This January 9, the day when the endurance of its entirety is being tested in Bosnia and Herzegovina, passed without surprises. A parade was held in Banja Luka, armed units in parade step sang songs from movie hits, and the leaders of the Republika Srpska and decorated guests applauded them from the stage. In Sarajevo, they demonstrated against everything that was happening in Banja Luka, and demanded a ban and abolition. International centers have once again expressed concern, deep concern and disturbance, and called for dialogue on the way forward.
The very next day, January 10, returned BiH and all its parts to the “regular state”, and it seems that the following year will be quite different from the previous ones. An “accumulation” of mediation and envoy forces in and around Bosnia and Herzegovina, ready to react in order to force local bosses into a new deal, suggest that. They will show very soon in which direction their action will go, but before that it is good to unravel the long-standing fogs and stereotypes about BiH that rule primarily in a world that feels obliged to help it function.
How strong is it and is there a separatist plan in Banja Luka at all? Is Dodik really leading the Republika Srpska into the lap of Serbia and is Aleksandar Vučić making some kind of a great Serbia together with him? Are Bosniaks really the only force that truly wants Bosnia in its entirety? Does Turkey really want its own Balkan branch for itself, and maybe Russia wants the same? Prejudices abound, and it is even worse that they last too long, so they made BiH a wreck state that no one needs, neither outside nor inside. For the first step in a year in which things can get better, let’s try to “deal” only with some ingrained stereotypes.
The story about the possible independence of the Republika Srpska, as well as its unification with Serbia, was launched exclusively by the Serbian member of the Presidency of BiH, Milorad Dodik, as a manipulation aimed at his own voters. Dodik would never have the guts to withdraw Republika Srpska into secession from BiH. One should remember his position at the time when Kosovo declared independence in 2008, and he was prime minister. He said that it was a matter of Serbia, and that his job was to provide a good life for the citizens of Republika Srpska.
That is the real Dodik. He will say everything, he will have radical rhetoric, he will be the most ardent nationalist, but when the time comes for radical decisions, he will withdraw. In Belgrade in critical 2008, many expected him to stand by his brothers, to radicalize the situation in BiH, in response to Kosovo’s declaration of independence, but he turned the other way.
The decisions that Dodik is now forcing through the parliament of the Republika Srpska and which suggest separation from the common state are dangerous and bring tensions in BiH to the peak. But he has the authority to stop them at any moment and he will do it. The most dangerous thing is that these decisions radicalize public opinion on both sides, to the point where not everything can be controlled, so isolated incidents are quite possible.
The essence of Dodik’s current radical position is the October general elections. The parliaments of the entities, as well as the members of the Presidency of BiH, will be elected, so his function is also in question. The stakes are high; his policy has been on a downward path for a long time and is only rising through radicalization. Dodik’s SNSD lost the local government in Banja Luka a year ago, and he cannot forget that. As a politician of instinct, driven by the impulse for self-preservation, he remembers the Banja Luka defeat as the ultimate threat and that is why he is looking for a way out in radicalization.
That is why Dodik will continue his populism with increasing zeal. He will present the US sanctions to which he is exposed as an attack on the entire nation, he will be cruel to the authorities in Sarajevo, he will block them, so he will go to the crucial elections in October with that image of a “strong guy”.
He has no support for separatism in Serbia, not even verbal. The separatist narrative that Dodik is forcing does not come from Belgrade or from the Serbian president, on the contrary. It harms the interests of Serbia. Belgrade does not like any negative and especially radical development of events in BiH. That is one of the main reasons why Dodik will delay things until the very end, but he will not cross the line, driven by the already mentioned impulse for self-preservation.
BiH is one of the largest export markets for Serbia (around 2 billion euros a year) and by far the largest export base in the region. Serbia has big investment plans in BiH – hydroelectric power plants on the Drina River, Belgrade-Sarajevo highway, telecommunications. All that would be endangered by any radical action of Dodik and Republika Srpska.
That is why Belgrade deserves more encouragement to influence Dodik to lower tensions. At every opportunity, Serbian President Vučić emphasizes that Serbia respects the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as its integrity, and that he wishes the best relations with it. He also speaks about the desire for Serbia to develop relations with the Federation of BiH to the level it already has with the Republika Srpska. On several occasions, Vučić organized meetings with the leaders of all constituent peoples in BiH, demonstrating his commitment to cooperation with BiH as a whole.
As for the other BiH entity, and especially the BiH central government, they have been suffering from an institutional blockade for years, which already has tragic proportions. Authorities in Sarajevo, for example, did not have a mechanism to import vaccines, and a few years ago they did not have a dollar in the budget to put out huge forest fires in central BiH. Their authority is at the lowest level, both in the Republika Srpska and in the Federation of BiH.
This is largely due to the autism of Bosniak political elites who believe they deserve exclusivity in the management of central government. The nationalism of the Bosniak elites, and above all the SDA as the largest Bosniak party and its leader Bakir Izetbegović, is devastating to the functioning of BiH, just like Dodik’s. This option does not deserve support, and especially does not deserve pity as a victim, which they have been exploiting to the maximum since the end of the war.
The SDA is a highly corrupt, dynastic-type structure, as the leadership of the party’s founder and leader of the wartime Bosniak movement, Alija Izetbegović, was inherited by his son Bakir after his death. On the narrative of the greatest victim in the civil war, the structure around the SDA sucked in huge money in two and a half decades, both from Arab donors and from the European Union and Western financiers.
Turkey and President Erdogan have long had reservations about the SDA and Izetbegović, as their longtime main partners in BiH. Turkey does not want a dysfunctional BiH either, it wants to do business there and Bosniaks and their elites are not allies in that. Belgrade and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić are bigger allies in that Turkish strategy for BiH. The backbone of that common strategic interest of Serbia and Turkey towards BiH is the construction of the highway from Belgrade to Sarajevo, which is sponsored by Turkey. The problem with this extremely important project is the non-functionality of the institutions in Sarajevo, which cannot agree on a precise route along which the road will pass. In fact, this project is being sabotaged by the Bosniak elite in BiH, in the center of which are, Izetbegović and the SDA, because they do not have full control over it.
Tensions between Bosniaks and Croats are traditional, but they have also been generated by nationalist political elites, they are not a realistic attitude of one community towards another. The same goes for the relationship between Serbs and Bosniaks. Mostar, as the largest city in the Bosniak-Croat Federation, is a training ground for the Bosniak-Croat confrontation, the city is in a complete functional blockade and only last year it managed to organize local elections for the first time in 12 years!?
Like Belgrade on Bosnian Serbs, Zagreb has a decisive influence on Bosnian Croats. The problem is that the constitutional mechanism in BiH allows the representative of Croats (in the Presidency of BiH) not to have the legitimacy of their national community, but to be brought to that place by the votes of Bosniaks. This is frustrating for the Croatian community, because for the second time they do not have their authentic representative in the collective head of state, but Željko Komšić, who has twice been a member of the BiH Presidency, with the help of Bosniak votes, thus defeating the Croatian national community candidate.
Only corrupt political elites of all three nations benefit from interethnic tensions. Citizens vote for them because they are under the influence of their propaganda, that is, the media under the control of these business-political clans.
That is why the October elections are a good opportunity for a more serious break with these ossified structures, although a sudden turn towards civic, democratic options is unlikely. Only the first, more serious step in that direction is possible.
It should not be forgotten that the indolence of international representatives, especially the European Union, contributes a lot to the general corruption and lack of interest in the functioning of BiH. It is pleased to foster abstract and unattainable concepts (such as reconciliation, for example), on which it spends a lot of money, primarily through the civil sector in both entities.
Due to its internal problems, the EU neglected the Balkans, and of all in the Balkans, it neglected BiH the most. It still sees the country as a victim of war, imposed on it by local elites, but 26 years have passed since then, and many important levers are now run by people born in peacetime. The war narrative in BiH was imposed by nationalist elites, it is a huge burden on social energy, it does not allow the country to show its full potential, and it is huge. This narrative is a blessing exclusively for the elites who profit from it, politically and financially, and for no one else.
BiH’s step out of the quarter-century blockade is therefore completely realistic, and this year even the “stars coincided” to make it happen. First of all, there are the new international representatives, who are announcing the offensive of their administrations on the Bosnian issue. And there are elections at all levels in October, which may be the point at which the previously unstable, dysfunctional and underdeveloped BiH is separated from some of its future contradictions. There is enough time; Margaret Thatcher said that a week in politics is a lot. Bosnia has already wasted 26 years, why not use the next ten months?