Christian Schmidt of Germany takes over as the United Nations’ top official in Bosnia-Herzegovina on August 1 amid recent pressure inside and outside the country over the fate and direction of the post of the UN’s high representative.
Schmidt replaces outgoing Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, who as high representative has safeguarded civilian and rule-of-law aspects of the 1995 Balkan peace agreement for 12 years.
The 63-year-old Schmidt brings a reputation as a tough regional and federal politician who doesn’t shy away from controversial decisions.
The outgoing Inzko has recently been forced to pushed back against critics of UN oversight of Bosnia, including Russia and China, which last month failed with a joint proposal to phase out the high representative’s position.
The most strident domestic voice against international oversight is the secession-minded leader of the mostly Serb entity that, along with a Bosniak and Croat federation, makes up Bosnia: Republika Srpska’s Milorad Dodik.
Bosnia is still governed under the 25-year-old Dayton peace accords that helped end ethnic violence following the breakup of Yugoslavia and which included the post of high representative, with its power to impose decisions or dismiss officials.
Inzko has suggested that the international community “changed gears too quickly from…a robust, strong, international presence — to domestic responsibility [and] domestic institutions” in Bosnia.
Inzko told AP last week that, going forward, “the new approach should be more prescriptive; it should be more robust, and there must be a sense of urgency.”
The country faces an array of problems that arise from parallel structures of regional and executive power.
Dodik and his allies on July 30 approved two new laws to block a decision last week by the outgoing Inzko to ban genocide denial.
Inzko has warned that “there is no reconciliation without the recognition of crimes and without responsibility.”
The wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s are estimated to have killed at least 130,000 people and displaced millions.
Schmidt was appointed in May to succeed Inzko by the ambassadors of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, the international body that still guides Bosnia’s peace process.