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Bosnia's Escalating War Of Words

Milorad Dodik, president of Republika Srpska (left), and Bakir Izetbegovic, Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, have engaged in a worringly similar war of words to that which launched the 1992-95 war.
Threats of secession and war and derogatory remarks about other peoples have been a staple of political rhetoric in the Balkans for the past 2 1/2 decades.

Yet the magnitude of the fallout from last week's interview Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik gave RFE/RL, in which he said that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a failed international experiment and that the Serbs overwhelmingly support secession, sounds ominously familiar to the build-up to the Balkan country's 1992-95 war, which claimed 100,000 lives.

First, Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosnian Muslim, or Bosniak, member of Bosnia's three-member Presidency, on October 18 published an open letter to Dodik in which he accused him of sowing fear and a feeling of gloom with his remarks about the future of Bosnia and about Bosniaks as a self-proclaimed nation that has existed only since 1993.

Dodik has also said that Bosniaks, whose origins coincide with the arrival of the Ottoman Empire and Islam in the 15th century, and who were recognized as a nation in socialist Yugoslavia in 1974, want to dominate Bosnia and marginalize and subjugate the country's Serbs and Croats.

Izetbegovic, the son of the late Alija Izetbegovic, who led Bosnia's mainly Bosniak government throughout the war against separatist Serbs and Croats, said that what Dodik -- who was once the West's favorite Serbian politician in the Balkans, but has since turned into a hard-core nationalist -- said was detrimental to the interest of all Bosnians.

He said Dodik was largely responsible for the limbo that Bosnia finds itself in. The country, which has been stuck on its road to the European Union for the past five years, has been without a government since the general elections a year ago because Dodik is blocking the appointment of ethnic-Croatian and Serbian politicians from multiethnic parties.

"It is your policies exclusively that brought Bosnia to one of the deepest crises since Dayton," Izetbegovic said, referring to the U.S.-brokered 1995 peace agreement that split the country into two autonomous regions, the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, linked through a weak central government.

Izetbegovic also countered Dodik's claim that polls show that almost 90 percent of Bosnian Serbs favor secession from Bosnia with a warning that Dodik's words could lead "to new conflicts with unforeseeable consequences."

"It has to be clear to everyone: any attempt to put the territorial integrity of the country in danger will be met by the resistance of 100 percent patriots who are ready to defend Bosnia-Herzegovina at any moment," Izetbegovic added. "It is you, Mr. Dodik, who will bear the historic and every other responsibility if this leads to conflicts, which you have been provoking with your public statements."

The reply on October 19, albeit not coming from Dodik, was equally fierce.

Dusanka Majkic, a deputy in Bosnia's state parliament for Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, said Izetbegovic's letter showed that Bosniaks are ready to mobilize in order to achieve domination.

Her colleague Slavko Jovicic said the Serbs would resist the creation of an Islamic state and leave Bosnia's joint institutions, just like they did in 1991, on the eve of the war, "and we will never return again."

At the time, the Serbs' leader, Radovan Karadzic, openly threatened Alija Izetbegovic -- who died eight years ago today -- and Bosnian Muslims with annihilation in a speech in parliament in October 1991 if they proceeded, together with the Croats, with plans to secede from Yugoslavia.

"Do not think that you will not lead Bosnia-Herzegovina to hell," Karadzic said. "And do not think that you will not perhaps lead the Muslim people into annihilation, because the Muslim people cannot defend themselves if there is war. How will you prevent everyone from being killed in Bosnia-Herzegovina?"

Twenty years and 100,000 dead later, Karadzic is on trial for genocide at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Dodik, once a fierce opponent, has in recent years advocated many of Karadzic's positions.

One can only hope Bosnian politicians have drawn some conclusions from his example and that the latest war of words will remain just that.

-- Nedim Dervisbegovic

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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