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Bosnia On The Verge Of Dissolution?

The seat of the Bosnian Presidency

The seat of the Bosnian Presidency

This summer I spent a few days in the Bosnia-Herzegovinian town of Medjugorje, which has been visited by millions of pilgrims since apparitions of the Virgin Mary were reported there in 1981. The region is also known across Bosnia for its aspiration to become part of Croatia.

That dream hasn't come true, but this summer locals there told me how happy they were to be paying a special surtax for the construction of a motorway from Hungary through Sarajevo to the Adriatic coast. "We see this as a great opportunity for Medjugorje and the region," I was told. "This will make Poland two hours closer to us -- imagine how many Polish pilgrims will come then!"

An optimist might see this as a chance for economic development and strengthening Bosnia. A pessimist might wonder whether the deeply divided Bosnia could pull off such a project. In this case, as we will see, the pessimist is correct.

Senior Cynicism

But first, a bit of a digression.

A few days ago, Nebojsa Radmanovic, the ethnic Serbian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, said in an interview with the Belgrade-based daily "Evening News" that Bosnia is one step closer to dissolution than it is to being a functioning state. That is a harsh statement to be coming from one of the three men in Bosnia most responsible for seeing to it that Bosnia functions as a state. If Bosnia is not "working," he and the other two presidency members are the first ones to be blamed.

But that doesn't bother Radmanovic, for whom the dissolution of Bosnia would be just fine.

About 10 days ago, Serbian President Boris Tadic visited Bosnia. He participated in the opening of a school called "Serbia" in Pale, about 15 kilometers from Sarajevo. Addressing the crowd, he said Serbia "bears responsibility wherever our people live."

"Serbia is responsible for all the people who bear our name," he said.

This was a provocative thing to say, given the name of the school.

But it wasn't Tadic's only provocation.

He visited Bosnia without being invited by the authorities of that country or attempting to meet with its leaders. His motorcade passed by the building of the Bosnian Presidency without slowing down. Instead, he met only with leaders of the ethnic Serbian community. The visit was a replay of a similar visit he made to Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska (the ethnic Serbian entity within Bosnia), in June. Both trips sent the same message and served to incrementally weaken the Bosnian state.

Gestures like Tadic's and statements like Radmanovic's have encouraged leaders in Banja Luka. Recently, for instance, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik denied the crimes against humanity committed in Tuzla in 1995, even though the war crimes tribunal at The Hague has established the incident and sentenced the responsible general to 20 years in prison for causing the deaths of 71 civilians. Dodik knows these facts, but his statement was intended to stir up enmity and foster ethnic tensions.

About a month ago, Bosnian Deputy Foreign Minister Ana Trisic-Babic said she might step down because she could not work with Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj. Alkalaj then confirmed the two had not spoken directly for months, maybe even years. Is this a functioning state?

My Way Or The Highway

Getting back to Medjugorje: The people there will not see an influx of Polish pilgrims, and who knows if the motorway will ever be built. The parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Muslim-majority entity of Bosnia, adopted a law on the highway and introduced the surtax, which people were happy to pay.

But the entity's executive branch -- led by representatives of the Muslim community -- unilaterally changed the law. As a result, the Croat representatives in the government walked out of a government session.

Clearly, when an executive branch rewrites laws passed by a legislature, the country is weakened. It's another step toward dissolution, and in this case, the Muslim representatives are to blame.

On September 17, their party, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), was expected to announce whether it would suspend participation in the entity's government because the others oppose its nominee for the government's top security post.

Such "my-way-or-the-highway" behavior, again, weakens the state, and pushes it closer to dissolution. In Sarajevo it is a widely held perception that Muslim representatives often exploit their majority position to push their own agenda at the expense of other ethnic groups. More steps down the path toward dissolution.

And what about the international community?

An intellectual in Sarajevo told me last week that Bosnia is like a sick patient who needs hospital treatment, but who is told he must recover before he can be admitted. The world -- particularly the EU -- has been slow to respond to developments in Bosnia, usually reacting slowly rather than acting decisively. And that, too, is pushing the country toward dissolution.

Nenad Pejic is associate director of broadcasting for RFE/RL. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL

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