Photo: rabo11, Shutterstock

Dodik: Bosnian-Serb politicians have been fiddling for a long time already

Dodik: At the latest with the Russian attack, Republika Srpska is endangering stability in the Balkans.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has reminded millions of Bosniak Muslims who suffered immeasurably under the regime of Serb dictator Slobodan Milosevic and his notorious deputies Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. By Dr Harun Karčić

Foto:, via Wikimedia Commons | Lizenz: CC BY 4.0

Bosnia: People have responded to the Russian attack

Many of us Bosniaks fully identify with the Ukrainians; I am one of them. As a journalist, I live most of the day in front of my laptop and mobile phone. I follow news from Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities subjected to a relentless Russian bombardment. Not so long ago, my hometown Sarajevo was shelled in a similar way.

I was eight years old when Bosnian Serbs closed in on Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 1992. And I can precisely remember the same propaganda coming before the attack as we hear now from the Kremlin about Ukraine.

In fact, it became clear to me that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ideology and justification for his invasion are nothing more than a pale copy of Milosevic’s “Greater Serbia” project from the early 1990s, which involved the occupation and annexation of at least half of Bosnia.

The current war in Ukraine and last year’s flare-up in Nagorno-Karabakh (a disputed territory between Azerbaijan and Armenia) made me realise how frozen conflicts can erupt into full-scale wars overnight. Those of us now living in Bosnia-Herzegovina are all too aware that our frozen conflict is a powder keg waiting to explode.

And that only a strong NATO military presence can ensure long-term peace and stability. The similarities between Russian and Serbian irredentism (an ideology that seeks to unite all members of a people in a single state) are astonishing.

Photo by Adam Jones | Lizenz: CC BY-SA 3.0

Bosnians denied identity

In the 1990s, Serb nationalists claimed that Bosnia historically belonged to Serbia. That we Bosniak Muslims were in fact Christian Serbs who had been forcibly converted to Islam under the Ottomans. And that Bosnia – as an independent and sovereign country – would not be able to survive without Serbian guardianship.

The capacity of Bosniak Muslims to identify with Ukrainians is such that money has been collected for the defence of Ukraine after prayers in Bosnia’s mosques. However, their capacity to act is limited.

Together with Serbia and Belarus, Bosnia remains one of the few European states that has not yet imposed sanctions against Russia. Unlike the other two states, which are ideologically aligned with Moscow, Bosnia is divided along ethnic lines. This reflects the country’s internal political disorder.

Foreign policy decisions in Sarajevo must be made by consensus of all three members of the rotating tripartite presidency. One of its members, the ultra-nationalist Serb leader Milorad Dodik, is known for his openly anti-Muslim and sabre-rattling rhetoric; but also, for his absolute hatred of and disregard for the country he represents here.

As a staunch ally of Putin and the nationalist Serbian President Vucic, Dodik is able to veto Bosnia’s foreign policy. This includes preventing the recognition of independent Kosovo and delaying Bosnia’s accession to NATO. With Moscow’s and Belgrade’s help, Dodik and his cronies agitate for the independence of their Republika Srpska. It controls 49 per cent of Bosnia’s territory.

Dodik’s political and economic patronage networks are deeply rooted in Serbia and Russia. Both support his moves, if not directly orchestrate them. Vucic, a staunch ally of Putin, has been walking a fine line since the war in Ukraine began.

He went so far as to open his doors to Ukrainian refugees but shied away from sanctioning Moscow or closing Serbian airspace to Russian planes. Pro-government media, however, celebrated the invasion of Ukraine. They praised Putin and his military. According to a poll last year, 83 percent of all Serbs considered Russia a “friend.”

To avoid misunderstandings: Russia does not consider Bosnia or any other small country in the Western Balkans a threat to its national security. It is only its easiest target. Existing deep-rooted ethnic problems can be exacerbated to divert EU and NATO attention from Moscow’s more ambitious plans, as in Ukraine.

Moreover, it feels entitled to a reciprocal retaliation after NATO invaded what the Kremlin considers its zone of influence (the Baltics, Georgia and Ukraine).


Foto: Mete H., Shutterstock

Worries about new war

Among my friends and colleagues – mostly political scientists, lawyers and journalists – there was already talk of war again. Aware that the war could also spread to Bosnia, the European Union peacekeeping force has sent 500 more soldiers to the country as a precaution. This is only temporary. The peacekeeping force’s mandate could be nullified by Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council, as it has to be renewed every year.

A weak economy, endemic corruption, failed reforms and a disinterested international community are now taking their toll on the country’s future. Local and international observers largely agree that Bosnia is currently facing the most serious crisis of its post-war period. It is no longer just a political crisis, but a rapidly worsening security crisis.

A look at the map of NATO members reveals that Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo are the only remaining Balkan countries that have not yet joined the Alliance. It is precisely here that Moscow has considerable interests and powerful allies who can act on its behalf.

Should Bosnian Serbs declare independence, an illegitimate Russian puppet mini state á la Abkhazia will form on the borders of two NATO members, Croatia and Montenegro, and then turn from a Bosnian problem into a serious headache for the Alliance.

* Used with permission of the author. Harun Karcic is a journalist and political analyst for the Balkans. Over the past decade he has written numerous articles on religion, politics and international affairs, in particular on the geopolitics of religious soft power in the Balkan region.

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