Strengthening of mutual confidence -- an indispensable prerequisite of political stability in Bosnia and Herzegovinaby Danilo Vucelic*

Strengthening of mutual confidence -- an indispensable prerequisite of political stability in Bosnia and Herzegovinaby Danilo Vucelic*

A Bosnian protester sets a local government building on fire during protests in the Bosnian town of Tuzla, on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014. (Photo: AP)

March 23, 2014, Sunday/ 00:00:00

The recent protests in several towns of one of the two entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, followed by outbursts of vandalism and clashes with legal authorities, understandably received the attention of international actors, the EU in the first place, but the countries in the immediate neighborhood as well. The developments were also carefully followed and commented upon by the media. All this is logical because, until not so long ago, Bosnia and Herzegovina was the stage of a three-and-a-half-year bloodbath in a civil war, which ended with the Dayton-Paris Agreement, with the direct participation of key international actors.

One such commentary recently appeared in the pages of Today’s Zaman, headlined “Bosnian Spring that might not be only Bosnian” and written by Hajrudin Somun, a Sarajevo journalist and publicist who was also Bosnia and Herzegovina’s ambassador to Turkey and who occasionally writes commentaries for this newspaper on the situation in the Balkans.

The author competently draws attention to complex economic and social problems as the fundamental cause underlying the violent protests. However, he openly insists -- certainly with a specific purpose in mind -- on the problems existing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, avoiding saying to the readers that dissatisfaction was manifested only in the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, whereas the situation in the Republic of Srpska was peaceful. This fact is important to properly understand what is going on in the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

What is problematic about the analysis of this author is the assessment -- also continuously insisted upon by many Bosniak political actors and commentators -- that not only reflects the sentiments prevailing in the Bosniak entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but constitutes a major obstacle standing in the way of achieving the desired political stabilization of the country. This assessment relates to “Serbian aggression,” the Republic of Srpska as a “genocidal creation” and efforts urging international actors to use their influence and help revise the Dayton Agreement, which is quite unfairly indicated as the main obstacle for Bosnia and Herzegovina to become a “functional stale.” Continued insistence on such theses 18 years after the signing of the peace accords deserves to be commented on, because they are not only extremely dangerous and unfounded, but also detrimental from the point of view of the efforts aimed at stabilizing Bosnia and Herzegovina politically and ensuring harmonious coexistence of the peoples living in it.

The thesis of ‘Serbian aggression’

The thesis of so-called “Serbian aggression” was launched at the beginning of and during the war years with the aim of demonizing the Serbian people and thereby ensuring political propaganda and military support for one party to the conflict only, the Bosniaks, and later on also for the Bosniak-Croatian coalition. But even then, and particularly after the end of the war, it was clear to every unbiased observer that the peoples living in Bosnia and Herzegovina -- Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs -- waged a classical civil war. There is no doubt that there had been interference from various sides, which is a normal occurrence in any armed conflict, but it is essential that it was a civil war. I believe that today there is no one, including international officials or authorities from the media sector, who would deny this truth. To remind readers, the war was preceded by intense political squabbles over the constitutional structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the time of the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Serbs and Croats held the view that Bosnia and Herzegovina should favor internal arrangements that would respect its internal ethnic structure, comprising three nations having equal rights. However, the Bosniaks, as the most numerous among these nations, insisted on a unitary state structure. In a highly charged political situation, it sufficed to kill a Serb wedding guest to spark the war, which lasted three-and-a-half years.

That it was a civil war is unequivocally proven also by the fact that in 1993, the war was fought between Croats and Bosniaks only, and that it was ended with the most direct involvement of the United States by the signing of the so-called Washington Agreement, early in 1994. The foundations of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the entities under Appendix 4 of the Dayton Peace Agreement, were laid then. The facts are incontestable. Therefore, the attempts at maintaining the thesis of “Serbian aggression” to the present day are both unacceptable and counterproductive from the point of view of the need to make Bosnia and Herzegovina a stable country.

The Dayton-Paris Peace Agreement not only ended the civil war, but also defined the constitutional arrangements for the state as having two entities and common bodies at the central government level. It is quite clear that the Dayton Agreement has the force of an internationally recognized agreement, guaranteed by the leading world countries. Serbia and Croatia, as neighbors, are also guarantors of this agreement, having no minor obligations with regard to the respect of its implementation.

To identify the Dayton architecture as the key obstacle to the establishment of “a functional state” of Bosnia and Herzegovina and as a source of existing political problems is unfounded and presumptuous. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where rioting began and where there is continuously lingering political instability, is the result of the agreement reached in Washington between Bosniaks and Croats, with the facilitation of the United States. This perhaps unusual constitutional structure, having 10 cantons, is probably an expensive one and is a source of constant friction.

On the other hand, the Republic of Srpska has a different constitutional structure that operates harmoniously. To bring into question the overall constitutional structure only because of the problems existing in one of the entities is unjustified. Nevertheless, things may change or improve, independently of this. It is fundamentally important to note that the Dayton Agreement is an internationally ratified agreement that must be respected and that it can only be revised by the consensus of the three nations living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Calls for international actors, primarily the United States and the EU, to get directly involved in the constitutional reform of the country can hardly be understood as a rational way of settling the political situation in the country. Moreover, that would be a prelude to further compounding of the already complicated situation in that country. Outside factors may stimulate internal political dialogue, but the decisions on internal reforms, important for the country’s future, must be the result of consensual agreement between the three nations living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Being a complex state, the internal structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina must also be respected. Otherwise, a crisis may easily arise, having unforeseeable consequences. Any rational approach to this issue must take this into account.

Bosnian Serbs were identified in the said article as a major obstacle to the revision of the Dayton Agreement with the help of “their patrons from Belgrade and Moscow.” This is an assessment that is offensive and far from being truthful.

Republic of Srpska and Serbia

Serbia is one of the guarantors of the Dayton Agreement. It is vitally interested in the stabilization of the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is true that Serbia has been developing special relations with the Republic of Srpska according to the letter and spirit of the Dayton Agreement. The political, economic and social stability of the Republic of Srpska is extremely important to Serbia, and it will, no doubt, continue to support that stability with all its might. On the other hand, however, Serbia has made efforts to develop partner relations with the other entity, especially with respect to economic relations. It is worth noting that Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the most important trading partners of Serbia, with more that a billion euros in terms of trade volume.

In accordance with the respect of the principle of international law and basic international agreements regulating these matters, Serbia supports the territorial integrity and sovereignly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Having any doubts about this is completely unfounded. Serbia is ready to help the true efforts of the international community aimed at calming the situation in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, Serbia often underlines that the political forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina themselves should seek solutions patiently and tolerantly, through dialogue, conducive to political stability and harmonious overall development of the country. That is the only proper way to deal with this. To impose ready-made solutions from the outside is unacceptable and can lead to an undesirable twist of the situation.

Apart from the need to resolve the political, economic and social problems, Bosnia and Herzegovina requires a much higher level of mutual confidence among the nations living in it. Serbia has offered proof of its readiness to work in favor of reconciliation in the region also through its attitude toward the developments in Srebrenica in the form of the declaration adopted by its National Assembly and through a number of other political gestures of its officials. On the other hand, the crimes committed against Serbs, such as those committed in the Serbian villages along the Drina River, in Sarajevo and in other places, unfortunately, still await a legal epilogue. The crimes committed by all warring parties without exception are equal and must be fully investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice. That is the only proper way. Therefore, the qualifications about “Serbian aggression” and the Republic of Srpska as a “genocidal creation” and similar allegations surely constitute major obstacles for gradual restoration of much-needed mutual confidence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is firmly believed that it is much more important that the present economic and social problems can be overcome in the foreseeable future, on condition that Bosnia and Herzegovina achieves substantial political stability. However, there can be no such stability unless there is an awareness of the need to build mutual confidence, as the task of all those living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

* Danilo Vucelic is the ambassador of the Republic of Serbia to Turkey.