Miroslava Lajčak’s poor performance, his stubborn determination not to use the so-called Bonn powers of the international community’s high representative in the Balkans if necessary, consolidated Bosnia’s image as a thoroughly unworkable state and encouraged the impression that the world had given up on it, and that maintenance of this ‘Dayton construction’ by artificial means was a pointless and expensive exercise. Few believed as a result that Lajčak’s successor, the relatively unknown Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, would be very different, expecting that he would limit his ambitions to surviving his two-year mandate.
A few days ago, however, Inzko surprised everyone, maybe also himself. After repeated warnings to Milorad Dodik, the leading cause of the Bosnia’s current turbulence, to desist had failed, he felt bound to revoke the notorious decisions of the RS assembly giving Banja Luka competencies which did not belong to it, such as the right to veto every decision of the common Bosnian parliament in Sarajevo. The Austrian took the view that such an act was anti-constitutional and contrary to the Dayton agreement; that by assuming the right for the Bosnian Serb entity to behave as it saw fit it would paralyse the central state.
As was to expected, his act provoked fury, revolt and a barrage of accusations from the Serb side, alleging that Inzko had overstepped his powers, and that he had lined up with those (i.e. the Bosniaks and the Croats) who would like to see RS wiped off the map. The Bosniak and Croat side took the view, on the other hand, that the high representative had been left with no option but to act as he did, and that the next logical step would be to dismiss Milorad Dodik as the main disruptive factor in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Javier Solana joined the fray with uncommon speed and gave his support to Inzko’s measures, perhaps in order to deny Muhamed Filipović’s assertion that Solana favoured the break-up of Dayton Bosnia-Herzegovina and its replacement by three national statelets. He followed this up with the message that the proposed replacement of the OHR with a EU mission did not signal any essential changes in the international approach to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A true (political) bombshell came from Belgrade, however, delivered by the main promoter and protector of the unrestrained and unruly Dodik’s public performances: the ‘tireless’ and ‘all-powerful’ Serbian president Boris Tadić, who sped off with unseemly haste to the RS ‘capital’. Media close to the Serbian government asserted that he had gone to ‘calm down passions’, but he in fact inflamed them further once he got there. Encouraged perhaps by Joseph Biden’s alleged recent ‘dressing down’ of Milorad Dodik and Haris Silajdžić, accompanied by American compliments to Belgrade for its ‘constructive’ and ‘cooperative’ regional policy, Tadić seems to have come to believe in his role as an infallible and indisputable Balkan arbiter. It was claimed that he had urged Dodik to restrain his temper and avoid radical moves that might provoke the international community. But he himself provoked a revolt among politicians from Bosnia’s other national groups, by the fact that he had entered another sovereign state in disregard of diplomatic protocol; by openly taking Dodik’s side with a firm condemnation of Inzko’s revocation of the acts passed by the RS ‘parliament’; and by his declaration that ‘those who wish to see a stable Western Balkans, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, should avoid situations in which legitimate decisions by citizens’ representatives are revoked’. In other words, according to Tadić, whatever the RS assembly might pass, including decisions that run contrary to the Dayton agreement – such as seeking to raise the entity above that of the central state in the view of the international representative – was legitimate, because it represented the will of the citizens and could not therefore be questioned. If the RS assembly, for example, decided to conduct a referendum on RS leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina, then this too according to Tadić would be an expression of the people’s sovereign will.
A few months ago the Hungarian president, Lázsló Sólyom, had to cancel a ‘private’ visit to the Vojvodina Hungarians after receiving a discreet message from Tadić’s office that his visit would not be welcome, because of its ‘potential negative influence on the current debate on the Vojvodina statute, and on some other sensitive issues’. Yet Belgrade denounced the criticisms made by the members of the Bosnian presidency Haris Silajdžić and Željko Komšić, by the SDA leader Sulejman Tihić, and by the SDP leader Zlatko Lagumdžija, of Tadić’s blitzkrieg visit to Banja Luka as ‘unworthy and undiplomatic behaviour’, as a kind of ‘verbal patriotism’, and as an attempt to deny Serbia its supposed role as guarantor of the Dayton agreement and of Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – Serbia being, it was also claimed, the most important factor of Balkan stability. Tadić’s increasingly frequent political promenades in the Serb entity, combined with Dodik’s constant presence in Belgrade, are interpreted in Sarajevo, however, as a return to the policy of Slobodan Milošević, and as an indicator that despite everything Serbia remains determined to turn Bosnia into a ‘Serbian colony’.
This conflict has its roots in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, feeding on the essential difference over whether Serbia, acting through the JNA, attacked Bosnia, or whether what happened there was in fact a civil war. The conflict escalated when Bosnia-Herzegovina charged Serbia with having committed genocide in Bosnia. Belgrade’s refusal to act in accordance with the judgement issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, according to which Serbia could have but did not prevent genocide in Srebrenica, only encouraged the Bosniak-Croat part of Bosnia to remain suspicious of the Serbian government’s true intentions. Especially since Serbia stubbornly persists in refusing to pass a parliamentary resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre, ignores demands to join in commemorating the European day of remembrance of the Srebrenica victims, insists on equalising all crimes committed on an ethnic basis, and tolerates – indeed actively encourages – Dodik’s systematic obstruction of the Bosnian state’s functioning. The conflict has reached a new high point, and relations between Belgrade and Sarajevo fell to a new low after Serbia’s decision to issue Interpol warrants for the arrest of those suspected of having taken part in an attack on JNA units in Sarajevo at the start of the war in 1992 ( having already arrested and charged Ilija Jurišić for a similar incident in Tuzla). These acts are viewed in Sarajevo as provocations – a ‘brazen attempt to change the character of the war by claiming that the former Yugoslav (in fact Serbian) army was not the aggressor but a victim’. One response from Bosnia-Herzegovina was a demand that Bosnia should start proceedings against former FRY presidents Dobrica Ćosić and Zoran Lilić, as responsible for starting the war and for the ensuing war crimes committed in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Protesting against a Serbian policy that they see as a grave threat to Bosnia, Silajdžić and Komšić recently cancelled their state visit to Serbia. The hope that Biden’s visit would calm the tensions between Belgrade and Sarajevo have thus proved unfounded, as have the expectations on the part of the Bosniak leaders that Biden’s visit would put paid to Dodik’s efforts to make RS a virtually independent entity. While treating Nenad Radmanović, the currently presiding Serb member of the Bosnian presidency, as a head of state during his recent controversial visit, Tadić also sent a message to Silajdžić and Komšić that they would always be ‘welcome in Serbia’. However, he did not omit on that occasion to reiterate also that there is no ‘viable solution’ for Bosnia-Herzegovina other than one agreed upon by the representatives of all three constituent peoples – Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats. Tadić’s declaration is seen in Sarajevo as nothing but a screen hiding other intentions and ambitions. We are dealing here, in fact, with a war of attrition. The Dayton agreement was not a true agreement between the three peoples, but an ultimatum by the great powers -and by the United States in particular – that war and bloodshed had to be ended at all costs. On the one hand this proved effective, but on the other it imposed a wholly unviable state formula that has led to permanent paralysis. Fifteen years have passed since the end of the war, but the Bosnian state grows ever weaker and the rhetoric of the national leaders ever more nationalistic and warlike.
The Serbian strategy is to prevent any change to the Dayton agreement that would strengthen the internationally recognised Bosnian state, and to do everything possible to reduce its competencies and, if that is not possible, to paralyse it through continued obstruction and destructive behaviour. The international community, and the European Union which has taken responsibility for Bosnia-Herzegovina, will thus be faced with a fait accompli: Bosnia’s break-up along ethnic lines. The idea is that time and the determination to obstruct and demonise Bosnia-Herzegovina as a common state will be rewarded, with Serbia gaining territorial compensation in Bosnia for the loss of Kosovo.
Translated by Bosnian Institute from a longer article on the www.pescanik.net website, 27.06.2009.