Another Bosnian war on the brink?

Another Bosnian war on the brink?

Sarajevo is a typical Ottoman town where you instantly come across mosques, bazaars and fountains remaining from the Ottoman era, while there are many Turkish-speaking people to be found walking through its streets. Yet there is a major factor which differentiates the city from other Ottoman towns: Its gloom.

The buildings riddled by bullets and shrapnel during the Bosnian war have been left as they are. Even the mountains adorned with trees which surround the city cannot leave the gloom in the shade.

Yet the remnants of the war are not just physical. Even though 20 years have passed since the end of the war in 1995, the factors triggering the war still prevail. 

First of all, the ethnic structure of the country, composed of Muslim Bosniaks, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, is far too complex. The last official census was conducted in 1991, just before the start of the war. 

However, according to a census conducted last year and whose results were leaked to the press, today Bosniaks constitute a bit more than 50 percent of the population, whereas Serbs are about 35 percent and Croats only about 15 percent.

This obscurity is due to the concern that the declaration of the results might destroy the already existing fragility in the country. Some Bosnians also argue that not only the Serbs, but also the West, doesn’t want to reveal the results since Muslims clearly compose the majority today.

What makes this complexity even more complicated is the political structure. Administratively, Bosnia and Herzegovina is split into two autonomous entities: One of them is the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina which comprises 51 percent of Bosnia’s territory and is inhabited by Bosniaks and Croats. The other one is Republika Srpska composing 49 percent of the land and inhabited by Serbs.

On top of this divide, the country is governed by a triangular system which was specified by the Dayton Peace Agreement signed to end the war in 1995. Dayton is also the constitution of Bosnia, being the first and only peace agreement in history also serving as a constitution. 

According to the accord, the country is supervised by a High Representative selected by the European Union, who is provided with the highest legislative powers including the dismissal of the president.

Moreover, the country is governed by a three-member presidency, with each member from one of these three ethnic groups. The chair rotates among them, each serving for eight months successively within their four-year term.

Moreover, Dayton dictates an order called “the National Key” according to which every four years all posts shift from one ethnic group to the other. And each new appointee designates the lower ranks from his/her own ethnic group. Therefore the system goes through a total shift every four years.   

Last Thursday when I took part in President Recep Yayyip Erdoğan’s trip to Sarajevo, I had a tête-à-tête with Mirnes Kovac, a Bosnian journalist and author, renowned worldwide for his books and articles on Balkans.

Kovac separates Bosnia’s post-war era into two parts. Accordingly, the first decade after the war was much more promising and stable. “Till 2006, both the military and political presence and influence of the international community on Bosnia was much stronger. We were improving and there was real progress. Our European Union membership status was even close to Croatia’s,” he says. 

But Kovac argues that after 2006, the international community gradually reduced its influence on Bosnia: “The profile of the high representatives appointed by the EU got weaker and weaker. This is because they wanted Bosnians to devise their future themselves. However, this transition was too early.”

In accordance with his argument, the International Crisis Group had warned in early 2007 that “Bosnia remains unready for unguided ownership of its own future since ethnic nationalism remains too strong.”

Along the same lines, Kovac explains that Serbs have used this situation to their advantage. Since 2006 they have increased both their power and nationalistic rhetoric. “Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska since 2012, speaks openly about autonomy now. However the international community and great powers would never recognize their independence,” he says.

Kovac argues that Serbs deliberately want to maintain the unstable composition and structure of Bosnia so that at the end they could establish their own state. “This, however, would start another war. Bosniaks would never compromise their gains from the Bosnian war. We have to switch to Dayton-2 immediately. Otherwise another war is inevitable.”

However, Serbs are standing against any shift in the status quo since “they fear this would diminish their autonomy and power,” Kovac says.

After all, 20 years after the loss of more than 100,000 lives and that many atrocities, arriving in Sarajevo, one finds oneself constantly asking: Was it worth it?