The Balkans was best known for minority problems. Today, the most bitter conflicts are between parties that appeal to majority ethnic communities. As recent turbulence in Macedonia shows, Eastern Europe could face new dangers if majority populism ends the current stigma against separatism for oppressed small groups.
Visiting Sarajevo 10 April, PM of Bulgaria – currently holding presidency of the Council of the EU – warned that Bosnia faces political paralysis if ethnic political blocs fail to agree on electoral reform ahead of general elections due in Oct, required to form new govt at state and federation level. Upper chamber of parliament cannot be established without new law after Constitutional Court Dec 2016 ruled previous electoral mechanism unconstitutional, and subsequently invalidated those parts of law. Senior U.S. diplomat warned U.S. congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs of destabilising consequences of potential ensuing crisis. Speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament visited capital Sarajevo 23 April, gave speech criticising NATO enlargement in Balkans; next day visited Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka, met with Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik and reiterated Moscow’s support for entity. Police arrested two people in two anti-terror raids in Sarajevo 10 April, found weapons, bombs, ammunition and Islamic State (ISIS) flags.
While the physical scars of the 1992-1995 Bosnia war have healed, political agony and ethnic tension persist. Real peace requires a new constitution and bottom-up political change.
Occasional violence notwithstanding, Islamism poses little danger in Bosnia, whose real risk stems from clashing national ideologies, especially as Islamic religious leaders increasingly reply with Bosniak nationalism to renewed Croat and Serb challenges to the state’s territorial integrity.
Only thorough constitutional reform can resolve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s deep political crisis and implement a landmark European Court of Human Rights decision to put an end to ethnic discrimination.
The international community should start a process to close its supervision of Bosnia’s Brčko District at its meeting next week and develop a new strategy to better help domestic institutions address governance challenges and corruption, while retaining the ability to sanction any attempts to undermine security.
If the leaders of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS) continue driving every conflict with Sarajevo to the brink, they risk disaster for themselves, the country and the Western Balkans.
Bosnia faces its worst crisis since war ended in 1995. Violence is probably not imminent, but there is a real prospect of it in the near future unless all sides pull away from the downward cycle of their maximalist positions.
Political instability keeps growing in the Western Balkans amid geopolitical contests and increased tensions with Russia. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – First Update early-warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to engage intensively to ensure the political space for avoiding more serious crisis does nto entirely vanish in the Western Balkans.