international supervisor, had only had to impose one decision on the governing forces in Brcko, the international high representative for the whole of Bosnia has had to make such decisions hundreds of times. Clarke's most important decision was integrating Brcko's schools, which was to be carried out according to the 2000 mandate. Currently, all students, be they Bosnjiaks, Croats or Serbs, have equal access to education and most importantly, use the same textbooks and teachers. Few expected this fundamental reform to succeed, but it has, and it is one of the most positive factors in propelling Brcko forward and overcoming the deep divisions that occurred during the war.

But can this success last? Ambassador Clarke emphasized that there is no such thing as irreversible reform, but he is hopeful that reform will continue. In his view, the main threat to Brcko's reforms is no longer within the district itself, but outside of Brcko among the nationalist extremists who exist elsewhere in the Serb republic of Bosnia and in the Federation. If Bosnia were to break up into two or three nationalist states, the Brcko district would be difficult to sustain, but if Bosnia becomes a viable federal state, the district could be a source of multi-ethnic and economic strength to the country, not a weakness.