William Hague’s interview with the Independent earlier this week was especially gloomy about Bosnia:
Mr Hague, who also had extensive meetings with political leaders in a visit to Bosnia last autumn, said he feared the tensions could deteriorate into something worse. He said: "In some form [Bosnia] could break down – this is a country being slowly pulled apart."
… the prospect of a crisis in Bosnia hampered efforts to expand EU membership to Croatia, Serbia and Turkey. "If that doesn’t work, there will be a hole in the heart of Europe of discontent, of people trafficking," he said. "People think the Balkans are what we debated in the 1990s and now we can forget about it. In fact, it’s a crucial area in foreign policy in the next five to 10 years and will get a lot of emphasis in the next Conservative administration."
Marcus Tanner followed up, trying to look at why Bosnia does not work:
the 1995 constitution was a mistake, enshrining Bosnia’s ethnic divisions, and in the most bizarre and unsatisfactory way. The two entities have not dissolved. On the contrary, the entities have grown arms and legs – the Serbian one in particular. Too late to do much about that now – we have to live with the consequences of Mr Holbrooke’s hasty deal.
In the meantime, while flatly ruling out the chances of anyone ever recognising a Bosnian Serb state – not even Belgrade seems interested in that eventuality – Europeans should stop dangling vague promises of yet more "intervention" in front of the permanently aggrieved Muslims. Bosnia will never be Switzerland. The country’s DNA won’t allow it.
Each of the three communities is pretty much outraged by the other two for a host of reasons that date back at least half a millennium, and each can quote chapter and verse on this their favourite subject to anyone they can prevail upon to listen. The best that we can hope for is a "Balkan Belgium" – an admittedly loveless arrangement, born out of geopolitical necessity and which staggers on, after a fashion.
And now a former British Ambassador to Sarajevo writes in with his thoughts:
Bosnia is a sulky donkey with three bickering heads, unimpressed by the EU’s remote carrots and unmoved by sharp smacks on its rump from successive High Representatives.
Hopeless? No. I’d go for a New Deal. A fast-track EU membership with visa-free travel for all Bosnians, in return for a new constitution. This would create three regions, each dominated by one community but with substantive responsibility for its own affairs, all with light but real central powers and a push to make Bosnia the least regulated economy in Europe. A fair, coherent structure which rewards responsibility and private initiative.
Alas, to reach there things will have to get notably worse, to bring all concerned in Bosnia and Brussels to agree that, finally, there is no alternative. A future Foreign Secretary will need strong nerves.
Bosnia is, of course, a remarkable example of diplomatic action for all sorts of reasons. It is a small country whose population is half the size of London’s, in Europe, literate and so on. If we can’t fix that, what can we fix?
Bosnia shows how if the foundations of policy are illogical and incoherent, the results will be so too, far into the future.
And it reminds us that having launched an unsatisfactory project the ‘international community’ then must not be surprised when it takes on new exotic life-forms of its own which, by virtue of being in some way ‘organic’ and legitimised over time are damn difficult to change later without serious breakdown.
My ideas, such as they are, are to give Bosnia a constitution which roughly corresponds to reality and is coherent in itself, something the current one concocted in huge haste at Dayton to help B Clinton get re-elected is not.
The main problem with a sort of ‘three Entity’ arrangement is that the largest group (Bosniacs/Muslims) hanker after a ‘one Entity’ outcome, which necessarily suits them as the largest group.
But that, I think, is not now achievable, or fair. In part because the Bosniacs themselves have refused to contemplate ‘ethnic disarmament’.
Former President Izetbegovic put this to me in so many words: "we won’t accept ethnic disarmament for fifty years". His argument was that the Bosniacs at some two million people had to build their strength for many years to come, as they were surrounded by some 15 million dangerous Serbs and Croats.
So be it. By insisting on maintaining their ethnic weapon stockpiles, maybe for plausible reasons, the Bosniacs now will do well to be part of a BH that actually works and starts to get richer, which means a BH rearranged to function sensibly.
But someone will have to do very heavy lifting to achieve anything like that, when attentions are on even more ghastly problems further East…