A Crimean Scenario in the Balkans?

By Mirnes Kovac

Throughout these recent days when Russia abruptly had been taking the part of Ukraine, the most prominent words and comments we heard from Western leaders were: “We are deeply concerned”! What is following now are “steps and moves”! But what are they in reality? Economic sanctions, blockades or whatever? Do they, actually, have potential to stop this wave? Or, are we witnessing the response of weaken which is nothing more than rhetorical maneuvers?

And still, one more turbulent region, it seems, is going the very same way: the Balkans.

At least, until we see whether Mr. Vladimir Putin hears the signals from the Balkans. And those are being sent to him from Serbian “brothers” both from Bosnia and Serbia.

It might be of concern to wider international scene that among very few politicians that congratulated to Mr. Putin on annexation of Crimea was the local nationalist leader Mr. Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska, the Serb entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since then, this opportunistic Bosnian-Serb politician is applauding for Putin, and it seems that he is receiving some return signals.

After all, Mr. Dodik managed, due to complicated foreign policy procedure in decision-making in Bosnia, to block its support for Ukraine resolution in UN General Assembly. The decision for Bosnian Ambassador not to be present at voting in UNGA was taken after Serb member of tripartite Bosnian presidency (Mr. Dodik’s party fellow Mr. Nebojsa Radmanovic) vetoed the support of Bosnia for UN Ukraine resolution. In that way Bosnia was among 58 countries that did not take part in voting in General Assembly.

Interestingly, Serbia has taken the same stance. Mr. Aleksandar Vucic, the winner of Serbia’s recent elections and future prime minister is just weighing and evaluating from which side Serbia will get a better deal. On the one hand, there is EU process of integration, for which Serbia is very interested, but on the other, one needs to be aware of traditional historical alliances of Serbs and Russians as brotherly Slavic and Orthodox peoples. The choice for Serbia is difficult and by now the clear stance on whether to join EU in sanctions against Russia is postponed until the forming of new government. Hard decisions are still on the table for newly elected government.

But, on the regional level Serbia has some very challenging issues. It has been vocal in formal respecting and recognizing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia. But, in practice Serbia is still bargaining with Bosnia, putting its unstable internal situation on the table trying to get the best deal possible for ultimately loosing Kosovo.

This can be very dangerous especially when we witness reincarnation of old bi-polar rivalries that are just appearing on global stage. Also, this year’s 100th anniversary of the start of First World War is excellent opportunity to re-examine the role of Serbia. One century ago Serbia provoked the outbreak of the first global conflict in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is still holding similar positions using Bosnian Serbs as proxies to control the region for its own (and wider Slavic-Russian) interests.

Times since then changed, but geopolitics of Balkan did not. We saw it in 1990’s. Only 45 years since Europe had said “never again” — it happened again. Mass killings happened across Bosnia. It was established by judicial verdict in the ITCY that genocide happened in Srebrenica, and for now it is not the final case. The U.S. Administration succeeded in establishing peace in Dayton in 1995, and things from then, in the first 10 years, started to move forward, until the departure of one strongman, namely British veteran diplomat Lord Paddy Ashdown who was in charge as High Representative. He was recently in Sarajevo for a conference and he repeated his warnings about crisis in Bosnia, but to no avail.

Situation in Bosnia is going backward. Until 2006 Bosnians were witnessing “high responsibility” on behalf of the International Community that was enshrined in the Office of High Representative. It did have impact on domestic politicians as well as internationals. Bosnia started to get shape of some normality in terms of state structure that was highly decentralized. All was going pretty well and the country was moving toward EU perspective. It was even in better position than many of todays leading soon-to-be members such as Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia.

And then, suddenly, that achievement started to decompose. The then favorite of both Europeans and Americans Mr. Milorad Dodik had been let to choose a totally disintegrative concept. He is now turned to be worse than any other nationalist politicians. He is now more and more vocal on calls to Serbs to turn to “Mother Russia.” His hardline nationalist narrative is currently worse than that of SDS, the party that was founded by Serbian war leader Radovan Karadžić (accused for genocide and being tried in the ITCY).

All this warlike rhetoric of Mr. Dodik and his separatist behavior is happening in front of victims of genocide, Bosnian politicians, the High Representative, the European Community and American officials. And still they do not have answers for him, apart from messages that deflate from day to day. And all this is happening in the shadow of aggressive steps of Russia in the Eastern Europe.

This situation could have been observed during recent visit of British FM William Hague and UNHCR’s Goodwill Ambassador actress Angelina Jolie to Sarajevo. They are campaigning to raise awareness of rape in military conflicts, the most notorious of which actually happened in Bosnian war 1992 to ’95. They visited the Srebrenica Memorial and talked to families of victims of genocide. They told them about their fears for their future. “Dodik words are hitting our hearts as Karadzic’s grenades have been hitting our homes, cities, libraries,” said some of survivors of genocide. Bosnians are now faced with a special psychological war that it is in some aspects harder than the physical one. Bosnian people are losing hope and become more and more depressed because of a continuous impediment of any step toward a Euro-Atlantic integration of the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

It is not accidental that Crimean scenario is being compared to Bosnia. Empowered by the developments in Ukraine and weak reaction of Western powers, Mr. Dodik is now openly calling for Bosnia to be divided as confederation of three states, and if that proposal fails he threatened a referendum on secession. At the same time Belgrade is still looking at the Republika Srpska as compensation for the loss of Kosovo and thus helps Serbs by all means to impede the development of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croat and Bosniak politicians are confused without a clear and convincing vision how to repel these secessionist developments. The current High Representative Mr. Valentin Inzko is also confused and weak to stop further deterioration of the Bosnian state institutions. And while all this is developing we still hear European and American leaders repeating the clichés of them being “committed to peace,” and them being “deeply concerned”! What if Mr. Putin decides to try “Crimean pattern” in the Balkans? Shall we again see the start of new world conflict at the same place where it started a century ago?(Huffington Post)