Bosnia needs Attention to Save itself from Disintegration
A quarter of a century after the end of the war, Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a dangerous situation. The people who live there are worried. After all, more than 100,000 people were killed or disappeared in the 1992-1995 conflict. Among them were about 8,000 men and boys killed in the genocide after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.
Since the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords and the end of the war, much has been done to address the effects of mass violence. Many of the missing have been found. Some of those responsible for the killing, rape and beating of more than a thousand people have been persecuted and imprisoned.
However, what has been achieved does not seem to be enough. Fears are now growing that violence could erupt again.
State of dysfunction
Since the end of 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina has been stuck in a dysfunctional constitutional structure. The peace agreement creates two units: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Together with the small but strategically located district of Brcko, they make up the nation-state.
The federation is run jointly by representatives of Bosniaks (formerly called Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croats. Meanwhile, the creation of an independent Republika Srpska was a political project conceived and supported by former leaders Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, along with their sponsors in Serbia. Among the latter is Slobodan Milosevic, who provided the funding and weapons needed to wage war.
Karadzic and Mladic were sentenced in The Hague to life in prison for crimes committed to their territorial and demographic ambitions. Many of the heinous crimes were committed during the armed campaign to create an independent, non-Serb Republika Srpska.
The system established under the Dayton Accords ended the war but divided the country. It has also created incentives for politicians to fan the flames of ethnic tensions and made it possible for them to indulge in widespread corruption without losing their jobs.
Meanwhile, the international community - mainly the United States and the European Union - has gradually lost interest in funding state-building efforts in the region. Many commitments were made immediately after the conflict, but since then the recent crises in Syria and Ukraine in Afghanistan have required both responsiveness and resources.
This has led to a loss of initial momentum in promises to integrate Bosnia and Herzegovina into the EU. For the last 15 years, there has been no vision, no enthusiasm, and little hope for a better future. The way the country reacted to COVID-19 became painfully obvious that the state had become dysfunctional and the consequences were deadly.
The threat of a new army
In this complex context, Bosnian Serb leaders, most notably longtime politician Milorad Dodik, have increased tensions by threatening to form an Bosnian Serb army, withdraw from joint state institutions - effectively dismantling the state - and declare independence. Dodik's plans threaten to destroy the very system that keeps Bosnia together and at peace.
The last time the nationalists tried to have an independent Republika Srpska, there was bloodshed and widespread, systematic persecution of non-Serb communities. The Bosnian Serb army has been the force that has been shelling and shelling civilians in Sarajevo for four years. Its security and intelligence officials were largely behind the Srebrenica genocide.
Criminal responsibility at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, as well as in courtrooms across the country, had to ensure justice and deterrence. Bosnians facing the current crisis do not feel confident. The pace of trials to convict war criminals has slowed in recent years, leaving murderers and rapists free.
In early 2022, it will be 30 years since the original version of Republika Srpska emerged as a result of a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This anniversary approach, along with the broader geopolitical context - while the US, Britain and the EU are distracted by other issues, and this is encouraging Russia - is creating an alarming winter. Russia is encouraged by the experience in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, where it has expanded its influence and control through cooperation with local actors. Analysts agree he can do the same by supporting Bosnian Serb plans.
This context is compounded by recent regional tensions in the border areas with Kosovo. And in Montenegro, there are concerns about a radicalized community that wants closer ties with Serbia.
People in Bosnia and Herzegovina remember the early 1990s. Many felt abandoned - not without reason - by the international community, which watched in the evening news as Bosniaks were rounded up, thrown into camps with looted or burned property and shot at by snipers from the hills around Sarajevo.
This crisis, culminating in years of disintegration, is a call to action to ensure a sensible way forward, without violence and with certainty and prosperity for all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, regardless of origin. That is why local political will and commitment are crucial. But more importantly, what Bosnia and Herzegovina now desperately needs is the attention of politicians abroad and the feeling that someone - anyone - capable of helping is caring.
/Iva Vukusic, The Conversation, Dnevnik
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