Roifield Brown - Mid Atlantic
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Bosnia, A Nation At The Crossroads

Bosnia, A Nation At The Crossroads

As a young man, the collapse of the former Yugoslavia and the subsequent war in Bosnia and Herzegovina captured my attention and sympathy. I closely followed the conflict, firmly supporting the Bosnian Muslims, whose plight was seared into my consciousness by tragedies like the Srebrenica massacre. Visiting Sarajevo a few years ago left an indelible mark on me, reinforcing my emotional connection to this beleaguered nation. Today, Bosnia stands on the brink of potential division, a scenario with profound implications for the stability of the Western Balkans and beyond.

In a recent discussion with two experts on the region, Valery Perry, an independent consultant and senior associate at the Democratisation Policy Council, and Florian Bieber, a professor of Southeastern European history and politics at the University of Graz in Austria, we explored the factors driving Bosnia's current political crisis, the role of international actors, and the potential consequences of a split in the region.

Valery Perry, speaking from Sarajevo, paints a vivid picture of a country where life continues despite the looming political crisis. "It's a sunny, beautiful day here. Cafes are full, and there's a post-COVID tourism boom," she says. Yet, beneath this veneer of normalcy lies a deep-seated political turmoil.


Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Bosnian Serb-controlled territory, has once again threatened to secede from Bosnia. Perry explains, "It's his business model. The best way to distract from issues such as brain drain, low wages, and lack of development is to stoke division. Unfortunately, this tactic has been perfected here, while many international actors haven't learned how these games are played.”

Florian Bieber provides crucial context by explaining the Dayton Accords, a peace agreement signed in 1995 to end the Bosnian War. "Bosnia's constitution, part of the Dayton peace agreement, was never intended to be a long-term solution. It's amazing that Bosnia is still governed by this constitution nearly 30 years later," he says.

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The Dayton Accords created a highly decentralised system with two entities: Republika Srpska and the Federation, further divided into cantons. "Most governing is done at the local level, and where decisions should be taken jointly at the state level, they often aren't. This has led to a hollowing out of state institutions," Bieber notes.

The situation in Bosnia is further complicated by regional dynamics, particularly the influence of Serbia and Hungary. Perry highlights Serbia's increasing support for Dodik and the nationalist rhetoric coming from Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić. "Vučić has become more authoritarian and nationalist, promoting the concept of a 'Serbian world,' akin to Russia's 'Russki Mir,'" she explains.

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Bieber adds, "Serbia's military buildup has significant implications for the region. While NATO protects many neighboring countries, Bosnia relies on EU-led peacekeeping forces. The main flashpoint remains Kosovo, but any escalation in Bosnia would trigger a response from these international forces."

Economic disparities and corruption are significant barriers to Bosnia's stability and development. Perry observes, "Corruption is a regional phenomenon, and in Bosnia, it's deeply entrenched. Without functioning institutions and independent judiciaries, it's hard to attract investment or convince people to stay."

Bieber points out the stark economic contrast between Bosnia and its neighbor, Croatia. "EU membership has significantly boosted Croatia's economy, while Bosnia has not benefited from such support. The gap between EU and non-EU countries in the region is widening, making it harder for countries like Bosnia to catch up."

Looking ahead, the experts paint a grim picture for Bosnia's future. Bieber predicts, "In five years, Bosnia will likely look very similar, perhaps slightly worse. Without a major shock or significant external support, the status quo will persist. The situation is a self-sustainable declining status quo, with little incentive for change from within.”

Perry shares a similarly bleak vision for the next 20 years. "If current trends continue, Bosnia could become a state of pensioners, tourists, and transient workers, with little to no vibrant community infrastructure. However, there are opportunities, particularly in mining, that could change this trajectory if managed correctly and transparently."

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s path remains fraught with challenges. The combination of entrenched corruption, political instability, and regional influences from Serbia and Hungary complicates efforts for reform. However, with strategic alignment and international support, there is hope for a more stable and prosperous future for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As someone who has followed this nation’s struggles for decades, I am deeply concerned yet hopeful. The Bosnian people deserve peace, stability, and the opportunity to thrive. The international community must not turn a blind eye to their plight. The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is not just a regional issue; it is a critical test for the values and commitments of the global community.

Roifield Brown - Mid Atlantic
Mid-Atlantic - conversations about US, UK and world politics
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