The situation in Bosnia is no longer a political crisis, but a rapidly deteriorating security crisis.
The assembly of the Republic of Srpska, the Bosnian Serb entity comprising 49 percent of the country, voted yes on a set of provisions that would see it gradually opt out of national institutions. This was by far the most dangerous step taken by Bosnian Serb secessionists led by Milorad Dodik since the end of the war.
Drafting new entity-level laws would essentially allow the Bosnian Serb region to withdraw from the Bosnian national army, intelligence and security services, tax system, and judiciary.
In other words, this is secession in all but name.
Dodik, once touted as a pro-Western politician, has become so radicalised over the past 15 years that the Serb Democratic Party, founded by genocidaire Radovan Karadzic, now seems as a moderate political party. He has referred to Bosniak Muslims as ‘converts’ and a ‘servile nation’ while members of his political party have used pejorative terms that disparage or belittle Bosniak Muslims.
He does not hide his disdain for Bosnia and has on numerous occasions called it a ‘failed state’ and a failed ‘experiment’. In a more sinister and warmongering tone, he has threatened to take over Bosnian army barracks once he forms his own military, threatening to call his ‘friends’ for help should the West intervene – interpreted by many regional experts as referring to Serbia and Russia. To make matters worse, Serb opposition parties share Dodik’s vision, but disagree on how to implement it in practice.
Bosnian Croats, despite paying lip service to joining the EU and NATO, have been mostly in cahoots with Bosnian Serb hardliners and cosying up to Russia. Bosnian Croats are now seeking what they failed to achieve during the 1992–1995 war: an independent or at least highly autonomous statelet for themselves.
Independent Serb and Croat statelets within the borders of present day Bosnia and Herzegovina would confine the country’s majority – its Bosniak Muslims – to a landlocked Bantustan whose borders would be controlled by rather unfriendly forces. They therefore oppose such a move and instead advocate maintaining a unified and multiethnic country.
Most Bosniaks are willing to adopt a civic state model whereby each citizen’s vote, regardless of ethnicity, would carry equal weight. However, both Serb and Croat leaders have openly said that a civic state would be equal to having an ‘Islamic state’ – implying that they would not want to live in a country where the democratic will of the country’s majority population, Bosniak Muslims, would decide on key state matters.
Instead, Bosnian Serbs and Croats opt for entrenching the current apartheid-like system whereby the two smaller ethnic groups disproportionately outnumber the country’s majority Bosniak population in key governmental, administrative and judicial positions, in addition to having the veto power to block any decision deemed unjust to their national interests.
However, Dodik would not have been able to carry out such brazen and direct attacks against Bosnia’s territorial integrity without the explicit support of neighbouring Serbia, Croatia, and Russia.
Both Croatia and Serbia have been fuelling the current deteriorating political and security atmosphere by constantly interfering in Bosnia’s internal affairs. Neither country takes a neutral stance.
Serbia is ruled by Aleksandar Vucic, an autocratic nationalist who presents himself as the poster boy for EU integration, but is simultaneously on excellent terms with some of the leading global autocrats, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
Croatia, on the other hand, is ruled by a right-wing nationalist, Zoran Milanovic, who has referred to Bosnia and Herzegovina as ‘not a state, but a big shit’ and has even questioned the judicially established truth regarding the Srebrenica genocide.
Dodik’s other patron is Russia, which is behind his moves, if not directly administering them. Russia’s strategic objective in the Western Balkans is not only to block aspiring nations from joining NATO but to stymie the development of pro-Western liberal democracies.
Putin is using Bosnia and Herzegovina as a bargaining chip to show the West he can destabilise the Western Balkans region at will. As far as he is concerned, a dysfunctional Bosnia and Herzegovina or a low-intensity conflict is far better than yet another member state of the EU and NATO in the Balkans.
Numerous Bosnians analysts and intellectuals are anxious about what could come out of this, with Russia’s recent military manoeuvres near the Ukrainian border fresh in their minds, as well as its engineered migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border, and its regular violations of Baltic airspace.
The EU seems disorientated and rudderless while the US seems to be making ad hoc decisions without having a clear plan of what it wants to achieve. It is extraordinary that the EU cannot defuse a crisis within its backyard. Such impotence is hugely damaging its credibility and authority.
The situation has now officially crossed the Rubicon and reached the point of no return. It is no longer a political crisis, but a rapidly deteriorating security crisis. If Bosnian Serbs declare independence, an unrecognised pro-Russian Abkhazia-like statelet will be formed on the borders of two NATO member states, Croatia and Montenegro.
Once Bosnia spirals of control, it would be a highly pernicious illusion to think that the rest of the region will remain stable.
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