Wednesday, November 26th 2008
"Secession from Bosnia: a bluff?"
Jan Mus, European Union observer
EUOBSERVER / COMMENT - International calls to solve the Bosnian problem have
recently intensified significantly. The lingering political stalemate has disabled the means of any major reforms in the country, while the behaviour
of political leaders, in particular Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad
Dodik, threatens the territorial integrity of the country.
What would be the cost of Bosnian Serbs seceding? Is it not just a bluff in order to maintain a strong political position? Possible implications for the region would discourage any leader in the country from such a move.
"Bosnian Serb prime minister Milorad Dodik, once the darling of the international community (and especially Washington) for his opposition to the nationalist Serb Democratic Party, has adopted that party's agenda without being tainted by their genocidal baggage. His long-term policy seems
clear: to place his Serb entity, Republika Srpska, in a position to secede
if the opportunity arises," said Paddy Ashdown and Richard Holbrooke in an
article published recently.
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, the NATO Secretary General, also expressed his concerns about the "political rhetoric" and about "what has been said by some politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina."
During the same press conference on 27 October, Javier Solana sent a message
to political leaders of Bosnia "that it's necessary that they keep on working together, stabilising the country, moving on the reforms that have to be done, and that will be the only way in which they can join the institution that they claim they want to join."
These statements, and many similar ones coming from Europe, have been provoked mostly by the contemporary situation in BiH.
It has been widely acknowledged that the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is part of the Dayton Peace Agreement, has to be amended
in order to pursue reforms needed for further development of the country and
its European integration process.
The act impairs Bosnia with weak central authorities and internal division between Serb dominated Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation of
Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Internal clashes between Milorad Dodik and Haris Silajdzic, the Bosniak member of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, have led to an impasse,
which is the main cause of the Bosnian problem today.
The axis of the conflict used to be the centralisation of the country and strengthening of the central authorities (Bosniak parties), but is now focused on preserving the wide-spread autonomy of Republika Srpska (Serbian
As a final resort Bosnian Serbs referenced the independence referendum and
consequent secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina. This would have a significant impact not only on Bosnia and Herzegovina but also on its neighboring countries.
Why it would not work ?
The European Union is clearly against secession of the Serbs and would most likely not recognise a new Serbian entity as an independent state for two reasons. First of all, there are enough painful problems in the Western Balkans for the EU to deal with.
Secondly, for many years the EU supported Bosnia and Herzegovina as an independent, even if federal, multiethnic state. The idea of many nations or ethnic groups living in peace next to each other lies at the very foundation of a united Europe. The concerns of such member states as Greece, Cyprus,
Slovakia or Spain need no explanation.
A successful referendum of Bosnian Serbs would also put Serbia proper in a very difficult position. Belgrade is on its way to full EU membership, so a declaration of secession and eventual independence coming from Bosnian Serb
capital Banja Luka would force president Tadić to react.
Any recognition of the secessionists would, in a best case scenario, significantly hamper the integration of Serbia with the EU. Recognition would be against the clear guidelines of the EU's external policy.
For the price of Bosnian Serb independence, Belgrade would delay Serbian accession to the EU for another long period of time. The coalition that rules today in Serbia bases its popularity on speeding up this process, not on slowing it down. Moreover, after the recognition of the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, any chances for a successful solution of the Kosovo
problem would be nil for Belgrade. Currently, Belgrade is not sure whether
the Serbian electorate would choose Northern and Eastern Bosnia instead of
EU integration. And there is still a chance, even if only in the popular
imagination, to reintegrate Kosovo and Metohija.
Croats unlikely to react positively
If Serb co-nationals from the east would not support secession, what would be the reaction of Croats? The emergence of a third new nation from a fragmented Bosnia and Herzegovina - Bosnian Croats - would have major implications for Prime Minister Ivo Sanader and the ruling coalition in Zagreb.
Croat aspirations of becoming an EU member are clear - after ending accession negotiations in 2009, Croatia will become the 28th member state of
the EU in 2011. An independent Republika Srpska is the first step to Bosnian Croat secession, with the Croats also feeling uncomfortable in Bosnia and
Herzegovina. The problem lies in the political preferences of Bosnian Croats. They are provided with the right to vote in Croatia elections and have always choosen HDZ, the party of Sanader.
The eventual claims of hard-line Bosnian Croats to come reunify with Croatia
would be a tough nut to crack for the prime minister, and Sanader would have
to choose between the EU and Bosnian Croats. On the economic front - neither
Serbia nor Croatia have the financial means necessary to support any quasi
Milorad Dodik and his eventual plans to create an independent Bosnian Serb state would have many more opponents then supporters, and he is aware of this. Any dramatic international calls for "political stabilisation and compromise" leading eventually to an agreement on the Bosnian future of Republika Srpska will be accompanied with a sigh of relief on his part.
Acceptance of the threat of secession as real will not help to change the political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina and enable the country to develop
and reform, allowing its citizens to come back to normality.
Jan Mus is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Maastricht, studying contemporary political developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina
/ Joe Foley, president Foley Government & Public Affairs Inc / HIC /