The Spectre of War Hovers over Bosnia Once Again

Faruk Šehić
Bosnian writer and journalist

Never since its creation in 1995 has Bosnia-Herzegovina been so close to break-up, following the recent threat of secession by the head of the rotating presidency, Serbian nationalist Milorad Dodik. A strategy aimed at achieving the goals of Serb nationalists during the Bosnian war, warns Bosnian writer Faruk Šehić from Sarajevo.


The current situation in Bosnia is reminiscent of the events of the early 1990s, just before the war. The parallels with that era of political unrest, pseudo-politics, fears and collective hopes are fully justified.

The Berlin Wall has been torn down, but its bricks have fallen on our shoulders. Yugoslavia has disappeared in a bloody dismantling. What is causing chaos today are threats of secession by a part of Bosnia and Herzegovina called the Bosnian Serb Republic or Republika Srpska (RS). This entity, formally created by the 1995 Dayton Agreement, was at the time the ethnically cleansed territory under the control of Serb forces.

Radovan Karadžić, the leader of this insurgent entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war, had built his policy on Islamophobia, and on the myth of the threat that Muslim Bosnians would pose to the Serbian people. The Serbs were as threatened by the Muslims as the Germans were by the Jews in the 1930s. The present Serb-Bosnian leader is doing just the same, putting in practice Karadžić's war objectives through political means. Icing on the cake: his Islamophobia lets him enjoy the important support of the anti-liberal leaders and parties.

Since the official end of the war (because the war has only been interrupted, it is not over), there has never been such a psychosis as there is today, such a fear that a new war will start.

Indeed, few pay attention to Milorad Dodik's daily invectives and the blatant lies with which he fills the media. Some analysts try to justify this political crisis with the cliché that politicians use war rhetoric for electoral purposes, in order to divert attention from their own misdeeds. But war propaganda is what it is, it has no hidden meaning.

Milorad Dodik really means what he says. His words are explosive and his speeches have long crossed the red line; people are used to his ultranationalist panegyrics. And that is exactly what Dodik wants. He wants the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the pro-Bosnian parties to tire of this sham and begin to reluctantly accept a new reality. In this new reality, Republika Srpska is integrated into Serbia, something Milorad Dodik knows cannot be achieved by peaceful means.

The boiled frog

Therefore, he adopts the tactic of the boiling frog. The fable tells that if you plunge a frog in cold water and bring the temperature to the boil very gradually, the frog ends up boiled without realising it. We, citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina itself, are in the cauldron.

If the National Assembly of the Bosnian Serb Republic votes the withdrawal of the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or the State Investigation and Protection Agency, or the Tax Authority, this would formally mean the end of the rule of law in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In the resulting anarchy, the Bosnian Serb Republic would become an unrecognised political entity, like Transnistria or Abkhazia (an entity that would only be recognised by the anti-liberal EU countries). For Bosnia and Herzegovina as such, it would be a real catastrophe: demographic, economic, cultural and moral.

Then armed conflict would break out. No one can predict how intense this new war would be, but its consequences would be devastating for everyone in this country, for the simple reason that we have not yet recovered from the trauma of the last war, and we really do not need another conflict. Not to mention all the dead, all the wounded, all the displaced and missing. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, 7,500 people are still missing from the last war.

The secessionist policy of Milorad Dodik and his party dates back to 2006 and has not changed course since. US sanctions have not affected him much, nor has the EU's lukewarm attitude. A political bully like him will only stop with the use of force.

Dodik and Serbian nationalists began to block the country's common institutions, when the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (a figure provided for by the Dayton Agreement) Valentin Inzko, at the very end of his term of office [in August 2021], introduced a "Law on the prohibition of denying genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes attested by irrevocable judgments of local and foreign courts". Political chaos ensued in which all Serbian politicians, including the more moderate ones, condemned the law in unison, because it is almost normal, even prestigious, for Serbian politicians to deny the genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.

Imagine for a moment that someone in Germany denies the Shoah, while at the same time holding the office of President...

Just imagine for a moment that someone in Germany denies the Shoah, while at the same time holding the office of President. This is what happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina, because Milorad Dodik is a member of the rotating tripartite presidency, which means that he happens to hold the office of the president of the presidency of this state, that he so abhors.

The escalation of this separatist policy is part of a broader geopolitical strategy, conducted in collaboration with Serbia and, behind the scenes, with Russia in the role of big brother. It is not Inzko's law that is at the root of the current crisis, but the Bosnian Serb leader's desire for Bosnia and Herzegovina to disappear as a state, so that all Serbs can live in one country.

As I said before, since the official end of the war (because the war has only been interrupted, it is not over), there has never been such a psychosis, such a fear that a new war will start. People have already had this useless experience and do not want to repeat it. I don't believe in empty formulas that assure us there will be no more wars. I hope, of course, that it will not happen, because it would be a destructive spiral, which could lead to the total disintegration of several Balkan states. I am thinking of 'fragile states', i.e. multi-ethnic states. The redefinition of borders in the Balkans will probably lead to more widespread chaos.

Once you open Pandora's box, it is impossible to control what comes out. This is exactly what many militants and leaders of the extreme right in Europe are calling for.

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