Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington D.C. Janusz Bugajski wrote an article for the CEPA’s official web site, calling for the United States’ greater involvement in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Bugajski reminded that French President Emmanuel Macron had recently described Bosnia and Herzegovina as a ‘ticking time-bomb’ and a grave concern for Europe because of jihadists returning from Syria.
“Evidence indicates that jihadism is more serious in France than anywhere in the Balkans, particularly regarding the number of terrorist incidents. Moreover, over 1,900 French citizens flocked to the battlefields in Syria and Iraq as compared to about 300 Bosnian citizens”, Bugajski wrote, and underlined that Macron was “tapping into the anti-Bosniak stereotypes propounded by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic during the wars in the 1990s”.
“In reality, the threat to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the broader region does not stem from religious extremism but in the country’s internal ethnic divisions and the destabilizing role of outside powers”.
According to Bugajski, “the fundamental problem for Bosnia and Herzegovina is that successive Serbian and Croatian governments have not fully accepted the country as a legitimate and sovereign multi-ethnic state”. “The degree of pressure applied against Bosnia depends on the extent of nationalist fervor within the governments in Belgrade and Zagreb as well as on favorable international conditions, including the ignorance or naïveté of some West European leaders”, he explained.
Bugajski noted that Serbia hid behind Russia to challenge Bosnia’s integrity, while Croatia concealed itself behind its membership in the EU.
“For Belgrade, Moscow plays a useful role by defending Bosnia’s quasi-separatist Serbian entity in the international arena and indicating that it could support secession. Russia uses the Balkans as a strategic asset, not simply to disrupt the region’s inclusion in the transatlantic security sphere, but to undermine Western cohesion”, he wrote.
“Zagreb is also useful for Russia in keeping Bosnia off balance. Nationalists in the ruling HDZ in both Croatia and Bosnia view Russia’s presence as an opportunity to buttress their claims to a third Croatian entity in Bosnia. Indeed, Serb and Croat leaders collaborate in weakening the central government in Sarajevo. Trapped in the middle, the Bosniak population could also radicalize, not in religious militancy but through secular nationalism to resist Serbian and Croatian irredentism”, Bugajski explained.
He concluded that given the negative role of neighbors and growing perceptions of EU neglect, durable Bosnian stability depended primarily on the United States. “Washington and those NATO Allies that are determined to resist Russia’s destabilizing inroads need to take the leading role in integrating Bosnia internally and internationally”.
Bugajski proposed the appointment of a special envoy to deal with Bosnia’s precarious stalemate.
“No status quo is durable and the ingredients for a new conflagration are present, including economic stagnation, nationalist radicalization, blockage to international institutions, and the unsettling involvement of outside powers”, wrote Bugajski, and underlined that a special representative would need to focus on three priorities to reinforce the Bosnian state.
“First, in constructing a modern state the election law needs to be reformed to EU standards, where ethnic identity does not override civic citizenship in competing for office. Second, in building legitimate institutions, the rule of law must ensure that the justice system is separated from political interests so that judges and prosecutors become independent actors. And third, steps toward NATO membership have to be consolidated”, Bugajski concluded.