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.
Clash between lawmakers from mainly Serb territorial entity Republika Srpska (RS) and Constitutional Court led Serb representatives to walk out of state-level institutions. Constitutional Court 7 Feb ruled that Law on Agricultural Land passed by RS was unconstitutional; law stipulated that public agricultural land formerly owned by Yugoslav state should be RS property. In reaction, representatives of all Serb parties 12 Feb walked out of state-level institutions, suspending most govt work; they objected to presence of three foreign judges in Constitutional Court and called for adoption of Constitutional Court law which excludes foreign judges. Bosniak leaders condemned Serb representatives’ actions, saying that disrespect for Constitutional Court’s decisions constituted violation of 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. Serb member of three-person Bosnian presidency Milorad Dodik 13 Feb said RS was heading toward “leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina [...] because we believe that the Dayton agreement has been broken, primarily by the intervention of an international factor”. In Banja Luka, de facto capital of RS, Serb lawmakers 17 Feb voted (72 votes to two) to formally suspend work of RS representatives in state-level institutions; gave govt sixty days to reform Constitutional Court and end foreign judges’ mandates. Dodik 20 Feb voted against all items on state-level presidential agenda, blocking decision-making in govt.
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.