Nov 8, 2021 - World

Crisis brews in Bosnia as U.S., EU stand by

Milorad Dodik

Milorad Dodik. Photo: Attila Kisbendek/AFP via Getty Images

The international community's top representative in Bosnia is sounding the alarm over the "very real" possibility of a return to conflict, citing secessionist maneuvers by the Serb member of the country's tripartite presidency.

Catch up quick: The end of the Bosnian war in 1995 was marked by the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, which established two regional entities in Bosnia — the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, linked by a central government.

  • The Dayton agreement also established international mechanisms to protect the peace in Bosnia, which today take the form of a residual E.U. peacekeeping force and a civilian executive peace enforcement mechanism, the Office of the High Representative.

Driving the news: Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader, has threatened to withdraw Bosnia’s Serb entity from national institutions, including the central tax authority, top judicial institution, and — most critically — the armed forces, in order to reconstitute a Bosnian Serb army.

  • The threats are "tantamount to secession without proclaiming it," the high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, warned in a report seen by The Guardian.
  • Dodik is no stranger to inflammatory, secessionist rhetoric, but this time is different, says Jasmin Mujanovic, a political scientist who specializes in the region.

In addition to laying out a clear — though legally dubious — plan for how he plans to accomplish secession, Dodik is enjoying the backing of Russia in his efforts to undermine the country's central institutions.

  • Dodik's premise that a regional assembly will act unilaterally to overturn national laws is problematic. As Mujanovic puts it, "There's no country on Earth where this happens."
  • Meanwhile, Russia successfully threatened to veto the annual renewal of the EU's peacekeeping mission at last week's United Nations Security Council meeting unless references to the international high representative were removed, per Foreign Policy.
  • The removal of those references deals a major blow to the power and influence of a critical post-war institution.
  • Russia also succeeded in blocking Schmidt from presenting the findings of his recent report in person to the council, another blow to the OHR.

The big picture: The international community's response to the crisis has been "completely rhetorical, which is completely unacceptable," Mujanovic told Axios.

  • "At this juncture, both the EU and the U.S. are failing in their own commitments to the Dayton Peace Accords," he added.
  • By letting the situation continue to degrade, the U.S. and EU are risking a conflict in Bosnia that could boil over to include Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia, and involve both Russia and Turkey, Mujanovic explained.
  • "I don't think Europe can handle this," he said, pointing to conflicts from Ukraine to Syria to Afghanistan already vying for the international community's attention.
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