It crackles again in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Over the quarter of a century since the Dayton Accord ended the bloody war in the country, the tensions between Bosniacs, Serbs and Croats have not been as great as it is today.
Especially among Bosniacs there is anxious whisper about a new war. An unannounced exercise of Bosnian Serb police units last weekend recalled the traumatic Bosnia-war (1992-1995) to many.
The Bosnian Serbs had their special police forces practiced just a stones throw from Sarajevo. This is the same area from which the Bosnian Serb forces had kept the capital under fire for years during the war, resulting in 12,000 civilian casualties.
Disagreement on High Representative
What about that in that divided Bosnia again? The country has three “constituent” peoples: Bosniacs (Muslims, 50 percent of the population), Serbs (30 percent, Christian Orthodox) and Croats (15 percent, Catholic). It is divided into two “entities” that are largely autonomous: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (or Muslim-Croatian Federation) and the Republika Srpska, the Serbian Republic.
In order to prevent these two entities from constantly flying into each others hair, Dayton created the figure of the High Representative. After a few years, it was given extensive powers when the integrity of the state is at stake: he or she can annul decisions of the entities, impose laws and send public persons such as judges and members of parliament. All without democratic control and no vocational capacity.
According to Milorad Dodik, the undisputed boss of the Serbian Republic for many years, that High Representative is primarily intended to keep the Serbian Republic under it. Numerous times he has insisted on abolishing the institute. The new High Representative, German Christian Schmidt, said in his very first press conference in August that, unlike his predecessor Valentin Inzko, he will not hesitate to use his powers. Dodik nicely informed that the High Representative no longer exists for him.
Bosnian Serbian boycotts
Incidentally, not only disagreement over the High Representative threatens the survival of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Serb representatives have been boycotting state institutions since Inzko criminalized the denial of genocide, including Srebrenicas genocide in 1995, earlier this year. Dodik, who himself denies that a genocide took place in Srebrenica, called that regulation “the last nail to the coffin of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
In February 2020, he had also put a bomb under the countrys legal system. The Constitutional Court had then decided that agricultural land owned in the past by the State of Yugoslavia, of which Bosnia was part, now belongs to the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina and not, as Dodik argued, the Serbian Republic. Back then, Bosnian Serbs were withdrawn from numerous state institutions.
Dodik is certainly not the only populist hothead in Bosnia. Politicians in circles of Muslims and Croats dont do much for him in that respect. Citizens also suffer from their politics, which is mostly based on blunt self-interest. The big difference is that their actions as such do not jeopardise the preexistence of the state.
How far will Dodik go?
All in all, the tensions are high. And while it is not very likely for the parties to pick up arms at the moment, it is certainly not out of the question. Much will depend on how far Dodik wants to go to have a definite possession of his own kingdom and what Muslims and Croats can and want to face it.
The question is also how Christian Schmidt will act as a High Representative and what support or opposition he will receive from international actors such as the EU on the one hand and Russia on the other. But that Bosnia and Herzegovina will continue to function as it has done in the last 26 years, with all trial and error, does not seem very likely.