Bosnia & Herzegovina’s ruling coalition is facing collapse after Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the tripartite presidency, announced that the country will appeal the 2007 judgment in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) genocide case against Serbia.
Izetbegovic’s February 17 statement, which has not been endorsed by Croat or Serb officials, has sharply raised tensions in the already unstable Balkan country. It follows similarly incendiary statements by politicians from other ethnic groups, which some analysts speculate are intended to distract Bosnians from pressing problems such as corruption.
The leaders of the Bosnian Serb party Savez za Promjene (SZP) have threatened to withdraw from the ruling coalition because of Izetbegovic’s decision. If the Bosniak leader sends a request for an appeal to ICJ, this will automatically cost the support of the SZP.
The SZP comprises a group of Serb parties, which joined the state-level ruling coalition after the general election in 2014. The party is the largest in the state-level parliament, and it is part of the ruling coalition at both state-level and in the Muslim-Croat Federation.
Also making up the ruling coalition are Izetbegovic's Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the centre-right Alliance for a Better Future (SBB) and the hardline Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH).
The state-level government already had to cancel its session scheduled for February 21 as SZP members of the cabinet decided to boycott it.
The planned appeal concerns the ICJ’s 2007 ruling that the 1995 massacre of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces was genocide, and that Serbia breached the Geneva Convention by failing to prevent it. However, the court decided that there was not enough proof to show that Bosnian Serb forces committing the genocide acted under the “direction” or “effective control” of Serbia.
Bosnia can appeal the verdict by the end of February and Izetbegovic has said the country must challenge the ICJ’s ruling.
Although some political analysts say that no one can predict what will follow after Izetbegovic’s decision, others say that his plan to appeal the verdict is intended to divert people’s attention away from high-level corruption and crime in Bosnia.
According to political analyst Zeljko Raljic, all Bosnian top politicians are staging initiatives that significantly raise the political tension and instability in the country, as they fear the establishment of rule of law in Bosnia and the possible consequences they might face.
“The problem of BiH is not the bad relations between the three nations or two entities, but the politicians who have been involved in corruption and crime who can only survive in times of crisis and political tensions. Hence the ongoing crisis which political representatives of Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats constantly induce,” Raljic told bne IntelliNews.
He added that, in the context of the constant political crisis provoked by the leaders of the three nations, it is not unlikely that Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik will decide to call a referendum on the entity’s secession in 2018, when Bosnia is due to hold a general election. The ploy would most likely increase support for his Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) party. Dodik has many times threatened that the entity will secede from Bosnia.
On the other hand, the Croat Peoples Assembly (HNS) party also increased political tensions earlier this year, stating that it wants equal status for Croats in Bosnia. The call for a third entity to be established was strongly opposed by both the Serbs and the Bosnian Muslims.
At the same time, the leaders of the SNSD and the HNS are intensively working on amendments to the constitutional court law that would remove foreigners from the state-level constitutional court. Some Bosnian Serbs and Croats have accused the court of being pro-Bosniak.
In October, former Croatian President Stjepan Mesic claimed that Dodik and Covic secretly support each other with the mutual aim of breaking up Bosnia. The two politicians have held extensive meetings since then, mainly discussing the amendments to the law on the state-level constitutional court, but also other political issues, and seem to have very good relations.