BANJA LUKA AND SARAJEVO-Oct 25th 2007
From The Economist print edition
Spurred by Russia, the Bosnian Serbs are making trouble again!
ON THE face of it, Bosnia is doing fine. The economy is forecast to grow by a healthy 6% this year. When politics is not at issue, Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats get on better now than at any time since the end of the war. But politics keeps rearing its head. The past week has seen battle joined in a power-struggle that will determine where real authority lies in Bosnia and even if, in the long run, it will survive.
At the end of the Bosnian war in 1995 the country was divided into two parts, a federation of Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims) and the Serbian Republika Srpska (RS). Croats and Serbs were unenthusiastic about being forced to remain in a Bosnian state, but accepted that this was the result of the war. To keep this complex show running, the peace agreement provided for an international governor-general to arbitrate between the Bosnians and intervene when necessary.
The last high representative, as he is known, believed it was time for Bosnians to run their own show, so he stepped back from political life. After all, he argued, the office was due to be closed in June 2007. The result was political gridlock and stagnation, so the office stayed open. An agreement with the EU, widely regarded as the first step towards membership, has been ready since 2006. But Bosnia's leaders have not been able to agree on a number of political reforms that are required first, especially of the police.
Enter Miroslav Lajcak, a highly regarded Slovak diplomat who took over as high representative in July. He tried to break the deadlock over police reform, and warned Bosnia's leaders that unless they agreed to it they would lose another opportunity to move forward on the EU track. They failed, and so on October 19th he unveiled the first of what he says is a series of proposals for big changes.
Mr Lajcak is demanding that the Bosnian parliament and government can no longer be blocked simply because their members refuse to show up, which is often the case now. Bosnia's Serbian leader, Milorad Dodik, erupted in fury. This, he said, meant that Croats and Bosniaks could outvote Serbs; and, in revenge, he threatened to withdraw all Serbs from state institutions. If this happened, it would lead to chaos. Bosnians still remember how the RS was formed on the eve of war in 1992, when the Serbs left Bosnia's institutions.
On October 22nd a meeting between Mr Lajcak and Mr Dodik appeared to calm tensions. Immediately afterwards Mr Dodik left for a meeting in Belgrade with Serbia's prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, and Vladimir Titov, Russia's deputy foreign minister. The threats to bring political chaos to Bosnia then started again. “They should either stop this or reveal their real intentions,” says Mr Lajcak. Asked whether, if things got worse, he would use his legal power to sack Mr Dodik, he replied with a firm “Yes”.
The looming struggle is closely connected to Kosovo. Technically it is a part of Serbia. If it gains independence soon, it will strengthen the hands of those, such as Mr Dodik, who oppose the centralising of the Bosnian state and sometimes threaten RS independence. This week Serbia's leaders have weighed in with denunciations of Mr Lajcak, as have the Russians, who have previously co-operated well in Bosnia with their Western counterparts. Now it seems clear that they are opening a new line of confrontation with the West, which stretches via Kosovo to the dispute over America's proposed missile shield.
Western diplomats have shelved the idea of closing down Mr Lajcak's post. Russia has not, and in November Russia's agreement in the Security Council will be required to renew the mandate for the remaining 2,500 EU peacekeeping troops in Bosnia. A fight may be in the offing. And even if Russia agrees to the renewal of the mandate, the broader outlook for the region is not hopeful. Judy Batt of the EU's Institute for Security Studies, who is working with Mr Lajcak, says that “politics in Bosnia and Serbia now mean that the EU perspective for the whole region is dying.”