Accessibility links

UN Envoy Warns Of Growing Tensions In Bosnia

  • Nikola Krastev

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Valentin Inzko, high representative to Bosnia, at UN headquarters in New York on May 24

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) meets with Valentin Inzko, high representative to Bosnia, at UN headquarters in New York on May 24

UNITED NATIONS -- Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko regularly travels to New York to deliver a report before the UN Security Council on how Bosnia-Herzegovina is faring in putting the principles of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement to work.

Inzko is the seventh official to hold the position of high representative to Bosnia, a position that itself was created in the wake of Dayton to oversee its implementation.

Speaking on May 24 before the Security Council, Inzko noted that while prospects for regional reconciliation in the western Balkans continue to improve, internal politics in Bosnia have deteriorated. He pointed to the leadership of Bosnia's Serbian entity, the Republika Srpska, as the source of the trouble.

"The leadership of Republika Srpska has, for example, led the way in undermining state-level institutions and by threatening to hold an entity referendum that would seek to repudiate the authority of the high representative and decisions under Dayton," Inzko said.

Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, has repeatedly threatened to hold referendums seeking to dissolve the Office of the High Representative and formally separate his Serbian-majority entity from the rest of Bosnia.

Lack Of Consensus

Inzko told the Security Council that any entity referendum challenging the authority of the Dayton accords would be unlawful and would endanger the entity itself.

Milorad Dodik, prime miniser of Republika Srpska
More generally, the high representative said that Bosnia remains afflicted by a lack of consensus on what kind of state it wants to be -- one with a tight central government or a decentralized federation.

"Reference to the possible emergence of a new state in an international [newspaper] and proposals that nationalist politicians should start discussing the peaceful dissolution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, or that the country should not exist at all," Inzko said, "have been met by counterstatements to the effect that the disaffected elements are welcome to leave but will not be allowed to take any part of the country with them."

Also present in New York was Haris Silajdzic, the Muslim member of Bosnia's rotating, tripartite presidency. The three-pronged system is another Dayton creation meant to accommodate Bosnia's multiethnic makeup, with a Serb, a Croat, and a Muslim sharing equal responsibility.

Silajdzic, who currently holds the chairmanship of the rotating presidency, attended the Security Council session and gave his own assessment of the situation in the country. But his comments were overshadowed by protests from two fellow officials -- Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serbian member of the tripartite presidency; and Bosnia's prime minister, Nikola Spiric, also a Serb.

Neither Radmanovic nor Spiric were in New York for the meeting. But both sent letters to the Security Council and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stating preemptively that they did not approve of any comments Silajdzic might make at the meeting because they had not been formally approved by them ahead of time.

Ongoing Breakdown

The letters were a breathtaking demonstration of the ongoing breakdown in Bosnia's political structures. But Silajdzic remained upbeat. Speaking to reporters after the conclusion of the meeting, Silajdzic said he had heard "very valuable" contributions and comments from the council members.

The enduring goal, he said, was to support and implement the Dayton peace agreement. "Lately there are attempts to renegotiate this agreement at the expense of Bosnia-Herzegovina quietly. And I came here today," he said, "to say that this may have very serious consequences, that we should stop renegotiating the Dayton agreement at the expense of Bosnia and Herzegovina, because it is endangering peace and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina."

Haris Silajdzic
Silajdzic accused his political opponents, and even Inzko himself, of challenging Bosnia's right to state property as well as the need to ensure the safe return of property to its prewar owners, a major sticking point between Bosnia's ethnic communities.

The Bosnian chairman argued that Article 1 of the Dayton peace agreement affirms the existence of Bosnia as a state with normal property rights.

"This is questioned by our opposition, my opposition in Bosnia-Herzegovina and lately by the high representative, and this is what I said today: This should not be questioned and no one has mandate to question it, including the high representative," Silajdzic said.

'Not Constructive'

Silajdzic reserved critical comments for the Russian representative at the meeting. Moscow, a longtime ally of Serbia proper as well as the Republika Srpska, is seen as the major roadblock in an international settlement to Bosnia's final political status.

Silajdzic characterized as "not constructive" the comments by Konstantin Dolgov, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN. Dolgov described Moscow as satisfied with the overall situation, despite the simmering of what he described as nationalist sentiments in Bosnia. But he called Silajdzic's description of the situation as unnecessarily alarmist. "Regrettably, these assessments were one-sided and unconstructive," he said.

Dolgov extended his criticism to Inzko, saying the Austrian diplomat's report could not be seen as either objective or balanced. Inzko's reports, Dolgov claimed, have a tradition of being openly anti-Serbian.

Many Bosnia-watchers are looking ahead to the country's planned general elections in October, where Dodik, among others, will be competing for reelection.

Inzko on May 24 expressed concern that campaigning in the run-up to the vote could give way to highly divisive rhetoric disputing Bosnia's sovereignty and constitutional order -- something that in turn could lead to provocative actions or even violence. Inzko's next report before the UN is due in November, after the elections.

Silajdzic today had been due to travel on to Belgrade, for what was to have been the first visit to Serbia by the Bosnian Muslim politician since the war began in 1992. A statement from Silajdzic's cabinet indicated, however, that the chairman has postponed the visit due to engine problems with his airplane.

Show comments