Goran Trkulja (translation by: Pavle Trkulja)
“Bosnia isn’t just Serbian,Croatian or Muslim, it belongs to the Serbs, Croats and Muslims!” was a popular and often used slogan in Yugoslavia. Because of this, Bosnia was commonly referred to as “Yugoslavia in
miniature”. It meant that Yugoslavia, nor Bosnia, belonged to one of the nations living there, but that they belonged to all nations together. The Yugoslav nation was a nation being shaped trough time, but was struck down on its way to maturity! As the Yugoslav federation was being torn by the ongoing war in Croatia and more republics declared their independence, it was to be expected that Bosnia would soon follow their example. Bosnia was to be divided by the three nations living within her borders, all living together. Now Bosnians (all three of them) had to make new borders within their country, but along ethnic lines.
People of all three entities were expelled from the parts of the country where they formed a minority, seeking refuge in a part where they f o r m e d a majority. This meant that from now on, each Bosnian ethnic Group had her own part of the country. Unlike Yugoslavia, Bosnia managed to survive within this construction. Not because a Bosnian nation was suddenly born, but because none of the ethnic groups had
anywhere to go. The Bosnian Serbs, are in many ways different from their brothers in Serbia. As well as speaking differently (they have a different dialect), they have different habits and ethical values. The Bosnian Croats are also in many ways different from their counterparts in Croatia, both in their way of speaking and in their customs. One could even say that their behavior and customs are more similar to the other two nations in Bosnia than to their Croatian cousins. The Bosnian Muslims (who just before the war adapted a new name – Bosniaks) also are much more like their fellow Bosnians in the Serb and Croatian camps then to their fellow Bosniaks living in Serbia and Montenegro. All three ethnic Bosnian groups, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks, are native Bosnians who have not had the chance yet to form one nation! This is not surprising, if we take a look at history. Nations were formed in most of Western Europe during the nineteenth century, together with the delineation of their borders. So, for example, the
Dutch nation lived within Holland. The Belgians, even though bilingual were now one nation, living within their Belgian borders. The same goes for the French, Germans and Italians. Bosnia however, became independent for the first time in contemporary history in December of 1995. The Bosnian nation is yet to be born!
The question is not ‘will Bosnia ever become one nation’? The question is when? Because every other solution would result in breaking Bosnia to pieces which could easily lead to new ethnic tensions, possibly even a new war. As much as Bosnia depends on her own three ethnicities forming one nation, the factors to make this happen lie even more so abroad. Contemporary Bosnia probably has the most expensive and complex system of government in Europe. The plan for a new Bosnian government, was formed in Dayton Ohio during negotiations between the warring factions. Today, Bosnia is still unofficially called ‘Dayton Bosnia’. She exists out of two entities and one central government. The central government however, has less authority then an average Bosnian city. The Presidency of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of three men, one from each ethnic group, all defending the rights of their own ethnicity. This is the best example of Bosnian division and inability to cooperate. The governments of the two entities in Banja Luka (Republika Srpska) and Sarajevo (Federation of BiH) have the real power in the parts of the country
under their administration. In the Federation of BiH, every canton (of which there are ten) even has its own parliament! There is then a small area in the north called Brcko district, which belongs to neither the Federation, nor Republika Srpska, which also has it’s own parliament. This costly construction is being paid by the taxpayers of the weakest economy in Europe. In addition, there is the Office of the High Representative (OHR) which has Unlimited authority in Bosnia. The High Representative is always a foreigner who remains in power for a few years, and then leaves the country exactly the way it was before his arrival.
Such a fragmented government can lead to nothing good. This complex system is often incomprehensible even for the most educated of Bosnians. In short: that is why it so easy to maintain a corrupt political oligarchy in Bosnia which legitimizes its position through fear of the other ethnic groups. The ruling parties in both Banja Luka and Sarajevo fill the peoples heads with propaganda and distrust towards each other.
The country’s surrounding Bosnia are also effected by the ethnic division within her boundaries. The ethnic Croats in Bosnia are a key factor during the elections held in Croatia. Almost all have a Croatian passport in addition to their Bosnian one, and are allowed to vote. So partially, they decide how Croatia will be ruled. Croatia therefore has a great interest in upholding economic relationships with their cousins in Bosnia. The Serbian government in Belgrade, has a “special bond” with the Serbian entity in Bosnia, Republika Srpska. She uses her Serb brothers in Bosnia, in order to gain political points among the voting public, showing of as the big defender of Serb rights in Bosnia. After losing Kosovo, the issue of what is Serb land gained political importance. The US, EU, Germany, Great Britain and Russia are all active within the OHR. This makes it rather difficult for them to have one single strategy concerning the ‘issue’ of Bosnia. The last time Europe actually showed interest in making a change in Bosnia, to prepare the road towards EU membership was in 2005. A plan was made for a so-called European Constitution in Bosnia. However, the Bosnians declined this plan. Since then it seems Europe has not had the time, nor the will to seriously engage in Bosnian affairs. It is most certainly not in Europe’s interest to have squabbling neighbors in its back yard, ready to scratch each others eyes out whenever they find the chance to do so. So, what
is needed to make Bosnia move forward towards a brighter future?
The solution seems to be rather simple. And the recipe for this solution was made by the FIFA and UEFA (world and European football organizations). For not living up to the standards implemented by the UEFA, the Bosnian football association was suspended from taking part in international football activities. This meant not only that the national team was suspended, but also that Bosnian football clubs were suspended from taking part in the European cup. The isolation implemented by the UEFA was very effective. European football associations were not allowed to have any contact whatsoever with Bosnian clubs. This meant that players could not be bought and gambling on matches was forbidden. So no contact meant no money!
How did the Bosnians respond to this isolation?
Well, in less then two months the Bosnian football association adjusted to the wishes of the UEFA. A similar approach could be taken in Bosnian politics.
The EU must take her own responsibility for what happens in the European garden and come up with terms meant to uphold the recognition of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a sovereign state without any intervention by her neighbors: Croatia and Serbia.
Inspired by the UEFA, the EU could stop and ban all the bilateral relations between her member states and the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the same time the EU should recommend the other two countries of the board of the OHR (US, Russia) to stop supporting the separate parts of the country. All the financial support for Bosnia and Herzegovina must go through the central Bosnian government. The EU should support only the well prepared projects regardless of their ethnical origin.
In other words both of Bosnian entities (Republic of Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina) must get back to the level of the original Dayton agreement: to be concerned with things from the folklore and cultural atmosphere. Political and economic life must remain in hands of the central state government.
Mission impossible? No, that’s not. Only you have to do is to be present on both of sides of entity borders and to be consequent by implementations of made agreements. And, of course, you need to have the very well organized public relations and professional and independent media.
The tree Bosnian ethnical groups, Serbs, Croatians and Bosniaks would be pressured to accept the Bosnian nationality without losing of their ethnical identity. This would be the first step in forming a Bosnian nation, and with it, a modern and prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina.