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.
Parliament 5 Dec approved Zoran Tegeltija as new PM; Tegeltija told parliament his govt will focus on reforms needed for EU membership and “catch up on lost time” with 2020 budget and reactivating frozen investments. Tegeltija 17 Dec finalised cabinet, which contains nine ministers from three largest ethnic parties and two ministers from junior partners; parliament approved new govt 23 Dec, ending fourteen-month stalemate. Several thousand 26 Dec gathered in Banja Luka, administrative centre of majority Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS), some demonstrated in support of RS authorities, and others against them, after RS parliament’s heated session over Reform Program that sets out Bosnia’s future relations with NATO. An expert report on the rule of law presented to EU and Bosnian officials 5 Dec said criminal justice system “failing to combat serious crime and corruption”, called on “systemic reforms in important rule of law areas”. NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Dec called on govt to reform “discriminatory” constitution to end “second-class status” of Jews, Roma, and other minorities who are not allowed to run for president or parliament.
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.