Bosnia counts EU path as only uniting factor, 25 years after war

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik wants closer ties with Russia. [Shutterstock]

A quarter of a century after the start of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the country remains divided. EU membership is still popular but that is about all its various communities can agree on. EURACTIV Spain reports.

BiH’s two autonomous entities, established by the Dayton Accords, are saddled with massive bureaucracy, while 130 ministries at different levels stifle progress.

“The country is drowning in debt, it is largely financially supported by money sent back by its diaspora,” Satko Mujagić, a lawyer and activist in the northeast of the country, said of the current situation.

“Quality of life is bad, nationalism and populism are still the main routes to power,” he told EFE.

Nationalism is currently flourishing as it did during the country’s darkest times, particularly in the Serbian region, the Republika Srpska, the origins of which lie in the ethnic cleansing that was carried out during the war.

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“Bosnian Serb political and military leaders that were convicted of war crimes and even genocide are still glorified; their crimes are refuted or down-played,” Mujagić explained.

In his opinion, Bosnia needs to “mobilise” and “reinvent” itself in several crucial areas in order to make progress.

“We need a serious public debate about the causes and consequences of the war, as well as public recognition of the crimes committed, so that our young people are not tainted by nationalism,” he added.

Last September, Republika Srpska organised a referendum on a Serbian national holiday, despite Bosnia’s highest court ruling it illegal.

The vote has been seen as a “prologue” to an eventual vote on the Serbian entity’s secession from Bosnia, which is a stated aim of its leader, Milorad Dodik.

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According to a survey published last year, the only national objective that enjoys majority support among Bosnia’s three communities is EU membership.

Despite its Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the EU being in force since 2015 and its official membership application being accepted last September, its bid has stagnated.

Bosnia’s Muslim, Serbian and Croat politicians are unable to reach a consensus on reforms necessary to its Euro-Atlantic integration.

Bosnian Serb authorities want to preserve and even extend their autonomy, while the Muslim community wants more centralisation and even an end to the current system. Their Croat counterparts have frequently called for their own entity to be established.

The dispute between the Muslims and Croats within their federation has paralysed the functioning of its institutions.

Republika Srpska leader Dodik has made no secret of the fact that he favours closer ties with Russia, especially since many Serbians think of Moscow as their historic ally.

In fact, more than a third of the Serbian population opposes EU membership but more than half favour it. EU support tops 90% in the other communities.

Every year, tens of thousands of Bosnians leave the country to find work. More than a half of the working population is unemployed and corruption is rife.

“Many of our friends around the world have turned their backs on us because of the corruption and our inability to combat it,” Admir Cavka, a regional deputy of Republika Srpska’s parliament, told EFE.

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has made it perfectly clear that its future lies in the European Union, despite  the bumps in the road posed by corruption, nationalism and the scars of history. EURACTIV Spain reports.

“The fact that Turkey invests ten times more in Serbia than in Bosnia says it all,” he added.

Most independent analysts believe that Bosnia needs to change its complicated internal organisation while respecting the rights of all its citizens.

But that would need a hard-to-obtain consensus. Twenty-five years after the start of the worst European conflict since the Second World War, it is still non-existent.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict (1992-1995), sparked by the disintegration of Yugoslavia, claimed the lives of 100,000 people.

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Enlargement has fallen off the EU’s list of priorities and the Union is more than likely to shrink before it grows again. But the Western Balkans are still aspiring EU members and a new strategy has been developed that hopes to put them back on Brussels’ immediate agenda.

“We have published the names of 96,000 victims. We are missing 5,000 because we have been unable to determine the circumstances of their death,” Mirsad Tokaca, author of the Bosnian Book of the Dead, told EFE.

Despite the horrors witnessed by the Bosnian people 25 years ago, there is still no appetite for reconciliation.

Not only does each side blame the other for the outbreak of the conflict and the crimes committed, they all have a different outlook for the future of the country. Among many Bosnian Serbs, its wartime leaders, even those convicted of war crimes, are still considered to be heroes.

A prime example came in March 2016, when Dodik opened new student housing near Sarajevo, named after Radovan Karadžić, a former politician found guilty of genocide by a Hague court.

“Bosnia cannot open a dialogue on its future, about EU integration, if the past is misrepresented, concealed, covered up,” warned film director Dino Mustafić.

That same past threatens to “reemerge like a skeleton in the closet, a demon that pulls on the bloody chain of revenge and conflict”, the filmmaker said.

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