Bosnia on the verge of falling apart warns Crisis Group

Bosnia on the verge of falling apart warns Crisis Group
Crisis Group says Bosnia is at its most fragile moment in years. / Michał via Pixabay
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia May 28, 2024

Bosnia & Herzegovina is on the verge of falling apart and the EU should step in to help stop this happening, the International Crisis Group NGO said in a report released on May 28.

The NGO noted that Bosnia is at its most fragile moment in years due to the secession efforts of Republika Srpska – one of two autonomous entities along with the Muslim-Croat Federation comprising the country.

“Republika Srpska (RS), the smaller of its two ethnically divided parts, is taking cautious but steady steps to break away, due to grievances with the country’s international supervision,” the report noted.

It added that dissolution is not imminent, but if it happens, neighbouring Serbia will be under pressure to support Republika Srpska and violence is possible, especially in ethnically mixed areas, although not in the near term.

Republika Srpska’s ruling SNSD party, led by the entity’s President Milorad Dodik, has for the first time taken steps towards actual secession, passing laws that pre-emptively reject all future decisions of the constitutional court and the international community’s high representative.

At the same time, Dodik is actively seeking support from Russia, Hungary and Serbia for his secessionist agenda and pledges that Republika Srpska will secede once the geopolitical situation allows it.

“He surmises that such an opportunity might arise if Donald Trump is elected a second time as US president in November. The EU and member states have leverage in Bosnia, including in RS, which they should use vigorously, lest the situation become worse,” Crisis Group noted.

It added that EU member states should seek to reach an agreement with Republika Srpska to stop the entity trying to run its own election, while at the same time high representative Christian Schmidt should refrain from imposing punitive measures without consensus support from the Peace Implementation Council’s Steering Board.

Crisis Group also says that the steering board should provide guidance to Schmidt so that he uses his powers only when there is clear consensus that they are needed to prevent irreparable damage.

The EU and the US should help Bosnian leaders settle ownership of state and defence property, which is the remaining condition identified by the Peace Implementation Council before the High Representative’s office can be closed.

“The EU’s priority should be to break the cycle of escalation that Banja Luka and the High Representative are locked in. Brussels and member states engaged in Bosnia, notably France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, should use their influence with the High Representative to discourage him from further use of his extraordinary powers, as that would likely push RS further along the road to secession. They should also push Dodik and the RS leadership not to implement their controversial – arguably unconstitutional – new law for the 2026 national elections. The Bosnian governing coalition should go ahead with its plans to adopt and then amend Schmidt’s imposed election law,” the NGO suggested.

It pointed out that the EU has a considerable leverage in Bosnia, including in Republika Srpska, as the start of EU membership talks would allow Bosnia to benefit from the EU’s €6bn growth pact for the Western Balkans.

“EU officials should be clear that full EU accession for both Bosnia and (if it plays a spoiler role) Serbia depends on there being an intact, stable and fully functional state in Bosnia,” Crisis Group noted.

It added that the start of EU membership talks can be used for re-evaluation of the Dayton peace agreement, which underpins the recurrent crises between Republika Srpska and the high representative.