The things in the confrontation of Serbia and Croatia and recent ethnic discrepancies in Kosovo have resulted in practically no interest of the media in a less problematic area in the Balkan Peninsula, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Meanwhile, one can see a rather dramatic situation there right now.
Recently, there have been serious contradictions fixed between the leadership of two parts of the country, the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnian Muslims). One of them is celebration of the national Republic Day by the Bosnian Serbs. The holiday is celebrated in Republika Srpska annually since January 9, 1992, the day when the Bosnian Serbs Skupština announced establishment of the Republika Srpska as a federative unit of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as a response to exit of Bosnia and Herzegovina from Yugoslavia initiated by Bosnian Muslims. Actually, this holiday for Serbs is almost the only proof that they are still a single nation in an artificial state of Bosnia and Herzegovina founded by western powers.
It is worth mentioning that after the collapse of the Socialist Yugoslavia a bloody war lasted several years in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina that ended with the Dayton Agreement of 1995 that gave birth to the currently existing structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina consisting of two units, Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina plus the Brcko District. The Serbs then were given 49% of the territory and the Bosnians and Croats 51%. Formally, the country was guided by the Presidency consisting of three people, a Serb, a Bosniak, and a Croat. Despite the fact that the system is quite unmanageable and snail-paced, western politicians believe no better system could be established then, although today many admit that reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina are imminent.
As it is known, the Dayton Agreement has only frozen the conflict that started reminding of itself more and more in recent time. Serbs never concealed they were willing to change their position in Bosnia and Herzegovina up to secession. The reasons are not only ideologically contradicting positions of the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia, but economic and political problems as well. For instance, Bosniaks and Croats political elite has started speaking more often of revising the Dayton Agreement and establishing a unitary state in Bosnia and Herzegovina (although even today the country’s sovereignty looks dubious because of the post of the EU representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina who has extended powers in terms of governance).
At the same tie, interests of Bosnian Serbs in the issue are very rarely taken into account, as there are the USA and EU standing behind Sarajevo’s back (which is the capital of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina). And the USA and EU have never loved the Serbian people. So, Banja Luka (de facto capital of Republika Srpska) was sure long ago that the current form of Bosnia and Herzegovina does not meet strategic interests of the republic.
The Serbs have shown their vision several years ago, when on February 22, 2008, the parliament of Republika Srpska adopted a resolution saying that the Bosnian Serbs may secede from B&H, if a majority of UN and EU member countries recognize Kosovo independence (it is well known this happened as early as in late 2012). In 2011, the republican leadership raised the issue of referendum on exiting the B&H. Well, then the issue was lifted from the agenda under the influence of the EU and USA; it re-appeared only in 2015, when leader of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik said the plebiscite could be held in September that once again made indignant the West and Bosnian Muslims. Despite the fact that formally the issue was fudged with the EU assistance, this does not mean that Serbs stopped fighting for independence. And it looks like both Brussels and Washington do comprehend this. Otherwise, it would be difficult to explain why B&H is being hastily prepared to joining NATO, and Croats with Bosniaks started an “offensive” against Serbs.
In November 2015, after Bakir Izetbegović (Bosniak Chair of the Presidency) initiated verification of legitimacy of the Republika Srpska Independence Day celebration, the Constitutional Court found the law on celebration unconstitutional. It was Sarajevo’s reaction to Serbs’ attempts to secure their right for self-determination. So, no wonder that the president and the parliament of the Republika Srpska gave a tough response to the verdict and refused to amend the law or abandon the celebration proposing to hold a referendum in the republic regarding the issue. President Milorad Dodik who is being hunted by jihadists (according to information of the Serbian side) announced that the referendum on the date of celebration will be held on September 25. The fact alarmed both Sarajevo, where Izetbegović accused the Serbs of starting preparations for a referendum on exiting B&H in 2018, and western countries that again put the peace in the Balkans under threat.
The problem here is that the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoys political support from western and some Muslim countries, while the Republika Srpska only from Serbia and Russia. So, the referendum issue has stopped being a purely domestic problem of B&H and is steadily unwrapping into an international issue. Quite recently, Russia refused to support a statement of the Peace Implementation Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina dedicated to the upcoming referendum scheduled for September 25. According to the Russian party, “the people of the Republika Srpska, one of the two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina have the right to express their will freely regarding the issue which is important for them.” At the same time, ambassadors of western countries who are also members at the Steering Board of the council and ambassadors of Turkey and Japan passed a statement that condemns plans of the Republika Srpska leadership and called the forthcoming plebiscite a destabilizing factor that raises tension in the country.
These two statements do not seem to be threatening and have the nature of a standard diplomatic formal reply. However, in reality the situation is not that unambiguous. In case the referendum does take place, its outcomes which are evident now will be recognized by Russia and Serbia, while the international community and Sarajevo will not.
Taking into account positions of major powers, Banja Luka and Sarajevo will hardly be capable of making concessions, so a serious political conflict may arise in the country with far coming consequences. Of course, this does not mean that in a foreseeable future a war may start in B&H, because the international community will hardly let it happen.
Moreover, if we keep in mind that B&H is going to be a NATO member and any military actions in its territory may cancel NATO plans to surround Serbia by a ring of satellite countries. However, in the current situation, it would be enough to accuse the Serbs in Banja Luka in unwillingness to follow the peaceful path of cooperation and intensify pressure upon it. This, finally, may once and for all cross many years of attempts to reconcile Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats in a single state, and Bosnia and Herzegovina will face a collapse.
Yuri Pavlovets exclusively for EADaily