Photo: rabo11, Shutterstock

The world is watching

Thirty years later, the Balkans are still restless

This year, the small Balkan country of Bosnia and Herzegovina remembers the beginning of the civil war that raged between 1992 and 1995 and reached its bitter climax with the genocide of the Muslim Bosniak population. In addition to the difficult task of coming to terms with the past, the already war-traumatised, multi-ethnic people now face a further problem. The country is facing one of the biggest security crises since 1995.

Photo: rabo11, Shutterstock

Milorad Dodik, political leader of Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia, announced that he would withdraw the entity from the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina to deprive the central state of powers relating to finance, the army and the judiciary. The plan was decided in a vote of the regional parliament and within six months new laws are to be drafted, which, according to Dodik, are to be created in favour of the Serbs, as the current legal situation would favour the Muslims. He is supported in this by Russia.

Since the end of the war in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina have been an immensely complicated state, both institutionally and politically. The peace agreement, which was concluded in Dayton in the USA in 1995, produced a Muslim- and Croat-dominated federation and a Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. The country is thus divided in two and has been marked by tensions for decades, which now threaten to escalate and could result in secession.

Part of the nationalist Serb rhetoric that is acting as a driver for the current political upheavals is the ongoing claim that the West is acting against the interests of the Serbs, even though the creation of Republika Srpska as such was seen by many Bosniaks as a slap in the face, as it “rewarded” the genocide of the country’s Muslims with a separate entity for the Serbs, often described in Bosniak vernacular as a territory built on the mass graves of Muslims murdered in the war. The people living there, Muslims as well as Christians, nevertheless found a way to live together peacefully and traditionally as neighbours as far as possible and to look to the future, which they must face together anyway.

The wounds of the last Balkan war have not yet healed, however, and are being torn open again by current events. There is alarm in all sections of the population. At the end of the 1980s, barely a decade after the death of Yugoslav President Tito, who created a socialist multi-ethnic state after the Second World War and held it together throughout his life, hardly anyone could have imagined that Yugoslavia would disintegrate and that the state motto of “brotherhood and unity” would turn out to be a tragic illusion. Today, people want to be more prudent and wiser, to learn from old mistakes. Muslims in particular fear new aggressions against them, up to and including the possibility of a new war breaking out.

Internationally, experts and politicians are also concerned about the developments in the Western Balkans. The German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock recently called for sanctions against Milorad Dodik, who she said was threatening the peace of the country. It is to be hoped that the international community will not fail to prevent new escalations of violence in Bosnia and to protect the small state, which has laboriously built up its institutions within the last decades, from further disintegration.

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