December 14 marks the 25th anniversary of the US brokered Dayton Accords between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, which officially ended the deadliest conflict on European soil since World War II.
The peace accord not only marked the end of the three-and-a-half-year Bosnian war, which resulted in about 100,000 deaths, left another two million people displaced, and paved the way for the Srebrenica genocide, but also outlined a complex constitutional framework for peace in Bosnia, dividing the internationally recognized sovereign state into two semi-autonomous political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and the Republika Srpska.
Today, the country's 3.4 million citizens are governed by three rotating members of the presidency of Bosnia - a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb - 13 prime ministers, as many governments, 150 ministers, and some 700 elected state officials.
To borrow Emir Hadzikadunic, a Bosnian diplomat, "in the quarter of a century since the signing of the agreement, Bosnia largely remained peaceful and achieved some developmental progress. Nevertheless, in the last 10 years or so the international peace-building efforts that led to this agreement were gradually reversed, and prospects started to emerge for renewed instability in the region. Therefore, on its 25th anniversary, it is necessary to question what was behind the agreement's initial success, what led to it losing its efficacy, and what struggles lie ahead for the region if the current trajectory is not reversed."
In the second half of the 2000s, however, things started to change as Moscow started to make moves to expand its influence over the Balkans, peace in Bosnia.
Russia is colluding with its local proxies to destabilize the country's long-established vision for security and sustainable peace through Euro-Atlantic integration. The Bosnian Serb-majority entity, the Republika Srpska, meanwhile, is actively trying to reverse the peace process and courting Russia as an ally, Hadzikadunic said in an article published by Al Jazeera on Monday.
The current Serbian member of the rotating Bosnian Presidency, Milorad Dodik, for example, has held numerous official consultations with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the past few years. Emboldened by the US and the EU's diminishing desire and ability to safeguard the Bosnian peace, as well as Russia's growing power in the international arena, Dodik voiced his ambition to reverse key institutional reforms undertaken after the signing of the Dayton accords. He also wants to organize a referendum to allow Bosnian Serbs to decide whether Republika Srpska should secede from Bosnia.
At the regional level, Serbia, which shares a long border with Bosnia and nationalist sentiments with the leaders of the Republika Srpska, are adding fuel to the growing Bosnian fire, Hadzikadunic said adding:
"Within months of the joint Serbian-Russian Slavic Shield military display in October 2019, Serbia's Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin announced, among other strategic objectives, his country's intention to "defend" the Serb entity in Bosnia.
"This declaration demonstrated that Serbia has now assumed an interventionist approach in its relations with its erstwhile enemy, something that should concern anyone who wants the region to remain peaceful. Indeed, a similar attempt by Serbia to impose hegemony over Bosnia was the root cause of the Bosnian war, which claimed thousands of lives, created millions of refugees, and resulted in a genocide in Srebrenica in the 1990s. If Bosnia continues in its current trajectory, the Dayton accords may collapse and a new conflict may emerge in the Balkans. This nightmare scenario would affect not only Serbia but also other regional powers."
Bosnian Muslim, Croat leaders boycott Russian FM Lavrov
Tellingly, Bosnia's Muslim and Croat representatives in the country's three-member presidency on Tuesday boycotted a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
On his second day of the two-day visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Lavrov was due to hold talks with all three presidency members, including Sefik Dzaferovic, a Muslim, and Zeljko Komsic, a Croat. Only the Serb member, Milorad Dodik, showed up.
Dzaferovic and Komsic was quoted by daily Sabah as saying that they boycotted the meeting because of what they said is Lavrov's "disrespect" of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They said that Lavrov should have started his official visit in Bosnia-Herzegovina's capital, Sarajevo, instead of first meeting Dodik in the Serb semi-autonomous half of the country on Monday.
Dodik has been advocating the separation of Bosnian Serbs and their joining neighboring Serbia. Although Moscow formally does not support Bosnia-Herzegovina's breakup, it has never openly criticized Dodik's separatist policies, Sabah pointed out.
Komsic said the meeting was rejected because Lavrov showed disrespect of Bosnia-Herzegovina at the press conference late on Monday, where there was no Bosnian flag and where he hailed Dodik's comments that Bosnia-Herzegovina will remain militarily neutral and will never join NATO.
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