If Bosnia and Herzegovina is to survive its current political crisis, then its capital, Sarajevo, should be seriously enabled to fully regain its glory — as the centre of regional revival in the immediate aftermath of the war 1992-1995.
Like Ukraine, Bosnia is surrounded by countries that have tried repeatedly to carve it up and promote a myth of fragility.
They have been enabled by nationalist politicians on all sides, but most visibly by the Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, who is proposing separate political and administrative institutions, and has launched a frontal attack on both the former and current High Representative of Bosnia.
Yet, the recent history of Bosnia tells a different story — one of endurance and cooperation.
Not only did Bosnia survive when all thought it would fall during the war of 1992-95, but the country has maintained the support of the USA and European Union. With international backing, Bosnia has been invited down the path toward Euro-Atlantic integration.
Yes, we do recall the failure to upgrade the Dayton Agreement and the dubious political sabotage of the so-called April package of 2006.
Nationalism then became, once again, the flavour of the month, as the USA and EU stepped back from Bosnia to concentrate on their campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In July 2021, just before his departure from office, the former high representative Valentin Inzko of Austria imposed a law amending Bosnia’s Criminal Code and then sought to ban genocide denial.
Certainly, it would have been invaluably better if he had done this much earlier, and if this reform had been accepted when Bosnia was marching well towards Europe.
At the time, it would have been unacceptable to lend support to war criminals or to glorify genocide and mock its victims. His successor, Christian Schmidt, has followed by pressing for amendments to both the constitution and the electoral law.
But Dodik is playing a losing hand.
Serious insiders claim that he’s now acting out of desperation and is using the amendment as a ‘casus belli’. Dodik may be insisting on his way, or the highway; however, in Brussels, The Hague, Riga, Berlin, Washington, and London, politicians have affirmed that the only course for Bosnia is along the Euro-Atlantic joint efforts.
After the news that the National Assembly of Republika Srpska had announced the cancellation of all “progress reports” produced by the Office of the High Representative in the last 15 years, and that it would reset the agenda, the UK appointed the former chairman of the Nato military committee, air chief marshal Sir Stuart Peach, as its special envoy for the Western Balkans.
Meanwhile, the USA and EU have actively been working to advance the Berlin process and the Open Balkan initiative, which both seek to promote stabilisation and growth across the Western Balkans.
Need all the neighbours
Here, Bosnia might play a pivotal role.
The US special envoy, Gabriel Escobar, rightfully argued that the success of Open Balkan initiative requires participation of all six countries: Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo.
Indeed, stakeholders at home and abroad must now work to enhance those relationships, which have been damaged by ethno-nationalists over the past 15 years.
Some encouraging and tangible elements from that period have survived, including the Regional Coordination Council (RCC), with its headquarters in Sarajevo.
The RCC was established to promote growth through regional cooperation in south-east Europe, while supporting European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Although it stalled some years ago due to the lack of leadership or simple inertia of those in charge, the logic of regional cooperation is compelling, and can produce results, as we witness similar initiatives coming from the Nordic Council and the Višegrad Group in international arenas.
A reinvigorated RCC HQ in Sarajevo would by all means provide a counterweight to the disproportionate regional influence often exercised by Serbia and Croatia. It would also complement the Berlin Process and Open Balkan initiative (‘a mini Schengen’) and pave the way for deeper integration.
Actually , the latter was a realpolitik idea by French president Emmanuel Macron (not exactly considered as region-friendly when launched 2019). The Open Balkan initiative is supposed to be a proactive EU ante-chamber for aspirant countries.
However, the EU is certainly in troubled waters itself, without much at hand to offer to the Western Balkans.
Under the global and regional circumstances, both the US and EU can’t afford not to back such a development. Can’t they?
Nedžad S. Hadžimusić, EU Observer