You may not have noticed, but in the last few days/weeks/months/years (depending on how you look at it) Bosnia and Herzegovina has been teetering on the Brink of Disaster.


Oh, for all the familiar reasons. Key posts in the central government unfilled, general political deadlock stretching in all directions, and above all a challenge to the High Representative and his authority through a threatened referendum in Republika Srpska.

You might think that if part of the whole point of the dayton Peace Accords was to inflict democracy upon Bosnia, it makes little sense to complain about one or other Entity holding a referendum to consult voters. Didn’t the UK just have one?

Yet in this case things are different, because RS leader Dodik is using the referendum on the issue of the High Representative’s legal powers to undermine the High Representative, which ipso facto is an attack on Dayton!

What’s happened?

The EU has raced to the rescue, the BH High Representative being trumped by an Even Higher EU High Representative, namely Catherine Ashton:

Dodik told a joint news conference that he had chosen to drop the referendum after receiving assurances from Ashton that Serbian concerns about Bosnia’s judicial system would be addressed:

"During talks with Baroness Ashton and other European officials in recent days, we received the highest guarantees that the European Union is ready to tackle the issues surrounding Bosnia and Herzegovina’s judiciary," Dodik said…

Ashton, whose surprise visit underscored the international community’s alarm, welcomed the decision to drop the divisive poll.

The European Union, she pledged, will start reviewing the role of Bosnia‘s judicial institutions. She also echoed Dodik in saying that "the best way forward is constructive dialogue" on the issue.


The first BH HiRep Carl Bildt has been quick to congratulate Baroness Ashton:

carlbildt Carl Bildt

Good reason to congratulate Cathy Ashton on her achievement in Bosnia. It was EU crisis prevention when it is at its best.

11 hours ago Favorite Retweet Reply

EU crisis prevention at its best?


Not really. Look what’s happened.


The RS leadership for some time have toyed with the chess wisdom of Aron Nimzowitsch and threatened to hold a referendum without actually getting round to it. NB The subject of the referendum does not matter – what they are doing is establishing the principle that there can be a referendum on anything in general – and, if necessary, a democratic redefinition of the RS relationship with Bosnia in particular, effected on mainly RS terms.


This policy has been highly effective in winding up the Bosniac leadership in Sarajevo who (not unfairly) see this as yet another Serbian nationalist plan to weaken the very ideas of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a single state. Plus Banja Luka has called into question the waning authority of the High Representative in Sarajevo, who has been left trying to find ways to block any referendum and so has looked ‘undemocratic’.


The very fact that Baroness Ashton in person has had to dash to Republika Srpska to meet Dodik and persuade him to drop the thing with a no doubt charming combination of threats and blandishments is a huge PR sucess for Dodik. 


Dodik has used Milosevic’s tactics brilliantly. "Create a problem and then force the world to come to me to solve it". This (in effect) establishes psychological control, as he who defines the issues and then is at the centre of any solution is obviously Boss, at least in the eyes of Serbian voters who love this sort of trite bravura.


Key point: The rest of the world does not understand just how much many of the ex-Yugos lust after being the centre of attention. This goes back to Tito and his unbounded narcissism, as expressed in the so-called Non-Aligned Movement which allowed Belgrade to strut and fret on the world stage to an outlandish degree. The fine tradition is now being upheld by Dodik from an even smaller and weaker base.


And never, ever forget inat. As the Serbs see it, Dodik has been squeezed by the international community to back down. He’s lost. So he’s won!!


In short, a typical Bosnia story.


Catherine Ashton (who has just been savaged by a dead Belgian sheep) wins useful points among EU Foreign Ministries for being ‘firm’ and heading off this terrible referendum through decisive leadership.


The HiRep in BH himself can have some modest satisfaction – he said that there would be no referendum, and there won’t be!


Dodik and the Bosnian Serbs laugh heartily as they swig their rakija, amazed at their own cleverness and already scheming on the next one. The principle of holding a referendum at some point has survived – if anything the Ashton visit has vindicated it.


The Bosniacs see Dodik gloating and are even more infuriated, as they know that any new process for legal reform cooked up by the EU with the Bosnians will drift into interminable bureaucracy and delay.


And nothing else of any consequence gets done, as the hot Balkan summer starts.


Crisis managed! Bosnia goes nowhere.