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On the verge of a new war between Bosnia and Serbia: what is the European Union doing?

A new conflict could arise in the Balkans 26 years after the last conflict that left more than 100,000 people dead; while the ethnic divide seems obvious, Europe is doing nothing at the moment: why?

Twenty-six years ago today, the many countries within Yugoslavia signed a peace agreement that ended the war in the Balkans. However, these agreements were very fragile transitional agreements that did not solve the many geopolitical problems in the region.

Bosnia is one of the best examples of this turmoil in that the country has no less than three major ethnic groups, consisting of Muslim Bosnians, Orthodox Serbs and Croats.

Background to the conflict in Bosnia:

Just this Friday, 10 December 2021, Milorad Dodik, leader of the Bosnian Serbs, announced the will of the Serb-majority region to secede from the central power of the country, and although Bosnia is trying to calm the situation by saying that a war would be too risky, this will to separate further highlights the divides that exist between the three entities. But while the country is in the grip of a real internal conflict, what is the European Union doing?

Europe

At the moment, the European Union, as well as England and the United States, have decided not to intervene because they think that an armed struggle in Bosnia would be too great a risk. For the time being, the latter are mainly denouncing the desire for separation of certain leaders in Bosnia, which is detrimental to the stability of the country, as mentioned by Josep Borell, the European Union’s Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Bosnia has been trying to integrate with the European Union for a long time but currently the lack of reforms and the country’s position towards Kosovo is blocking the integration process.

Foreign intervention

Europe and the West seem to have lost interest in Bosnia, but this is not the case for Turkey and Russia, each of which is seeking to curry favour with some of the three ethnic groups, especially along religious lines. Russian motivations in Bosnia are mainly to prevent the latter from getting closer to Western Europe and especially to the NATO pact to which Russia is opposed. Turkey, on the other hand, seeks to win the favour of Bosnians of the Muslim faith.

Causes of the conflict

The fragile peace agreement, also called “Dayton”, stipulated that Bosnia would be divided into two federations, one composed of Bosnians and Croats, and another composed of Serbs. This agreement was a temporary arrangement until the Bosnian refugees returned to the country, but in the end, few returned, and the temporary agreement became permanent, further increasing the power of the Serbs in the country.

This decentralisation of the country by the presence of two governments makes the country very difficult to administer as each representative entity has a right of veto. In addition to a representative government by ethnicity, the Bosnian constitution stated that each ethnic group is subject to its own government and not to the country, while one of the doctrines of the country is that « each Bosnian is equally Serb and Croat ».

Today the tensions between each ethnic group, and each government that represents them, are increasing, illustrated by the will of the Serbs to secede and the Croats in the Bosnian government who are increasingly subjected to Muslim persecution.

Although few believe that a conflict could break out in Bosnia between Bosnians and Serbs, the willingness of the latter to secede illustrates the unresolved divide at the end of the conflict in Yugoslavia in 1995. As mentioned above, Russia and Turkey are trying to extend their influence in the region by creating, or profiting from, trouble in the country, while the Western powers have, for the moment, decided to stay out of this conflict, which is not a priority for them. However, is it a wise choice to turn a blind eye to a conflict that was not really resolved 26 years ago?

Andy DESBERG

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