Bosnia and Herzegovina is in danger of breaking apart. History must not be allowed to repeat itself.
Bosnia is in danger of breaking apart. Since the war, the threat has never been as serious as it is now. In the worst case, war could be looming again.
BackgroundIn December 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the cruel and bloody war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Two entities were formed: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic). Three presidents, one from each of the constitutive peoples (Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks), represent the country. Many other complicated structures serve to maintain a balance between the three constitutive peoples.
During the first few years after the agreement, Bosnia slowly recovered from the terrors of war, and a process of reconstruction began. The constitutional reform, which many thought had already been approved, failed in 2006. Ever since then, nationalism has been on the rise again, economic conditions have deteriorated, the parties have been exploiting the structures to their own ends, and corruption and nepotism have been increasing at an alarming rate. Many people in Bosnia have been trying to oppose these developments, but separatist tendencies are currently prevailing over the reconciliation efforts.
Regional and international frameworkEven before the war started in 1992, the Serb president Milošević and the Croatian president Tudjman had agreed on a partition of Bosnia. They dreamed of establishing Greater Serbia and Greater Croatia. And these dreams are still alive.Since 2011, Milorad Dodik – the then president of the Serb Republic, who is today the Serb representative in the tripartite inter-ethnic presidency – has repeated at regular intervals that the Serb Republic is planning to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to unite with Serbia, an intention strongly backed by Serbia. Even though there is no longer talk of Greater Serbia, a "Serb world" (srbski svet, cf. Erich Rathfelder in the Taz) is repeatedly mentioned. With assistance from the Orthodox church in Montenegro, Serbia has succeeded, for example, in establishing a pro-Serb government there, also provoking the most recent escalations in Kosovo. No one is attempting to stop Dodik now in the Serb Republic.So-called "non-papers" appeared in the EU in June of this year. They propose territorial readjustment of the Balkan states, including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania – an unprecedented provocation.The EU’s and USA’s weakness leaves scope for Russian support of the Serbian ideas, thus favoring the new separatist tendencies in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Neither Russia nor Milorad Dodik recognize the new High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt. Both challenge the legitimacy of his appointment, since it was made without the approval of the UN. However, the High Representative is appointed by the Peace Implementation Council, in which Russia was outvoted.Nevertheless, Christian Schmidt was not permitted to present his report on the situation in Bosnia at the UN meeting on 3 November 2021. Both the EU and the USA had acceded to Russia’s request. They did so in order to obtain Russia’s agreement on extending the deployment of the European Union peacekeeping force (EUFOR).The current status quo: Serbian and Russian support for the separatist tendencies on the one hand, and the EU’s and USA’s weakness on the other, not to mention the lack of German support for the High Representative from Germany. All this is exacerbated by Croatian support for blockades of the Croatian nationalists in the Federation – in regard to the election law, for example.
Local frameworkOn 23 July 2021, the departing High Representative Valentin Inzko enacted a law that makes denial of the genocide in Srebrenica a criminal offence. Milorad Dodik immediately declared that he does not recognize this law. As a response, all Serb representatives were withdrawn from the joint state institutions. Parliament and other decision-making bodies are no longer functional.Major efforts have been ongoing since then to further the secession of the Serb Republic. Dodik plans to take Republika Srpska out of the state-level judiciary, the indirect tax system and the armed forces and to create corresponding Serbian institutions. The first such law, on leaving the joint drug administration body, has already been passed but not yet published.In his report to the UN, the High Representative described the situation in Bosnia as extremely critical, blaming Milorad Dodik for the current state of affairs, who then, immediately after the UN meeting, held a press conference in which he once more challenged the High Representative’s legitimacy and threatened to sue him if he enacts any laws or pushes through any dismissals. This is because the High Representative is still entitled to dismiss politicians who violate the provisions laid down in the Dayton Agreement.Besides the separatist tendencies fueled by Milorad Dodik, there are also discussions on a new election law. The Court of Justice of the European Union decided years ago that Bosnia’s election law is in need of reform, since only representatives of the Serbian, Croatian or Bosniak ethnic groups can be elected as presidents. This discriminates against other citizens, such as Jews or Roma. Now it is primarily the Croatians who are trying to utilize the discussions in order to form an election unit of their own, consisting exclusively of Croatians. The Bosniaks in their turn feel that these efforts constitute yet another step towards Bosnia’s partition.
ConsequencesThe consequences resulting from the possible disintegration of Bosnia are predictable. Further military conflicts cannot be ruled out, nor can new border demarcations for Kosovo and North Macedonia. Russia, Hungary (whose prime minister has just visited Milorad Dodik) and other illiberal democracies would be emboldened. And it would also pose a threat to the core of the EU’s mission statement.
What options are there for restabilizing the country?Ongoing integration processes in the Western Balkans as a whole are in urgent need of greater attention and support. In the medium term, it will be necessary to negotiate with all parties involved to find feasible compromises and, once and for all, to bring about comprehensive constitutional reform. To achieve all of this, the situation in the country must be defused. The High Representative needs international support (primarily from Germany and the EU) in order to make full use of his possibilities and prerogatives and fulfil his role as a mediator. In addition, individual countries (or the EU) can also impose sanctions on individuals like Milorad Dodik and his supporters.
This article was written by Dr. Monika Kleck, a long-standing, knowledgeable expert on the region. The Freudenberg Foundation has been working closely together with her as part of its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republic of North Macedonia. The Freudenberg Foundation has been supporting the development of a democratic community in Tuzla/Bosnia since 1999 and is a partner to the Tuzla Community Foundation and the MIOS school network.