Wars around the corner

Wars around the corner

The gunshots fired a century ago - on June 28, 1914 - in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina took the life of Austrian archduke Franz Ferdinand and lit the fuse for World War I. The world irrevocably changed that day. Young Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip, who also killed his pregnant wife Sophia, assassinated him. According to many relevant observers, today this act can be characterized as a classical act of terrorism. Few authors tackled the anger and hatred that were recorded during the trial of assassins in Sarajevo on Dec. 5, 1914. “I would love most if I could compress Sarajevo into a box of matches and set it ablaze to burn completely,” Gavrilo Princip responded to the judges during the trial. The task that he had not managed to achieve would, paradoxically, indeed happen at the end of the last century in 1992, when Sarajevo was besieged by proponents of the same ideology of Greater Serbia.

Even today, for Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, Gavrilo Princip is a Serbian national hero. According to the Serbian narrative, Princip was a young revolutionary who fought for the unification of the South Slavic peoples. But in reality that unification was meant to be under regional Serbian domination, under the same precept of “Greater Serbia” that was attempted by Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. Just recently, on June 22, President Nikolic stated that Bosnia, in this capacity, will probably not survive.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, however, immediately rebuffed this statement, reiterating Serbia’s commitment to respecting Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Some view Nikolic and Vucic’s statements in terms of “good cop, bad cop.”

It is a strange case in the Balkans that wars are always somewhere around the corner. It’s no wonder why the Balkans cannot move forward from the conflicting views of the Sarajevo assassination. Even the ceremonies that took place last week in Sarajevo were not unified. On the Bosnian side the causes and immediate inducement for the outbreak of WWI were scholarly questioned and debated. On the other, the Serbian side, this approach is rejected as anti-Serbian. Therefore Serbia, together with Serb entity in Bosnia, held a separate ceremony on June 28 in Visegrad, at the very site where genocidal mass killing occurred during the last 1992-95 Bosnian war.

During the wars of the 1990s, the policy of Milosevic’s Serbia was to dismember Bosnia-Herzegovina and carve out a Serb entity on its territory. The Dayton Peace Agreement granted Serbs huge autonomy in the form of the “Republic of Srpska” – the Serb dominated entity or half of Bosnia. It stopped the bloody war, but the war of conflicting visions of the future remained. Some argue that while Serbia is still outside the EU its leaders, including new Prime Minister Vucic (who is now a great favorite of the West), will not pursue the full break-up of Bosnia, but will seek to strengthen the current status quo – the Dayton settlement, which guaranties a dysfunctional and very expensive state apparatus. It gives the space for secessionist aspirations but also for further destabilization of the entire region. No one dare to question what will happen when Serbia joins the European Union, or if the European Union fails?

Esteemed British historian Margaret MacMillan said in Sarajevo last week that on the eve of First World War there was a predominant view among Europeans that the 19th century was pretty calm and prosperous, with achievements in science and technology in almost all fields. Many Europeans thought the 19th century had achieved great advancement in terms of civilization and values, and many expected this trend to continue, with a great majority expecting an even more pacific and prosperous 20th century. But now we know how mistaken they were!

It seems that in the Balkans the burden of “too much history” does not give too many lessons. Instead, it produces too many divisions. As for the glorification of the person who lit the flames of the first global conflict, the next “logical” thing I expect is his beatification by the Serbian Orthodox Church. Until then, world leaders can sit and wait, dreaming the same dreams that European and American leaders dreamed at the beginning of 1914 – and they were very nice, promising and peaceful ones!

*Mirnes Kovac is journalist and political analyst from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzergovina.