Stability for Its Own Sake Is One Step From Chaos

The West’s coddling of malign actors in Bosnia begs for a more dynamic approach, there and in the Middle East

Stability for Its Own Sake Is One Step From Chaos
Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov (Center L) sits down for a meeting with chairman of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Milorad Dodik (Center R), in East-Sarajevo in 2020 / STR / AFP via Getty Images

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Stability at all costs has long been one of the linchpins of tyrants’ arguments for why they should remain in power in the Middle East. Après moi, le déluge. Fear of what comes next is a potent rallying cry for a populace already suffering under the yoke of dictatorship, corruption and economic mismanagement. Things can never be so bad that they can’t get worse. Bashar al-Assad used it in Syria not only to strike fear into the heart of his own people, warning that rebellion was a choice between him and fundamentalist Islamists, but also to cow prospective supporters of the uprising into passivity. One slogan of his supporters: “Assad or we burn the country.” His father used the same argument to commit atrocities. So have other leaders from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean.

It has also long been a pillar of Western policy in the region — leaders who claimed the mantle of human rights and freedom from the post-World War II era to the post-Cold War era saw little conflict in allying themselves with despotic governments so long as they stemmed the tide of the threatening movement du jour — be they leftists, communists or Islamists.

Never mind that these simplistic choices were always false. Or that maintaining a facade of stability that was always destined to collapse was akin to holding someone over the edge of a cliff instead of pulling them to safety or at least ending their misery by letting go. Or that the pursuit of stability was often the reason the people were mired in destitution, like in Lebanon, where stability at all costs has meant a purgatory of absolute misery that has devastated the country.

This craven desire for stability because it suits the narrow needs of Western bureaucrats rather than taking brave decisions that align with their country’s values is another symptom of a depressing era where the world is run by middle managers instead of statesmen and stateswomen.

Jasmin Mujanović, a political scientist and author, refers to this policy as “stabilocracy” in an essay this week in New Lines. Mujanović examines stabilocracy as it has been applied recently to a political conflict brewing in Bosnia, which has now taken a backseat to the urgent crisis in Ukraine.

Beginning last summer, Serb nationalist authorities in Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity (RS) — one of the two administrative regions within Bosnia created after the conclusion of the Bosnian War (1992-95) — launched a renewed secessionist bid following the imposition of an anti-genocide denial law.

I’ll let Mujanović explain the context:

“Bosnia’s constitution is arguably the most complex and convoluted such document in the world. For a country approximately the size of Wales and with a population of barely 3 million, Bosnia has 14 different governments on its territory, collectively composed of hundreds of ministers. Moreover, virtually all public offices in the country are staffed according to a rigid set of rules based on ethnicity, including the tripartite state presidency, which bars anyone other than the country’s so-called constituent peoples — Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats — from occupying the office.

“Beginning in 2009, however, the state of Bosnia lost a series of landmark court cases at both the European Court of Human Rights and the country’s own Constitutional Court, all of which found in various instances that the existing constitutional regime was flagrantly discriminatory.”

This has led to a debate on election reforms that would have led to a loss in the amount of power and influence enjoyed by the country’s Serb and Croat nationalist parties. Rather than support democratic reform efforts, however, American and European envoys have coddled and appeased the malign characters seeking to upend the process, who also have little compunction about allying with Russia.

“Time and again, the desire of the West to strike deals, to reach an agreement — any agreement — for the sake of stability has triumphed over attempts at genuine reform and has empowered reactionary figures,” Mujanović argues.

It is an impulse that we have been plagued with countless times in the Middle East too. For as long as that trend continues, we’ll remain forever poised over the precipice, stable yet always faced with the prospect of chaos.

From this week (April 11 – April 15, 2022)

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