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Bosnia and Herzegovina’s regional challenges

August 16, 2020 at 10:00 am

A Bosnian soldier smiles as Bosnian armed forces stand at attention during a ceremony in Capljina, on 12 June 2019. [ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP via Getty Images]

Amongst the strategic wishes of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to join the European Union and NATO. The EU aims at advancing the progress and prosperity of the European nations whilst NATO is largely concerned about the security of the continent. It is not going to be easy to join either bloc due to the nature of the politics in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The challenge facing the country is the reformation of its domestic and foreign policies. Confronted with a mixture of socio-political complications, Bosnia and Herzegovina faces an upward battle. Those policies must address growing fascism from certain quarters in Belgrade and Zagreb, including, unfortunately, some academic circles. Sadly too, divisions within Bosnian polity could hinder progress. Consequently, Bosnia and Herzegovina has to embrace a new paradigm that will benefit its people instead of narrow political interests; it has to fight corruption in honour of its great people and the legacy of former President Alija Izetbegovic.

This is an existential threat for a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina because the EU will not bestow membership as long as nationalistic parties are in power. As such, the country has to adopt a revised foreign policy along the lines of that of late President Izetbegovic, and that policy must be comprised of ways and means that are more acceptable to the EU. Izetbegovic’s post-war foreign policy was based on a diplomatic offensive with the aim of recognition for the newly established Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and creating bilateral relations with friendly states in the East and West, even with Bosnia’s neighbours Croatia and Serbia whose disastrous politics in the nineties brought extreme suffering to the Bosnian people. Izetbegovic dedicated his whole his life to Islam and the struggle for noble, humane principles that are, in fact, at the core of the Islamic faith. He was extremely proud of his Muslim as well as his European identity, and regarded them as inseparable. Nevertheless, for him, “What we call Bosnia is not merely a piece of land in the Balkans; for many of us, Bosnia is an idea, a belief that people of different religions, nationalities and cultural traditions can live together.” (Alija Izetbegovic, 1925-2003).

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has to change its foreign policy discourse urgently with the aim of achieving its goals of Euro-Atlantic integration. Its foreign policy over the past 20 years has been ineffective due to the complex decision-making processes within the Presidency — all three constituent nations have to reach a consensus — and the appointment of foreign affairs ministers without vision. The significance of EU membership was reflected clearly in the bloc’s response to the Covid-19 crisis, when it adopted an enormous economic stimulus package for its member states. Bosnia needs such support.

Moreover, Bosnian politics has to be led with defined aims and objectives in mind, and not simply the demagogy of lower-ranking party officials. Such results can be achieved through constant lobbying across the world, particularly in Washington and Brussels. The key partner of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration is the US, based not only on the Balkan country’s interests but also Washington’s interests in the Western Balkans; Bosnia has to capitalise on that momentum now.

The country has no greater friends than the people of Turkey and President Recep Tayyeb Erdogan, as well as America; Donald Trump’s foreign policies in the Western Balkans favour a unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Covid-19 crisis is now revealing the real intentions of EU policies towards Turkey, the economy of which is being weakened intentionally. Knowing that 10 per cent of Turkey’s GDP comes from tourism, the measures that the EU is currently implementing demonstrate that the plan is to block the road towards prosperity built under Erdogan’s leadership.

Nevertheless, unlike Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey has alternatives. Bosnia and Herzegovina has to distance itself clearly from the rigid, radical clerical affinity of certain party leaders. The idea of Bosnia and Herzegovina that the late Alija Izetbegovic envisaged is based on a unitary multi-national and multi-confessional country with equal rights for every citizen.

The country has a decreasing amount of time and an increasing amount of pressure. Social upheavals are almost inevitable given that it is facing economic collapse. Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, must and can do better.

The level of antagonism towards leading parties has reached its limits. Bosnian politics has started certain processes but without clear vision. I am afraid that the enemies of a united Bosnia and Herzegovina are never asleep and that centuries-old hatreds are being ignited yet again.

The country has to be particularly careful nowadays, with the question of Kosovo being resolved in the region and Serbian member of the Presidency Milorad Dodik’s recent secessionist threats — and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s silent approval of them — are becoming more of a concern. What is needed is a strong diplomatic offensive to stop the dark powers casting their shadows over Bosnia and Herzegovina once more.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.