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Historical background of tensions in Bosnia

In 1991, Bosnia plunged into months-long crises that culminated into more than three years of war; the Bosnian war represents the worst human rights atrocities committed in Europe after the end of WWII, leaving 100,000 dead and millions displaced. During the war, Bosnian Serbs, through the assistance of Yugoslavia, aimed to establish an ethnically pure state enjoining neighboring Serbia. At the same time, Bosnian Croats, too, pronounced their own para-state endorsed by Croatia. Therefore, the war pitted Bosniaks, Serbs, and Catholics against one another. 

The violence ended with the implementation of the US-sponsored Dayton Accords on 21st November 1995. The conflicting parties agreed on the creation of a single sovereign nation comprised of two parts: the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and Croat and Bosniak-populated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The two administrative entities possess a certain degree of autonomy, with a central government in place as well. The state functions on the basis of a three-member presidency, representing three major ethnic groups.  

In spite of the peace agreement, there have been various attempts to create further divisions within the state. Radovan Karadzic, who served as the president of Republic Srpska during the war in Bosnia, asserted that they are an internationally recognized constituent part of the union and are only a single step away from global recognition. Nearly two and a half-decade later, Milorad Dodik shares similar sentiments. For several years, he has threatened the Bosnian state that Republic Srpska will secede and become a part of Serbia to attain the ‘final frame.’ Most recently, these claims have escalated, and moves by Serbia, such as the ‘Greater Serbia’ project have raised concerns over the breakup of Bosnia. Since 2019, the Serbian parliament has adopted a strategy aimed at preserving Serbs around the globe; therefore, Serbia is likely to advance relations with Republic Srpska.

Intensification of campaign by Milorad Dodik

The current crises initiated in July after Valentin Inzko banned genocide denial, leading to the glorification of war criminals. In response, Milorad Dodik, in violation of the 1995 Dayton peace accord, declared in October that Republika Srpska would exit primary state institutions: Army, top judiciary body, and tax administration, with the purpose of attaining complete autonomy within the state. Dodik has also threatened to form army barracks of Bosnia established in Republika Srpska once the Bosnian Serb military is created. Moreover, on 12th October, Dodik asserted that Bosnian judiciary, security, and intelligence entities would be banned from functioning in Republika Srpska. Therefore, by the end of November, ‘Serb only’ structures will replace these bodies; Dodik does not consider it a radical stance, instead a way to strengthen its position. On 20th October, the Republika Srpska Assembly adopted a law that established an independent medicine procurement agency; it represents the first proclaimed entity to function distinctly from the state level.  

In the wake of this development, the situation in Bosnia remains precarious. Dodik’s revitalized separatism has raised widespread concerns over the breakdown of the state. Withdrawal of Republika Srpska from the state’s joint armed forces can provoke a spat with NATO, and pulling out from the indirect taxation system can leave Republika Srpska without financial and economic resources. Nevertheless, Dodik enjoys tactical support from Russia and its Serbian allies. He asserted that in case the west attempts to intervene, Republika Srpska will call its ‘friends’ for assistance. The current situation has led Moscow to employ veto power to extend the mandate of the EUFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia until all references to the High Representative for Bosnia and his office were removed. Apparently, this is an attempt to underscore the authority of the international envoy to the 1995 peace accord.

Implications- International envoy warns over the breakup of Bosnia

On 2nd August 2021, German politician Christian Schmidt assumed control as a high-level international envoy to Bosnia in spite of resistance from Russia and Bosnian Serbs. They declared this as 'illegal' and refused to cooperate with him. Schmidt issued a warning that a small Western Balkan country could potentially face the largest existential threat of the post-war era if the global community fails to halt the threat emanating from separatist sentiments of the Bosnian Serbs. 

Bosnian envoy issued a warning in a report to the UNSC that "the prospects for further divisions and conflicts are very real." For the Bosnian population, devastating memories of the past war are still fresh; therefore, the majority population considers it easier to migrate rather than fight in a new war. Dodik has also dismantled the likelihood of war, rather he insists on "peaceful disintegration of Bosnia." Furthermore, Schmidt argued that continued tension could potentially undermine the ability of state institutions to successfully carry out their operations and constitutional duties. Dodik's actions are referred to as tantamount to secession without open proclamation; however, Dodik has dismissed the report as a propaganda leaflet written to advance the interests of Bosnian Muslims.

How can international community avert threat? 

The failure of the international community, particularly the West, to respond to the current situation could seal the fate of Bosnia, leading to widespread political and legal disorder. This scenario is referred to as the ‘Mostarisation’ of Bosnia-Herzegovina; it goes back to the situation in the city of Mostar, which did not carry out elections from 2008-2020 due to instability and lack of political will. On time political and military engagement by the West in the region in the past has proved the importance of proactive Western strategy. Therefore, the country needs a robust international approach to fully operationalize and revert from the concurrent threat of dissolution, such as:

  • International partners who accepted the responsibility to preserve the twenty-six years old agreement must employ their power to take a robust action.
  • Renewed interests by the USA and European Union in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the push for execution of constitutional and electoral reforms. 
  • Strengthening centralized command within the state to overcome ethnic fault lines and advance accession to the EU.

Written By: Olivium's Staff.


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