Bosnia's Sordid Independence

August 16, 2017 Topic: Security Region: Europe Tags: BalkansBosniaYugoslaviaMilorad DodikDayton Accords

Bosnia's Sordid Independence

The Dayton system punishes electoral moderation, erodes political accountability and all but rewards extremism—and it has been churning for a generation now.

Does Dodik want his own state? The status quo allows him to siphon largesse out of sources—Sarajevo, Brussels and Washington—that he can simultaneously deride for political gain. It is equally unthinkable that Serbia wants unification with Republika Srpska. The cost of integration alone is a deterrent. But with the loss of Krajina, Montenegro and Kosovo, it’s also true that Republika Srpska has been Belgrade’s only successful foreign-policy adventure since the collapse of Yugoslavia. Dodik is a useful lout for Belgrade, as well as a convenient renegade for Russia: Putin flew Dodik to Moscow shortly before September’s referendum. An independent Republika Srpska would undermine any plans to integrate Bosnia into the EU or NATO, though Vladimir Putin hardly needs Milorad Dodik to prevent that.

Still, Dodik is a symptom of the Bosnian debacle rather than its cause. By turning Bosnia into a virtual protectorate of the Euro-Atlantic, ridding its politicians of their mandates to administer their own state in any demonstrable capacity, Dayton pitted the one-time combatants increasingly inward—against one another, in the ever-expanding arenas of an over-architected state. Too slow to stop this a decade ago, the EU now almost certainly cannot: years of foreign meddling in Sarajevo have been an education for Bosnian political elites. They understand how Europe works, that the specter that they might begin killing one another again is itself enough to leverage funds and watered-down standards for progress, that the flimsiest displays of sensible governance and the most ceremonious adaptations of reform are received with gushing praise by EU diplomats who, at any rate, lavish their jurisdictions on pushing privatization instead of, say, enforcing the writ of law. Not that much of this is to be found in the annual EU reports on Bosnia: it would be an embarrassment indeed if their diplomatic carnival—the troupes of foreign-policy experts and teams of international researchers with advanced degrees in state building—were shown to be crippling Bosnia, not fixing it.

SHOULD BOSNIA be dismembered, either at the hands of Dodik or through the trickling rot of mismanagement, two questions emerge. First, what was the purpose of the war if the same result was to come of the peace? One suspects that reconciliation in Bosnia would have greater prospects if two decades of coexistence had the semblances of a functioning state system to show for itself.

Instead, the lesson of 1995 has become something more troubling: that if one is to insist on ethnic cleansing, one ought to at least do it thoroughly. In Croatia, where the Bosniaks and Serbs were evicted or killed off nearly to a man, EU accession came with minimal obstruction. It says something about Europe today that many of its most pluralistic states—Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine—remain the least qualified candidates for integration.

The second question: if the “international community” cannot figure out Bosnia, the state that Tito deemed Yugoslavia in miniature, where there is at least a single language and shared cultural heritage, how can it possibly be expected to figure out Lebanon? Iraq? To allow Dayton to continue as it does is to wittingly perpetuate a broken system. Any talk of rewriting it—that is, wiping Bosnia clean and starting fresh with a grand new vision for the state—is fantasy masquerading as solution. Who would even do it?

Alexander Clapp is a journalist based in Istanbul. He is working on a book about Romania.

Image: Reuters