Separatists force war: Bosnia faces division

Separatists force war
Bosnia is facing division

From Kevin Schulte

Bosnia and Herzegovina could become the next stress test for the European Union. Because 26 years after the end of the Bosnian War, old conflicts flare up again. The radical Serb leader plans to split off from the central state. With help from Belgrade and Moscow.

Fear of a new war is growing in the Balkans. In Bosnia, the radical Serb leader Milorad Dodik is working to split the Serb-dominated part of the country from the central state. He incites his supporters and opponents with war rhetoric. Long simmering conflicts come to the surface. The roots of the new tensions go back a long way – in the Bosnian war in the 1990s. “The country was a part of the republic of Yugoslavia between 1945 and until the breakup of Yugoslavia, then became independent in 1992. And with that the war broke out in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” reports Vedran Dzihic in the ntv podcast “Learned again”.

The political scientist was born in Bosnia and fled to Austria during the war in 1993. He is now working at the Austrian Institute for International Politics in Vienna and also deals with the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, an ethnically and religiously divided country. “The war in Bosnia was the bloodiest in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, with 100,000 dead, more than two million displaced persons and widespread destruction of the country.”

The war ended with the Dayton Accords. A constitution was drawn up in 1995 in the city in the US state of Ohio. “The country has been divided into two so-called entities. One entity is the Republika Srpska, the other is called the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina,” says Dzihic, explaining the complicated situation in the small Balkan state.

Bosnia consists of two republics

Since the end of the Bosnian War in 1995 there have been two semi-autonomous, roughly equal republics. The north on the border with Croatia is part of the Republika Sprska. In addition, the entire east along the borders with Serbia and Montenegro. Mainly Bosnian Serbs live in Srpska. Particularly complicated: Srpska consists of two parts of the country, but they are not directly connected. There is only a narrow corridor between the two parts, the Brcko district, which is controlled by both Sprska and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The rest of the country, especially the central and western border with Croatia, belongs to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. About two thirds of the population of the entire state live there, mainly Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.

The two so-called entities each have their own parliaments, but above all stands the central government in Sarajevo. A peace researcher once said that to the “Deutsche Welle” referred to as “the most complex system of government in the world”. Dzihic explains why: “The ethnic principle was placed at the center of political and administrative life. Everything is divided, the administration, the most important positions in the state. There is a three-person state presidency consisting of a Bosniak, a Serb and a Croat . “

“Hardcore nationalist” ignites in Republika Srpska

More than a quarter of a century after the Dayton Agreement, the balance sheet is sobering, the political scientist describes. Attempts at democratization and Europeanization have “borne no fruit”. An ethnic-nationalist policy continues to dominate the country. “This leads to a permanent political crisis in the country and to the question of whether such a state has and can have a future at all,” worries Vedran Dzihic.

In any case, the representative of the Bosnian Serbs in the central government, Milorad Dodik, has long since had nothing to do with a future as a united country. He wants to split the Republika Srpska from the rest of the state. The now 62-year-old has been an integral part of the political landscape in Bosnia for many years. From 2010 to 2018 he was President of Srpska. He then became a member of the three-person state presidency, the chairmanship of which changes every eight months.

Support from Serbia and Russia

“Dodik was initially seen as a bearer of hope for a liberal and democratic Bosnia, but has since turned into a hardcore nationalist”, analyzes Dzihic. The expert sees this as a tactic. With the riot policy, Dodik wanted to divert attention from his “very poor government record in the Republika Srpska”. The region is “financially starved” and is “held in a stranglehold by a clientelist, nationalist, corrupt clique around Dodik”.

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Dodik has repeatedly threatened to split off in recent years. He receives support from Serbia in particular. And Russia is currently also involved in Bosnia – “stronger than ever before,” as Vedran Dzihic says. President Putin wants to prevent Bosnia’s connection to the West, the political scientist analyzes. A “new geopolitical marketplace” has emerged in the Balkans. “The cards are being redistributed here at the moment. Russia wants to give the European Union a handshake. They don’t want to threaten the European project, but at least challenge it.”

Russia is about to prevent NATO expansion. “Bosnia would be a natural candidate country for NATO membership. The Serbs are also fighting this very strongly. I have the feeling that Bosnia-Herzegovina has now become a collateral damage to European passivity, American hesitation and a new geopolitical struggle”, said the Viennese political scientist in the podcast.

Because this situation primarily affects the inhabitants of Bosnia, many of them are considering leaving the country. Young people in particular no longer see any prospects at home in the midst of the political confusion. A recent poll shows that around 50 percent of young people have a specific desire to live elsewhere.

The European Union is critical of Dodik’s behavior and will presumably react to it with sanctions for Srpska. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, among others, spoke of this last week. Christian Schmidt is also in favor. The former Federal Minister of Agriculture has been High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina at the United Nations since August. In its latest report it says: “Bosnia-Herzegovina is facing its gravest existential threat of the post-war period”.

EU perspective for Bosnia?

For expert Dzihic, “de-escalation” will be the most important thing in the next few weeks and months. “You have to get away from this war rhetoric. Dodik has crossed the red line several times. The Americans and the Europeans have to show their colors.” Bosnia-Herzegovina must be freed from ethno-politics, opposition parties must receive more support. After all, there are also forces in the country who are committed to the fight against corruption. “And then it is up to the EU to offer the country credible immigration prospects.”

Two successor states of Yugoslavia are already EU members, Slovenia and Croatia. Serbia, North Macedonia and Montenegro are on the list of candidate countries. Bosnia-Herzegovina also wants to belong to the EU and applied for membership in 2016. Nevertheless, the country is currently still a long way from EU integration.

The “very high requirements” for membership have not yet been met, UN envoy Christian Schmidt recently made it clear. But there are “steps in the right direction” and he is “counting on the younger generation who want a better life”. There are still problems in the country, but in contrast to 1995 “nobody has to fear being shot on the street”. In order for it to stay that way, Schmidt is counting on the country with 3 million inhabitants to join the EU soon.

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