AT A TIME when the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is preparing to send observers to monitor the U.S. elections in November, it is especially depressing to contemplate the OSCE's record in the Balkans. In both Bosnia-Hercegovina and Kosovo, the organization is a pillar of regimes run by the international community that have kept power in the hands of foreigners rather than preparing the way for any transition to local self-government. In both places, elections have been turned into ludicrous spectacles of political correctness and censorship.
In Bosnia, for example, the OSCE--a kind of mini-United Nations with 55 members, mostly from North America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union--has seen fit to require that 30 percent of candidates for public office be women. Unsurprisingly in a traditional East European society with a large Muslim population, this quota did not encourage people to vote for women candidates, appreciated though it was by foreign experts. In an even worse instance of mischief, the OSCE intervened in the 2000 Bosnian elections with a propaganda campaign urging voters to replace the ruling moderate Islamic party in Sarajevo with the former Communist party. The slogan that appeared all over Sarajevo was "Vote for Change." Sarajevans asked themselves, Why are these foreigners telling us how to vote?
No plan whatever exists for the transfer of political sovereignty to Bosnians themselves. Almost a decade after the Dayton Accords that created the international administration, Bosnia is still divided between a Croat-Muslim zone and the so-called "Republic of Serbs." Bosnian Muslims, who made up some 45 percent of the country's population before the onset of aggression by Slobodan Milosevic in 1992, today control only 28 percent of Bosnian territory. Thus, the OSCE in effect rewarded Milosevic and his minions through "facts on the ground," even as Milosevic himself sits on trial in The Hague.
In addition, the OSCE stands as a barrier against privatization and investment in Bosnia. Lacking economic opportunity, young Bosnian Muslims increasingly heed the call of Wahhabism, the extremist state cult in Saudi Arabia that continues to deluge Bosnia with missionaries and mosques. In the streets of Sarajevo one may purchase propaganda promoting Islamist suicide terrorism, although no such thing occurred during the Balkan war and is unlikely to occur there today.
But the area where OSCE policies have been worst is the media. In Bosnia-Hercegovina, OSCE censors, under the pretext of barring "hate speech," have made it impossible for Muslims, Serbs, and Croats to freely discuss their differences and grievances in a way that would make possible a reconciliation between them. Discussion of "genocide" is essentially banned; independent TV stations are discouraged. Instead, the OSCE plasters the walls of Bosnian cities with posters offering abstract appeals to friendship and cooperation.
In Kosovo, under international administration since 1999, the OSCE has been even more heavy handed in its licensing of broadcasters and monitoring of content. This has provoked great anger among local journalists. Much more than in Bosnia, "international community" rule in Kosovo has left the province, whose population is enterprising and hard-working, plagued by unemployment and other social problems, leading to strikes and assorted protests.
In March, Kosovar resentment boiled over into an insurrection in which some 30 people were killed. Violence was touched off by a report that three Albanian children had drowned after they were pursued into a rushing river by Serbs in the city of Mitrovica, in northern Kosovo, which is divided between the two ethnicities.
In April, the OSCE issued a report that blamed the March events on Kosovar journalists, who it claimed had sensationalized their reports. The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) responded with a condemnation of the OSCE, stating that the report had failed "to establish any evidence of systematic attempts to distort the news coverage and incite violence." The IFJ accused the OSCE of laying responsibility on journalists for violence that had "its roots elsewhere"--truth to tell, in the incompetence of foreign rulers in the Balkans, in which OSCE is a prime culprit.
Perhaps when they come to the United States this fall, the election observers from the OSCE--an organization whose members include such models of representative government as Belarus, Turkmenistan, Moldova, and Ukraine--can learn a bit about how real democracies work and start to think about applying it in the Balkans.