International Envoy In Bosnia Receives Pushback And A Cold Welcome

On 2 August, German politician Christian Shmidt became the newest international envoy to assume the position of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia. His appointment has received consistent pushback from Bosnian Serb politicians and Russia. The Office of the High Representative is a position that was initially created as part of the Dayton Agreement. International representatives are periodically installed to oversee post-conflict reconstruction and resolution in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The position allows the politician in place to make executive decisions, and make laws. Shmidt, obviously from NATO and the West, has not received a warm welcome from Bosnian Serbs, as they are closely allied with Russia and are wary of and reluctant to EU accession and Western involvement.

Upon Shmidt’s installment, the Serb member of Bosnia’s presidency, Milorad Dodik, stated that “[Y]ou were not chosen as the High Representative. The Serb Republic … will not respect anything you do.” Albeit unfortunate, this is a clear stance from Bosnian Serb politicians and one that does not seem like it will equivocate. 

Bosnia, along with the rest of Eastern Europe, has had a historically tense relationship with the EU and the West. The Dayton Accords of 1995 were signed to end the Bosnian War and create a peaceful way forward. The Bosnian War was fraught with ethnic tensions: the Bosnian Serbs, the main perpetrators, and the Bosniaks (Bosnians, usually Muslim) the prime victims. Essentially, since the beginning of the war, Bosnian Serbs have been enemies with NATO and the EU, as the West continued to do what they could to stop the crimes perpetrated by the Bosnian Serbs during the war. This eventually culminated in the West also having the upper hand in the Dayton Accords, following the argument that crimes committed by Bosnian Serbs were the biggest threat to peace in Bosnia. 

In the most fundamental way, given that the Dayton Accords were meant to broker peace in the region, when Bosnian Serb politicians contradict the continued implementation of the Accords, it is a threat to peace. However, it is also important for the international community to understand why Bosnian Serb politicians have responded so negatively. While the crimes committed by members of the Bosnian Serb population have been entirely inexcusable, those same ethnic tensions obviously run deep and persist. Therefore, of course Bosnian Serbs will be wary of intervention from the West.

Rather than focusing on which side of this situation is the real threat to peace (i.e., whether it is the West or Bosnian Serbs), it may be more useful to understand why the region is so fragile and vulnerable in the first place. The countries in Eastern Europe have been plagued with ethnic and religious tension during and since the dissolution of Yugoslavia. These differences have only been entrenched in the region over time. Therefore, the biggest threat to the stability and peace of the region is the ongoing ethnic and religious conflict with which it has dealt and continues to face. While international peace envoys could help, the most urgent thing needed is likely redevelopment of the communities by the members themselves — not international forces or high-up politicians. This may be a lofty goal, but it is what would be needed for long lasting peace and stability in Bosnia and Eastern Europe. 

All in all, Shmidt may be a useful person for the advancement of peace and stability in Bosnia, but because of the pushback from Bosnian Serb politicians, he may not be able to have much influence. Going forward, it could be helpful for Shmidt — and future envoys who occupy this position — to work more closely with Bosnian civilians, rather than impose their power in ways that might not actually advance peace processes (such as making laws that will not be positively impactful).