Bosnia trips again on EU road as Balkan troubles mount
British UN draft resolution on Srebrenica massacre fuels anger among Bosnian Serbs
Serb prime minister Aleksandar Vucic: said a testing month lay ahead for his country and the region. Photograph: Gent Shkullaku/AFP/Getty Images
A plan to “reboot” Bosnia’s faltering European Union integration has stumbled at the first hurdle, as the country’s Serb-run region blocked a key reform programme amid rising tension ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.
The political setback came as Bosnian Serbs denounced a British draft UN resolution to mark the 1995 slaughter of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslims, and Switzerland arrested a wartime commander of Bosnian Muslim forces at Serbia’s request.
Squabbling between Bosnia’s Serb, Croat and Muslim – or Bosniak – politicians, and the complexity of its post-war administrative system paralysed the country’s EU accession bid, prompting the bloc to launch a new strategy last December to rejig and reinvigorate the integration process.
After all Bosnia’s leaders made a written commitment to EU integration, Brussels this month put into force a landmark stabilisation and association agreement, which is a key step towards ultimate membership of the bloc. In response, the leaders of Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat Federation and Serb-run Republika Srpska were supposed to agree a fundamental reform agenda, and sign it with EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn during his planned visit to Sarajevo on Thursday.
“The agenda does not exist for us. I am the president of Republika Srpska and I represent it, and I give no consent for this, whatever some people may think,” Milorad Dodik, scourge of many EU initiatives in Bosnia, said in rejecting the plan.
Hahn postponed his visit, and urged Bosnia’s leaders to make “swift and bold decisions and actions (to put) the interest, stability and prosperity of the country and its citizens beyond party interests.”
“I call on the government of Republika Srpska to take similar steps as a matter of utmost priority,” he said. “The EU is ready to support this reform agenda with substantial funds. However, these can obviously only be committed in case the reform agenda is properly adopted and implemented.”
Hahn warned that Bosnia “faces serious socio-economic challenges”, and the International Monetary Fund has said it will only resume lending to the cash-strapped state if it commits to deep reform. Local media claim Dodik dislikes provision made in the reform plans for possible future privatisation of lucrative energy assets that his allies control.
This week’s events suggest Dodik will continue to be the West’s bugbear in Bosnia, having repeatedly rejected attempts to strengthen the state’s unity and threatened to call an independence referendum in Republika Srpska.
Dodik this week also denounced a British draft resolution at the UN security council that London’s ambassador to Bosnia, Edward Ferguson, said would “commemorate the victims of the genocide at Srebrenica, and those who suffered on all sides in the war, and . . . encourage further steps towards reconciliation.”
International and Bosnian courts have recognised the massacre of Muslims by Ratko Mladic’s Bosnian Serb forces as genocide, but leaders of Serbia and Republika Srpska – while admitting that terrible crimes were committed – insist it was not genocide.
“This attitude towards Bosnia is typical of the British,” Dodik said of a resolution that he believed “does not mark a step towards ethnic reconciliation but may rather further destabilise relations in the country”.
“Two months ago, I asked the British ambassador in Sarajevo what kind of text was being prepared, and he feigned ignorance,” Dodik added. “This means that they treat us [Serbs] as an unimportant and unnecessary nation in Bosnia.”
Serbia’s foreign minister Ivica Dacic asked Britain urgently to provide information about the draft resolution. “Paying tribute to the victims of any crime, including the crime in Srebrenica, is not an issue,” Dacic said. “We expect the world to treat the crimes committed against Serbs in the same way.”
In what many Bosniaks saw as a cynical attempt by Belgrade to highlight Serbs’ wartime suffering before the Srebrenica anniversary, Swiss authorities this week detained former Bosniak commander Naser Oric on Serbia’s request.
The Serb warrant, issued in February, accuses Oric and his forces of committing atrocities in the Srebrenica region during Bosnia’s 1992-95 war; the UN court at The Hague acquitted him on appeal of similar charges in 2008. Oric was arrested on his way to a Srebrenica memorial event in Geneva.
“What is happening, one month before the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide, is shameful . . . The arrest is purely political,” said Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica group that represents victims’ relatives. “By demanding his arrest now, at a time when we, the mothers, are at our most fragile, Belgrade wants to divert attention from the anniversary of the genocide.”
Bosnia’s prime minister, Denis Zvizdic, who is Bosniak, said: “I strongly condemn such an act [which] poses a threat to efforts to stabilise relations between Bosnia and Serbia.”
With Bosnia increasingly on edge, Macedonia mired in a political crisis, talks between Serbia and Kosovo at an impasse and Croatia preparing to mark its Victory Day celebration of the defeat of Serb separatists in 1995, Serb prime minister Aleksandar Vucic said a testing month lay ahead for his country and the region.
“Things in the western Balkans are getting very complicated: there are big internal problems in Kosovo; the same in Macedonia; in Bosnia there is growing friction and Croatia wants to celebrate August 5th, when we will be crying,” he said.
“A very difficult period is ahead of us, which you can tell by looking at my face,” Vucic quipped darkly. “I’ve never been particularly pretty, but now I really look terrible.”