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From Dayton to Jerusalem – Federalism Is the Green Way to Build Peace

By Yoav Shemer-Kunz

Federalism can be a means to achieving this, in some cases even where the will of the those concerned is not yet present, as long as the international community stands together and ensures respect for the fundamental values of justice, equality, and mutual tolerance.

European Greens believe not only in biodiversity in nature, but also among humans. They believe and cherish national and cultural diversity, in humans being ‘different but equal’. They should therefore propose an alternative path towards ending wars across the world which reflects our political visions and beliefs. Greens believe in sustainable solutions for problems, thinking ahead for the next generations. Conflict resolution and peace-making does not mean simply separating the fighting parties. On the other hand, we should not become idealistic or utopian either in designing our foreign policy.

This is not about ‘peace and love’. Imposing federalism in a conflict-zone is enforcing a political framework which enables different national groups to live together, not only preventing a new eruption of violence, but also allowing the slow process of trust-building and transitional justice. Federalism is not a short-term cease-fire but rather a long-term political framework in which the different elites learn to share power and find compromises.

The end of ethnically homogeneous states

In the past, Europe ended wars by creating new nation-states, with new national borders. This often required a mass transfer of population (or forced ‘ethnic cleansing’) in order to create geographical areas which were ‘ethnically’ or ‘nationally’ homogenous, without which the creation of the nation-state was meaningless. Millions lost their homes, moving to their new ‘national home’, while national minorities which remained within the nation-state of the ‘other’ often suffered from structural and legal discrimination in all aspects of life. Moreover, as nations were separated, mistrust and hatred remained intact, and even growing behind the closed borders. Signed peace treaties were therefore often short-term tactical breaks between wars. Conflicts were not really resolved and therefore would flare up again once conditions were ripe.

This is not about “peace and love”.

Today, after having succeeded in making peace among ourselves, after hundreds of years of mutual killing and destruction, Europeans have some important experience to build on. The secret for long-term sustainable peace in Europe was not more separation between the peoples, higher borders and deeper trenches, but rather the opposite. The way to sustainable peace is a long-term process of integration and cooperation between the peoples’ representatives, the nations’ governing elites. It is federalism.

Federalism is a particularly useful instrument to manage different nations within the borders of a single state, to consolidate the different national groups sharing one single polity. Multinational federalism is an appropriate tool of peaceful conflict-management in ethnically or nationally divided states, a way to manage the aspirations of different nations within the borders of one state. Federalism is not based on strict separation between the peoples but on power-sharing among the elites, compromise-seeking, consensus and deliberation, learning how to live together. The federal framework should also be accompanied with mechanisms of transitional justice, facing the injustices of the past and the war crimes committed. Imposing a federation on fighting peoples is a long-term process, but it has the promise to engender trust and enable reconciliation between the rival parties.

Imposing federalism

Europe today, as part of the international community at large, has the power to impose federalism on fighting parties across the world, and to closely follow the implementation of the new federation once it is installed. The international community imposed federalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) by the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, and in Iraq with the new constitution of 2005. Other examples of attempts to impose federalism are the Annan plans of the UN for Cyprus or the discussion on possible solutions to Sri-Lanka. In Israel/Palestine, the two-state-solution is losing its viability on the ground, mainly due to Israeli colonisation of the West Bank. However, even if a Palestinian State eventually sees the day with 1967 borders, it is difficult to see how to practically resolve crucial issues such as the refugees of 1948, the rights of the Arab minority within Israel (20% of the state’s population), or how to practically divide the city of Jerusalem. An imposed federation, based on the right to self-government to the different national entities, together with a thin central level of shared government, sharing one territorial unit from the river Jordan to the mediterranean Sea, may be a more sustainable solution for generations to come.

The main argument we hear against possible federal solutions in these cases is that the local political elites do not believe in federalism and power-sharing, only in self-determination and separation. What is often missing when we discuss federalism is a clear distinction between federalism and federation. Federalism is the normative political ideology behind federations, while federation is the practical framework, the federal political system in a state. Federalism is not necessarily a goal and a value in itself, but can also be simply used as a tool in order to transform an ethnic or national conflict into a peaceful state.

The fact is when resolving a conflict by creating a federation, we do not necessarily need the willingness of leaders to unite in a common state. The international community can impose a federation as a state structure on warring parties in order to pacify a country and to keep it together. This kind of federalism is not based on volition, the agreement of all parties is not required, and the international community plays a key role in the creation of the federal union. Federalism can be a new form of conflict resolution and peace-building.

One of the core elements of power-sharing is the focus on moderate elites, who are willing to co-operate and find compromise.

Back to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Dayton Agreement of 1995, establishing the federation of BiH, was not a voluntary contract, reached in good faith and though co-operation and compromise, but an imposed treaty, reached by international pressure, primarily by the US government and the EU. In fact, the agreement itself was substantially designed by American lawyers. Thus, a very important element of federalism, its voluntary nature, may be totally absent when federations are created.

Internationally administrated federation

In 1995, there was no will among the three constituent peoples of the federation, Croats, Serbs and Bosniaks, to unite in a federal union. Moreover, the federal system which was imposed on the parties in 1995 has since developed into an internationally administrated federation. Representatives of the international community have had a massive impact on the state. The United Nations’ High Representative (HR) is the guarantor of the Dayton Agreements and their final interpreter. In addition, through NATO and the EU, via its Special Representative (EUSR) and the IMF, the international community became part of the implementation of Dayton. Since 1995, competences were gradually transferred from the entity-level to the central level. Also this transfer was not always based on the consent of the Bosnian parties, but rather on the imposition of the international community as part of its policy of the implementation of the Dayton Accords.

The most visible examples are the imposition by the Office of the High Representative (HR) of ‘ethnically neutral’ symbols such as a common flag, a common currency, a national anthem, a new coat of arms, and a new law on citizenship, all without any reference to Bosnia’s multinational character. Bosnian representatives were always given the chance to find a decision first, but failed to reach a common position. Imposed federalism is also a process, not a static framework. It is a process of centralisation and strengthening of the state-level institutions, reducing the influence of the entities, as part of the internationally administrated federation.

A need for political will

Federation has also been raised as a possible solution to the current crisis in Ukraine (as Greens-EFA co-chair, Rebecca Harms, mentions in this volume). However, we should carefully consider our own role in a foreign country when imposing federalism on it. Federalism is not simply the decentralisation of a country as we observe in France, Spain or the UK. When a country is in a state of deep crisis, facing a national/ethnic conflict, which is tearing it dramatically apart, with the danger of war crimes and ethnic cleansing, a federal structure is a good tool, but it needs to be administrated and implemented by the international community. In other words, it requires an active political will.

The model of Bosnia-Herzegovina is also an interesting one in this respect, since the country´s federalism was also accompanied by a process of its international integration into NATO and the EU. This is very different from the case of Ukraine. It is important to highlight that federalism in conflict-ridden countries is not merely a simple decentralisation, where different local governments can be left to govern their own territories and handle their own business. The international community has a key role to play in the implementation of the process on the ground, preventing the security situation from deteriorating and enforcing the federal framework of shared governance.

Start with demilitarisation

The first step in this process is a sort of demilitarisation of the different armed forces which co-exist in the country, transforming them into legitimate coordinated Police Units. This was the case in Israel/Palestine during the 1990s, when the armed Fatah militants in the West Bank and Gaza became the legitimate police force of the newly created Palestinian Authority, controlling security in certain areas in coordination with the Israeli security forces. Furthermore, an important measure to be taken when imposing federalism in such cases is a massive deployment of international troops in order to enforce the cease-fire and the implementation of the peace accords, as was done in Bosnia and Herzegovina after 1995.

However, in the case of Ukraine, Russia and the EU do not seem to share a common political will, and therefore are not likely to agree on a joint international intervention of this kind. In Israel-Palestine following the 1993 Oslo accords, the peace process suffered from a lack of international intervention forces to ensure the overall framework of the agreement, and a lack of imposed implementation of the accords on the ground. When distrust is so high between the parties, the international community´s role is necessary. Finally, the Oslo accords turned out to be merely a partial measure of decentralisation of the country, and was therefore not a suitable and sustainable solution to the conflict, which was triggered once again a few years later.

Multinational federalism is an appropriate tool of peaceful conflict-management in ethnically or nationally divided states, a way to manage the aspirations of different nations within the borders of one state.

Transitional justice

What is also often missing in imposed solutions after conflict are effective mechanisms of transitional justice, reconciliation and forgiving the other’s atrocities and getting to know better the narrative of the other. One of the core elements of power-sharing is the focus on moderate elites, who are willing to co-operate and find compromise. However, post-Dayton Bosnia and Herzegovina is dominated by fully-fledged nationalist parties which focus on their own national groups and are unwilling to compromise. In fact, the main reasons for the war in the early 1990s were not addressed in Dayton. Because of a blockade among the national groups’ representatives and international imposition, a climate of co-operation and trust has not yet developed.

This is why it is necessary to complement the imposition of a federal framework with a process of transitional justice, a long-term process of people to people dialogue and trust-building across communities. This bottom-up, sustainable approach is, after all, the Green approach to doing politics.

I dedicate this article to late Benoit Lechat, who left this world in January, but left in me the passion for political ecology and a better Europe.

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From Dayton to Jerusalem – Federalism Is the Green Way to Build Peace

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