Imagined institutions: The symbolic power of formal rules in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Through a detailed examination of institutional discourses in post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina, this article demonstrates that formal political institutions may play a more layered role than is allowed by existing theories of nationalist and ethnic conflict. Competing institutional preferences of Bosniak, Serb, and Croat elites are not simply instruments for the achievement of collective or individual goals. They are symbolically salient expressions of collective identity as well. For Bosniak elites, the stated preference for a non-ethnicized territorial framework and majoritarian central government suggest the vision of a multiethnic, but not institutionally multinational, Bosnian political community. Their Serb and Croat counterparts, by contrast, insist on the continued “ethnicization” of the territorial architecture and the central government apparatus. These preferences express an understanding of Bosnia as a state of three discrete political communities. Any attempts at comprehensive institutional reform must thus reckon with the opposing and deeply embedded visions of institutions-as-symbols. The theoretical implications of this work go well beyond the Bosnian case.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)944-969
JournalSlavic Review: Interdisciplinary Quarterly of Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 13 Mar 2017


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