Ukraine War Delays Bosnian Secession Plan

Bosnian Serb nationalists have been obliged to postpone plans to withdraw their territory from Bosnia’s national institutions due to the conflict in Ukraine and its ramifications, according to their leader Milorad Dodik. In a non-binding measure aimed to prepare the stage for secession, Bosnia’s nationalist Serb Republic’s parliament agreed in December to begin work on breaking links with Bosnia’s armed forces, courts, and tax system.

Dodik is the developer of a plan which precipitated Bosnia’s greatest political crisis since the end of the 1990’s conflict and prompted London and Washington to impose sanctions on him, as well as garnering warnings from the E.U. He had declared that the plan will be implemented by a deadline that expired last month.

However, due to the change in the global political climate brought about by the war in Ukraine, there has been a delay in the secession plan, which had support from Moscow. During a parliament session Dodik convened to mobilize support against Bosnian sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow terms a “special military operation,” Reuters reports that the secessionist proposal had not been canceled, only postponed.

“That is why we put a pause to the implementation of our conclusions on the departure (of Bosnian Serbs from state authorities),” Dodik said.

Furthermore, Dodik stated that the Bosnian Serb Republic wished to “keep neutrality” when it came to Russia and Ukraine and that it was opposed to sanctions on Russia. This reflects its backer Serbia’s stance, as the only European country which has refused to apply sanctions.

The last 15 years have radicalized Dodik, who was once seen as a pro-Western politician, to the point that the Serb Democratic Organization, which was established by genocidaire Radovan Karadzic, now appears to be a moderate political party. Dodik has referred to Bosniak Muslims as “converts” and a “servile nation,” while members of his political party have disparaged or dismissed Bosniak Muslims.

Bosnia’s recent history has been marked by a violent war, which killed 100,000 people and displaced two million more from a population of only 3.5 million. The U.S.-sponsored Dayton Peace Accords, drafted to end the war, established two main administrative units in Bosnia: the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, or R.S., and the Bosniak-Croat majority Federation of BiH. With an umbrella state-level government and a three-way presidency – each president representing one of the three main ethnic groups – and a council of ministers overseeing the country’s main institutions, such as the army, judiciary, and tax administration, the two entities were given some autonomy. The peace accord established one of the world’s most intricate political systems, with a bewildering network of authorities allowing the country’s three main ethnic groups to stymy domestic politics whenever major choices are needed.

Russia, Dodik’s other benefactor, is behind, if not directly administering, his actions. Russia’s geopolitical goals in the Western Balkans are to stifle the growth of pro-Western liberal democracies and prevent aspiring countries from joining N.A.T.O. Putin is using Bosnia and Herzegovina as a bargaining chip in order to show the West that he has the ability to de-stabilize the Western Balkans at his will. In his opinion, a dysfunctional Bosnia and Herzegovina or a low-intensity conflict are preferable to yet another E.U. and N.A.T.O. member state in the Balkans.

With Russia’s recent military drills on the Ukrainian border, as well as its engineered migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border and its regular violations of Baltic airspace, many Bosnian analysts and intellectuals are concerned about what could come of this. Christian Schmidt, the international community’s new civilian affairs overseer in Bosnia, recently told the United Nations that the situation poses the “biggest existential threat of the postwar period” in Bosnia.

Bosnia’s rise in nationalist rhetoric can be attributed to a number of things. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the Balkans, causing a severe economic collapse and political repercussions. Politicians seeking to boost their prospects in a region still riven by inter-communal conflicts frequently turn to nationalist drumbeating. Russia has increased its diplomatic meddling, reaching out to its Slavic and Orthodox siblingstates in order to exploit and deepen political fault lines. The more instability Moscow can create in the Balkans, the slower the region’s integration into N.A.T.O. and the European Union will be.

The U.S. and the E.U. should join forces to start a major diplomatic initiative in the Balkans. Hiring a first-rate team of seasoned diplomats to oversee the region has put the Biden administration on the right track.

Sanctioning and isolating Dodik and his close circle may not be enough to save the R.S. The political body created by the Dayton Accords has outlived its usefulness; while it halted the Bosnian civil war, it also locked communal differences in place. It is past time for the U.S. and E.U. to guide Bosnia and Herzegovina toward a form of a constitutional convention – negotiations aimed at giving the country political structures that can withstand and eventually overcome the ethno-nationalist conflicts that the area should leave behind. Normalizing Serbian-Kosovan ties should also be a primary focus.

The entire Balkan Peninsula is on the verge of being merged into Atlantic institutions. Given the region’s proclivity for ethnic violence, it would be preferable for this to happen sooner rather than later. With the current uptick in nationalist gamesmanship, now is a good time for the U.S. and E.U. to finish the job.


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