Blowback in Bosnia

By Nebojsa Malic (
Thursday, 20 Sep 2012

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There ought to be no doubt by now that the Empire is using sheet music composed for interventions in the Balkans to score its march to war on Syria, just as it had in Libya. It is the age of the sequel, and not just in Hollywood. How ironic, then, that the Syrian crisis is causing blowback in Bosnia, of all places.

Hijacking Authority - Bosnia has long been the political equivalent of a damaged nuclear reactor, ever on the brink of catastrophic meltdown while the leaders of its three ethno-religious communities and their foreign overlords bicker about the levers and buttons in the control room.

The latest crisis took place on August 3, when the UN General Assembly adopted a Saudi-sponsored resolution aimed at undermining the government in Damascus. Twelve countries openly opposed the resolution, while 31 abstained. Bosnia’s envoy should have been among them; instead, he voted in favor. This outraged the Bosnian Serbs, who demanded the resignation of the country’s Foreign Minister for acting outside his constitutional authority.

Reuters report spun the row as "Serbs blocking [Bosnia's] progress towards EU membership." This is a red herring. Though the EU prefers omnipotent managerial states, they don’t have to be centralized; Germany is a federation after all, and Belgium – where the EU capital is located – has shown it could be just as dysfunctional as Bosnia, if not as violent. The Bosnian row is really about the perennial questions of trust and power.

Bosnia’s Constitution - annex IV of the Dayton Accords that ended the fighting in 1995 – invests the country’s tripartite Presidency, with authority over foreign policy issues. The Presidency is currently chaired by Bakir Izetbegovic, son of the wartime Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic, whose party was until recently a junior partner in the governing coalition of the Muslim-Croat Federation. Leading that coalition is Zlatko Lagumdzija, head of the Social Democrats (SDP), who is also the country’s Foreign Minister.

Normally, the Presidency would have meet to discuss the resolution and pass the instructions on to the Foreign Ministry. The meeting did not happen, though, so "Izetbegovic, a Muslim, said he had advised Lagumdzija to take his cue from the presidency’s earlier decisions that were in favor of previous U.N. resolutions on Syria." (Reuters)

The Forgotten Conflict - Recall that the Bosnian War broke out in 1992 when Izetbegovic the elder reneged on a power-sharing agreement mediated by the EU, and unilaterally declared Bosnia’s independence. While the misconception of "Serbian aggression" took root in the Western and Islamic public, Bosnia’s problem all along has been a lack of trust between its three ethnic communities.

This is not endemic to Serb-Muslim relations, either. While Muslims and Croats had joined forces to separate Bosnia from Yugoslavia in 1992, they had mutually opposing agendas as to what Bosnia ought to look like, which spilled over into open warfare during 1993-94. Their bitter, brutal conflict only ended when the Empire forced them into an anti-Serb alliance in late 1994, thus creating the Federation.

The Dayton order quickly began to be undermined by the very powers charged with its implementation: over the years, a succession of "High Representatives" imposed a series of decisions ostensibly aimed at making Bosnia "more functional", but in fact favoring centralization as envisioned by Muslim parties. Calls for centralization became even more desperate as foreign donations intended to help Bosnia rebuild dried up, and the bloated bureaucratic apparatus of the Federation found itself at a distinct disadvantage compared to the much leaner administration in the Serb Republic. But while the Croats’ 2001 political revolt against Muslim domination was crushed, the Serbs held firm and eventually stared down the Empire. Ironically, the most ambitious plan to "reform" Dayton failed in 2006 due to Muslim opposition.

Likewise, Bosnia’s government crisis in 2011 was not a product of "Serb obstruction," but rather of unresolved relations between Muslims and Croats. Following the 2010 general elections, the Social Democrats joined forces with the Izetbegovic’s SDA and several smaller parties. Cut out of the deal, the major Croat party (HDZ) blocked attempts to appoint the Council of Ministers for almost a year. In this, they had the backing of the Bosnian Serbs, who saw the opportunity to weaken the Muslim centralizers. In the end, the Muslim-dominated coalition gave in and a deal was reached in December 2011. This is when Lagumdzija became Foreign Minister.

Meanwhile, Lagumdzija’s partnership with the SDA had been steadily souring. Having insinuated its members into every nook and cranny of public administration, the SDA was not eager to reform the bloated bureaucracy, and obstructed SDP’s reform policies. In June, Lagumdzija finally dissolved the coalition and made a deal with a rival Muslim party (SBB) and the HDZ instead.

Stalking Horse? - It has become de rigeur to blame the Serbs for everything that goes wrong in Bosnia, whether it is actually their fault or not. Thus even a seasoned Bosnia observer like Matthew Parish sees Serb manipulation behind the ongoing crisis in the Federation. But is it really so, or is Bosnian Serb president Milorad Dodik merely exploiting the opportunity presented to him by Federation’s chaotic politics?

Lagumdzija had nothing to lose by instructing his ambassador to abstain from voting. Backing the resolution got him no tangible benefits either from the Saudis or from the Empire, and abstaining wouldn’t have worsened Bosnia’s relations with either. But by taking advice from a leading member of the party he had just kicked out of the ruling coalition, he waltzed right into a political trap, which Dodik was more than happy to snap shut. The sight of an Izetbegovic running his own foreign policy, without regard for others, would naturally be anathema to the Bosnian Serbs – or Croats, for that matter.

Consider that right around that time Lagumdzija was dealt another blow, with the resignation of Zeljko Komsic from the SDP. The SDP had invested heavily into Komsic to prove that ethnic parties did not have monopoly on Bosnian politics. His election to the Presidency in 2006 and again in 2010 was seen as a victory for the SDP. But the victory has been Pyrhhic, as most Croats see him as nothing more than a Muslim stooge: he’s a centralizer, married to a Muslim, and a decorated war veteran of Izetbegovic’s Muslim-dominated army. Note also that Komsic threw a public tantrum and threatened to leave the party in March this year, right as the relations between the SDP and SDA were beginning to sour…

Unintended Consequences - Whatever his loyalties, Komsic also had a personal stake in the ongoing drama concerning the Presidency. In 2009, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Bosnia’s electoral laws discriminated against citizens who were neither Muslim ("Bosniak"), Serb or Croat. This was intended by Muslim leader Haris Silajdzic to force a change to the Constitution that would favor centralization.

Silajdzic’s "lawfare" backfired, however, when the Serbs sidestepped the issue by amending their own Constitution, while in the Federation the "Sejdic-Finci" verdict exposed the Bosnian politics’ fundamental bone of contention. Croats, less than 15% of Bosnia’s total population by most estimates, are always going to be outvoted by Muslims unless there is an ethnic quota in place, and even then it is possible to get someone like Komsic, a "Croat in name only" (Parish).

Lagumdzija has previously objected to the Serb and Croat proposal to have the Federation members of the Presidency appointed by the parliament, rejecting any "asymmetric solutions." Now that he no longer has any obligation to protect Komsic, he may well change his mind.

"Irretrievable Collapse" - Things are about to get worse, too. Next year, Croatia will be officially annexed by the Brussels Leviathan. At that point, the EU’s bureaucracy – which makes the Federation appear amateurish in comparison – will put achokehold on Bosnia, effectively blocking all exports along 2/3 of the country’s border. On top of the economic hardship that will create, the fact that Bosnia’s Croats overwhelmingly hold Croatian citizenships is bound to further strain their relations with Muslims. The overheating Bosnian reactor will be perfectly primed – by its supposed "benefactors" no less! – to go critical. To quote Parish: "Amongst diplomats and commentators, a consensus has emerged that the Bosnian state is now close to irretrievable collapse. The question remains whether this breakdown will entail a return to violence."

Expect Washington, Brussels and Sarajevo to blame the Serbs for this, rather than their own fetishes and fantasies. Again.