Is Bosnia on the verge of breaking up?


What is the status of Bosnia?

Amid the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia, the Dayton Accords succeeded in bringing peace to Bosnia in 1995. But the accord also established a heavy political structure: a single state consisting of the populated Republika Srpska. mainly Serbs (Orthodox Christians), and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, populated mainly by Bosnians (Muslims) and Croats (Catholics). Bosnia’s tripartite presidency consists of a Serb, a Bosnian and a Croat. The Dayton Accords created governing institutions in which politics and patronage continued to operate primarily along communal lines.

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Milorad Dodik, the leader of Republika Srpska, recently intensified discussions on the withdrawal of military, intelligence, judicial and fiscal institutions from Bosnia, effectively threatening secession.

He is not the only player in the Balkans to play the nationalist card lately. Amid calls from its Home Secretary to “unite Serbs wherever they live”, Serbia quickly increased its defense spending and showed its military strength through regular exercises and public displays of firepower. Serbia continues to refuse to recognize Kosovo, the predominantly ethnic Albanian and Muslim country which, following the intervention in 1999 of the forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to stop the ethnic conflict , declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Relations between Belgrade and Pristina are on a downward trajectory. In addition, Bulgaria blocks North Macedonia’s accession negotiations with the European Union, claiming that Skopje is appropriating Bulgarian heritage and does not recognize the linguistic, cultural and historical ties between the two countries.

Why are nationalist sentiments increasing in the region?

Safer:

Bosnia herzegovina

Balkans

Europe

Nationalism

Secession and independence movements

Multiple factors contribute to this escalation of nationalist positions. The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Balkans hard, bringing with it a marked economic slowdown and political backlash. In a region still plagued by inter-communal tensions, politicians seeking to bolster their fortunes regularly turn to nationalist drummers. Russia has stepped up diplomatic interference, reaching out to its Slavic and Orthodox brethren to exploit and exacerbate political fault lines. The more Moscow can stir up trouble in the Balkans, the more it is able to slow down the region’s integration into the European Union (EU) and NATO.

At the same time, leaders and electorates in the Balkans are frustrated by what they see as the West’s inattention. The EU has been slow to share COVID-19 vaccines with neighbors who were not yet in the bloc, and EU enlargement is stalled. Following the EU-Western Balkans summit in October, the leaders of Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia issued a joint statement, complaining that “On paper, the enlargement policy remains active. In practice, however, citizens of the region are increasingly disappointed with the prospect of the EU. In addition, the region has paid considerable costs for the delays ahead of the EU. And the United States has put the region on the back burner by focusing its diplomatic and military attention on the Middle East and the Indo-Pacific. Meanwhile, China has increased its economic and political influence in the Balkans, further diluting the region’s Atlantic orientation.

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Is there a risk of a new outbreak of ethnic or sectarian violence?

The Balkans are not yet on the cusp of a new ethnic war. The region has made a lot of quiet progress since the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Croatia and Slovenia are members of the EU and NATO. In 2019, North Macedonia finally settled its name dispute with Greece and has since joined NATO, following in the footsteps of neighboring Albania, Bulgaria and Montenegro. Serbia and Kosovo are still at odds, but they struck a deal last year – brokered by the Donald Trump administration – to normalize their economic relations. Implementation has been patchy, but the pact marked a step forward.

Members of the Joint Armed Forces of Bosnia participate in a military exercise in Rajlovac on November 30, 2021.
Damir Sagolj / Getty Images

However, the recent increase in nationalist maneuvers is hampering this forward momentum. Dodik’s separatist actions are particularly dangerous. A secessionist movement in Republika Srpska could well trigger a new bloodshed that spreads beyond Bosnia. The last thing the region needs is another round of ethnic conflict. Putting out new fires in the Balkans would also be a daunting prospect for NATO allies. Europe and the United States have their hands full with Russia and China and are not seeking new military engagements on the periphery of Europe.

How should the US and the EU react?

They should team up to launch a major diplomatic effort in the Balkans. The Biden administration is moving in the right direction by appointing a leading team of seasoned diplomats to manage the region. As for the Republika Srpska, sanctioning and isolating Dodik and his relatives may not be enough. The political entity left behind by the Dayton Accords has passed its expiration date; yes, he ended the Bosnian civil war, but he also froze the communal divisions.

Safer:

Bosnia herzegovina

Balkans

Europe

Nationalism

Secession and independence movements

It is time for the US and the EU to guide Bosnia towards some sort of constitutional convention – negotiations aimed at providing the country with political structures capable of resisting and ultimately overcoming the ethno-nationalist tensions that the region is facing. should definitely leave it behind. The normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo should also be a top priority.

The whole of the Balkan peninsula is in the process of being, sooner or later, integrated into the Atlantic institutions. Given the region’s propensity for ethnic conflict, the sooner the better than the later. With the recent rise in the nationalist gambling spirit, the time has come for the US and the EU to make a last ditch effort to complete this task.


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