Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Bosnia-Herzegovina is on the verge of implosion

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Tuesday, December 14th 2021 à 16:45 | Read 507 times

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. By passing a motion on the process of withdrawal from federal institutions, the Parliament of the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is pushing the wedge towards a break-up of the country.

Representatives of the three communities take turns to preside over the country (photo: Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Representatives of the three communities take turns to preside over the country (photo: Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina)
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA. By voting, on Friday 10 December 2022 in Banja Luka, on a motion on the process of withdrawal from federal institutions, the Parliament of the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina is pushing a little further towards a break-up of the country. At the helm is the nationalist Milorad Dodik, elected in 2018 as co-president of the central state as a representative of the Serb community. The opposition parties preferred to boycott this vote, which was won by 49 votes for and 3 against, while the Assembly has 83 seats.

The country of 51,197 km² and 3.5 million inhabitants was created by the Dayton Accords signed in 1995 (see box). It is a federal republic (capital Sarajevo) composed of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH - Croats and Muslims) and the Bosnian Serb Republic (RS), each with its own constitution. It is headed by a tripartite collegiate executive with three presidents representing the three communities. The Bosnian Šefik Džaferović (conservative) and the Croat Željko Komšić (social democrat), elected by the FBiH, and the Serb Milorad Dodik (nationalist), appointed by the RS, have a four-year mandate and take turns every eight months to preside over the country. Legislative power is shared between the government and the parliament.

This fragile balance, this gas factory, gets seized up at the slightest hitch. It is this system that the new Serbian strongman intends to annihilate. All the more so since, for months, nothing has been going right in this territory of the former Yugoslavia. And the signs of an imminent implosion are becoming more and more apparent.

"A secession without proclaiming it"

Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country divided along ethnic lines (map: DR)
Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country divided along ethnic lines (map: DR)
Supported by five reports, the motion endorsed by the Parliament of the Serbian entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina urges the federal government to organise, within six months, the departure of the Serbian entity from three central state institutions: the army, the judiciary and taxes. In all, it challenges some 140 decisions to transfer power from the entities to the central government.
In other words, Milorad Dodik is calling for an extension of the already strong autonomy of the RS by creating parallel institutions. This would mean an institutional blockage of the country. At the same time, it would pave the way for an outright secession of the Serbian part. "This is the moment of the conquest of freedom for Republika Srpska," he enthused, describing the decision of Friday 10 December 2021 as "historic.

It remains to be seen what meaning the Serbian leader gives to this word. Indeed, the foreseeable consequences if the adopted motion were to come into force leave a risk of ethnic civil war. This is reminiscent of the painful period from 1992 to 1995 when the conflict for independence, the deadliest in Europe since the end of the Second World War, resulted in more than 100 000 deaths (half of them civilians) and 2.2 million displaced persons.

Šefik Džaferović, a Bosnian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is not mistaken when he speaks of "an attack on the constitutional order and therefore on peace" to oppose this desire to create parallel institutions. With his Croatian counterpart Željka Komšića, he also calls for "the prosecution of those responsible". Mirko Sarovic, one of the leaders of the opposition in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Serbian parliament, agrees: "I think that anyone who thinks they can do this without war is very much mistaken."

For his part, Christian Schmidt, the international High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina on the UN Security Council since 1 August 2021 - a position created by the Dayton Accords to facilitate their implementation and enable binding decisions to be taken - had already warned in November 2021 in a report to the UN that passing this motion "was tantamount to secession without proclaiming it." He is not recognised by the Serbian leader on the grounds that Russia, to which he is close and which is a permanent member of the Security Council, has not validated his appointment.

The UN even said in a resolution that the country was facing its "greatest existential threat" since the end of the last war. This is despite the soothing words of Zeljka Cvijanovic, President of Republika Srpska since November 2018 following Milorad Dodik, stating that "war and secession are not on the political agenda" of the RS.
Several countries (United States, United Kingdom, France) in a joint statement from their local embassies regretted "a new escalation" and said that "continuing on this dead-end path (...) threatens the stability of the country and the whole region".

Memory decree causes trouble

Milorad Dodik is not the only one shaking the delicate balance of Bosnia and Herzegovina's unity. Dragan Čović, the Croatian nationalist leader, reiterated in Brussels in early December 2021, in front of Christian Democrat MEPs, his desire to enshrine ethnic division in the national constitution.

Last July, the Austrian Valentin Inzko, Christian Schmidt's predecessor, prohibited by decree, four days before the end of his mandate, the glorification of war criminals and the denial of the Srebenica genocide. Two black chapters that the Serbian community refuses to recognise. And for which, in March 2019, the Court of Appeal of the Mechanism of the Special International Tribunals (successor institution to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia - ICTY) in The Hague sentenced Radovan Karadžić, Milorad Dodik's predecessor as President of the RS, to life imprisonment. The man had already been sentenced in 2016 to forty years in prison for genocide against Muslims and Croats between 1992 and 1995 and is held responsible for the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 and the siege of Sarajevo.
Milorad Dodik has demanded the withdrawal of this memorial decree.

On 9 December 2021, in his keynote speech on the future French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (FPEU), Emmanuel Macron stated that the Western Balkans would be one of his priorities. He also stated that "this region is riven by new tensions. History is back, and so is tragedy, and we have a special responsibility". The French president added, "we will not be able to build the Europe of peace of the next fifty years if we leave the Western Balkans in the situation they are in today."
In June 2022, the EUFP will hold a Balkan Summit. No doubt the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be high on the agenda.

The limits of the Dayton Agreement
Bosnia and Herzegovina unilaterally declared its independence on 1 March 1992. This announcement provoked a civil war starting on 6 April 1992

The Dayton Accords (negotiated at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the US from 1 to 21 November 1995 and signed in Paris on 14 December 1995) brought the conflict in the former Yugoslav republic to an end.
The text divided the country into Bosniaks (Muslims), Croats (Catholics) and Serbs (Orthodox) and created a Muslim-Croat Federation (with three cantons: Bosniak, Croat and Bosniak-Croat) and a Serb Republic (Republika Srpska).

A complex system and communities that do not manage to get along, Serbs asking for more and more autonomy, are all factors that weaken this artificial union day by day. And they are beginning to render the fragile structure of the Dayton Agreement obsolete.

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