BLater than never? The United States and Europe are finally showing signs of waking up to the dangers Bosnia faces. A long-standing crisis has dramatically escalated, and the leading representative of the international community, Christian Schmidt, warned that the country could soon break apart. He described a “very real” prospect of a return to conflict, 26 years after the Dayton peace accords ended a war that cost 100,000 lives, and the Srebrenica massacre of Muslim men and boys that was the worst atrocity ever. Europe since the Second World War. .
Since then, Bosnia has been made up of Republic of Serbia and the Federation of Bosnians and Croats, with a tripartite presidency made up of a Serb, a Bosnian and a Croat. Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs who denies the genocide, has for years lobbied for them to go his own way. The limited international backlash has emboldened him. In response to the introduction of a genocide denial law by the former high representative, Mr. Dodik threatens to leave state institutions, including the national armed forces. This would be, as Mr. Schmidt pointed out, a secession in all but name. By creating a new army of the Bosnian Serbs, he would also revive the same body responsible for the genocide. Mr. Dodik has said that he would force Bosnian troops out of the Republika Srpska and that, if necessary, his “friends” would back him up.
At first, the high representative used the considerable powers of office to control politicians. But the role has been consistently weakened. Schmidt was further undermined when references to his position were removed from the renewed mandate of the peacekeeping force Eufor in Bosnia, after Russia made it clear that it would otherwise veto the Security Council resolution.
The larger context is the death of the European dream. By Emmanuel Macron rejection of EU enlargement – ignoring warnings about the dangers of breaking promises to the western Balkans – it was a devastating blow, and the lack of coherence and stability in Europe has I finish. That has left little to offer as an alternative to nationalism. Dodik has found the support of the Hungarian Viktor Orbán; Russia and, to a lesser extent, China and even Turkey are increasingly dominating. In the midst of political and economic stagnation, many citizens are just hanging out.
Schmidt’s report has brought the crisis high on the agenda. Gabriel Escobar, sent to the Western Balkans, has just visited us; A re-engaged America is crucial, though critics complain still too interested in appeasing. The EU remains largely silent and the UK, which is more vocal, can no longer push the case from within. The United States sanctioned Dodik in 2017 for obstructing the implementation of the peace agreement; what is needed now are strong sanctions against their circle, cutting off access to European markets and banking. However, belatedly, governments should also make explicit their support for Mr. Schmidt and their belief that Mr. Dodik is responsible for this crisis. The West must make it clear that any attempted violence will be met with the reinforcement of international forces, with NATO doing the job if the EU cannot do it, as set out in the Dayton accords. The EU should also ask itself what hope it could offer Bosnia.
The question is not just whether the Bosnian Serb leader descends, as he has in the past, but how safe he feels in future provocations. That the best scenario for the country now appears to be a continuous and gradual deterioration should be a stimulus for improvement.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism