The nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina has lived in relative peace for the past couple of decades, after ethnic conflict tore through the Balkans in the 1990s. Around 100,000 people were killed in a brutal war in the region.
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Today, fresh tensions are bringing up painful reminders of Bosnia's not-so-distant past. High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt warned that the country could face the biggest “existential threat of the post-war period” if the international community doesn't curb separatist threats by Bosnian Serbs.
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Jasmin Mujanović, a Bosnian political analyst and the author of "Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans," joined The World's host Marco Werman from Los Angeles to break down the situation.
Marco Werman: Jasmin, the UN's high representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, is warning the country could soon break up. Can you explain what he's talking about?
Jasmin Mujanović: Right. So, the high representative is responding to the fact that we're in the midst of a major secession push by Serb nationalist authorities in the smaller of the two main entities of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is known as the Republika Srpska, or the RS. The leadership there has been engaging in threats of secession for many years, but over the last six months or so, they've begun taking very, very credible steps toward that end, including the creation of parallel institutions and threatening to use force to eject Bosnian government officials, including Bosnian state police, from the territory of the RS entity.
Parallel institutions, I understand, including the Bosnian Serb army. Why is this happening?
The fact of the matter is that the leadership in the RS entity team, headed by a gentleman by the name of Milorad Dodik, has for the better part of a decade and a half been making it very, very clear the fact that it wants to unravel the Dayton Peace Accords, that it wants to unravel the Bosnian state, that it wants to dismantle the country's constitutional order and that it wants to seek the formal secession of the RS entity, which was, of course, created during the Bosnian War and the Bosnian genocide by the then-Serb nationalist leadership. So, it's a real ideological push for what this regime's desired — kind of reorganizing of the Western Balkans state system.
So, the Dayton Peace Accords, of course, is the agreement that was hammered out to bring peace to the Balkans after the wars in the 1990s. Dodik — he's part of the country's three-person presidency. How is the rest of the government in Bosnia responding to these threats?
So, it's really put, what in Bosnia are known as ... pro-Bosnian political actors in a rough position, because the levers of the governmental system in Bosnia-Herzegovina are such that it's very, very difficult for state authorities to push back against the RS authorities, because they have so much autonomy. And indeed, they are obviously in the process of doing something that flies in the face of constitutional law and the country's legal order, more broadly. And obviously, they don't want to be seen to be the first ones to initiate any kind of coercive or violent response to the situation, although it's very clear that is what Mr. Dodik is trying to entice them to do.
So, the Serbs are pushing for secession, the Croats are not pushing back. Does that leave the Bosnians pretty much isolated?
Yeah, though I would be just a little bit careful about the language. I think it's very important to recognize that this is specifically coming from the Serb nationalist establishment, and it is backed by the Croat nationalist establishment. There are Bosnian Croats and Bosnian Serbs who are opposed to this, and they are supportive of a territorially integrated and sovereign Bosnian state, and they are part of the pro-Bosnian camp. So, it's not, strictly speaking, an ethnic conflict, although obviously people like Mr. Dodik would very much like to portray that — especially in the international media.
Jasmin, I'd like to rewind just a little bit. Bosnia experienced mass civil strife and war in the '90s. NATO and international peacekeepers intervened and brought stability, but ethnic tensions never really cooled down. How fragile is this stability today?
I think it's very clearly the case, at this moment, that this particular political crisis is probably the most serious that the country has experienced since the war. And that is, again, largely rooted in the dysfunction of the Dayton Accords, which has allowed Mr. Dodik to engage in these kinds of activities and at the same time, to hobble and undermine the ability of the Bosnian state authorities to deal with him in any meaningful shape or form. I think people perhaps would be surprised to know that day-to-day life in Bosnia and Herzegovina is marked by tremendous amounts of ethnic co-mingling, for lack of a better term. But obviously, these kinds of situations and this kind of political adventurism has introduced a significant degree of fear and anxiety into Bosnian daily life.
Jasmin, what are you looking for next, to see how things evolve?
Well, we need a very serious international response. I would very specifically like to see a robust sanctions regime against Mr. Dodik and members of his government, including the coalition government. This is actually something that the previous high representative had formally requested of the European Union and the European Union never responded. The United States already has sanctions against Mr. Dodik. However, those tensions could be expanded and they could be strengthened and really fundamentally, it's well past time that we move to an international posture in Bosnia and the broader Western Balkans that is, you know, that imposes consequences and costs for this kind of adventurism in this kind of militancy.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. AP contributed to this report.