Bosnia and Herzegovina

From 2005 to 2007, Matthew lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he worked for the Office of the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR). He was employed as the Chief Legal Adviser to the International Supervisor of Brčko, and managed a team of lawyers engaged in a range of legal and judicial reform projects.

The Dayton Peace Accords, signed in December 1995, ended the three-and-a-half year war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, by dividing the country into two “entities”: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (a loose coalition of ten cantons, of which some are Muslim, some Croat, and some mixed); and Republika Srpska, Serb territory with a unitary political system. However, there was one part of the country on which the warring parties could not agree: the city of Brčko, in the north of the country, which connected the otherwise discontiguous parts of Republika Srpska. A predominantly Bosniac (Muslim) town before the war, it had been captured by Serbs and had suffered extreme ethnic cleansing. It was the site of some of the worst of Bosnia’s war crimes, second in intensity only after the atrocities at Srebrenica.

Faced with an impasse at the Dayton negotiations, the US government pressed the warring sides into accepting international arbitration as a method of resolving the disputed territory’s status. They reluctantly agreed; but nobody had considered in advance just what this quasi-legal process might entail nor how it would be enforced. The result was that an American-appointed arbitrator mandated creation of an international government to administer the territory, presided over by an official called the Supervisor, appointed by the US State Department, with theoretically unlimited powers. His dictates would be enforced by a heavy US military presence, subject to his de facto direction.

In time, the arbitration tribunal decreed that the Brčko region was to be treated as an independent multi-ethnic “District”, whose government would be separate from either entity.

Under this regime, post-war reconstruction was extraordinarily successful: so much so, that the International community in the rest of the country began by emulating the successes of the supervisory regime in Brčko, but soon ended up resenting it, as they could not achieve country-wide what the US government had achieved in one corner of it. However, the precedent for international authoritarianism had been set, and Bosnia and Herzegovina was run as a protectorate for over ten years. The powers of its international officials, the High Representative and the International Supervisor, were subject to no form of check or review. This model was subsequently copied in conflict zones worldwide, including Kosovo, East Timor and Iraq. But once international interest in Bosnia waned, all the efforts made to pursue post-conflict reconstruction through imposition began to unwind.

Matthew tells this story in his book, A Free City in the Balkans, available on Amazon in the UK, USA and Germany. Since leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of 2007, he has also published a range of academic articles and newspaper editorials on the subjects both of Bosnian politics, and international intervention in general. For a full list of those articles, see the Writings section of this website.

Matthew remains involved in Bosnian politics, knowing many of Bosnia’s senior politicians well and frequently giving talks, lectures and interviews on topics relating to post-war Bosnia. His critical analyses of the international community’s efforts in rebuilding the country are well known. Matthew also retains strong personal connections to the country for which he retains great affection, and to which he is a regular visitor.

Sarajevo. City hall (the national library) is in the foreground Gospodska ulica, Banja Luka The old bridge in Mostar