Commentary nationalism in bosnia: in a straitjacket on the precipice

Nationalist currents are gaining influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And international institutions are allowing it to happen.

Knows about abysses: Bridge jumpers in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina Photo: Inka Schwand

When news broke last Monday that Bosnia and Herzegovina was not even able to send a delegation to the Council of Europe, it once again put a spotlight on a state that cannot function like this. "Anyone with an ounce of brain is desperate and hopeless in this country," wrote poet and actor Darko Cvijetić from Prijedor on Facebook on Tuesday.

More than 30,000 people have already left the country for Europe this 2019 – skilled workers who are taken with a kissing hand by German hospitals, from elderly care to the IT sector. Their motive is not only economic – it is also political.

No one from the ruling parties has any interest in discussing the problems and future of society, complained Sabina Djudić, a member of parliament and vice president of the left-liberal non-nationalist party Naša stranka: "There is probably no parliament in the world that meets only every four weeks and then decides nothing." Among ordinary people and the highly political cab drivers in Sarajevo, this sounds even more drastic: "Nationalist criminals rule us in this state."

This assessment quite realistically reflects the straitjacket the country is in. The 1995 Dayton Peace Accords created a constitution that divided the country into nationalist zones of influence, fragmenting the country and pandering to Serb and Croat nationalists. Their wartime goal had been to destroy the multinational, multi-religious Bosnian society. After the war, they were given the opportunity to maintain their power and even to legitimize it in a formal democratic way.

In the process, international institutions could have steered the country in a positive direction. The warring parties had been disarmed by international peacekeeping forces in 1996, an "Office of the High Representative" had been created, the EU, OSCE, Council of Europe, UN and many international organizations were and are present. One could have given the country breathing space, brought civilian and unencumbered people into the administrations. One could have banned the old warring parties and gradually issued licenses to new parties.

Against the interests of the country

But the opposite happened. The national parties were given "democratic" legitimacy with the much too early elections. The "ownership" principle propagated above all by the European Security Initiative (ESI) was intended to place power in local hands. In this way, the totalitarian, criminal and religious structures of the nationalist extremists were able to gradually expand their positions again.

There is no reappraisal of history; convicted war criminals are celebrated as heroes.

The Serbian republic is now ruled by dictatorship, and the opposition has been eliminated. Russian advisors are working on building a new "police force," and the strong man of the Serbian nationalists, Milorad Dodik, is gradually expanding his territory into an "independent" entity. He is persistently pursuing the goal of uniting the Serbian republic, which was created by the crime of ethnic cleansing, with Serbia.

Elected to the highest office of the entire state of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the three-member presidency, as the representative of the Serbs, he has not missed an opportunity to act against the country’s interests in recent months as chairman of this body. The systematic obstructionism of the "president" weakens the already weak state structures.

On the Croatian side of Bosnia and Herzegovina, their strongman Dragan Cović is trying, with the help of Zagreb, to form the Croatian territories into an independent entity, which he would like to beat into Croatia. Only in the Bosniak areas with the major cities of Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica is there still multiculturalism, freedom of the press and political pluralism. In the 2018 elections, left-liberal civic parties won a majority there.

Petty EU politics.

The ownership theory has failed resoundingly. For 25 years, international institutions have been accommodating the totalitarian-nationalist parties of the Serbs and Croats step by step. There is no reappraisal of history; convicted war criminals are celebrated as heroes with impunity.

Contrary to their mandate to promote the democratization of the country, to modernize the legal system, to enforce human rights, to make the country ready for integration into the EU, the representatives of Western democracy avoid even the smallest conflict with the nationalists. The High Representative, the Austrian Valentin Inzko, who has been "ruling" for ten years, would actually have the means of power in his hands to put an end to the spook and give a clear signal to the totalitarian forces. But he does nothing.

This text comes from the taz am wochenende. Always available from Saturday on the newsstand, in the eKiosk or immediately in the practical weekend subscription. And on Facebook and Twitter.

The EU mission itself has even made a fool of itself in the eyes of the nationalist leaderships with its weak-as-nails policy. People like Dodik and Cović could only be confronted forcefully and with clear words and deeds. This is the only language they understand. One can only hope that with the new EU Commission and the new EU Parliament a revision of the Balkan policy will begin. Because a political vacuum has been created.

That Putin, Trump and Erdogan, too, want to destroy the Europe of the EU in unison with the European nationalist and radical right-wing forces is, after all, not a new insight. That the Balkans, or more precisely the Western Balkans, and especially Bosnia and Herzegovina, can be a lever for the further weakening of Europe is unfortunately seen by only a few politicians.