bosnia report
New Series No: 42 October - December 2004
A new year for Bosnia-Herzegovina

A new year for Bosnia-Herzegovina

Ever since the attempt to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina through war and genocide was sealed - at least provisionally - at Dayton in 1995, leaving the state suspended between being and non-being, the international presence in the country has been marooned between two opposed notions of how to proceed: one clinging irresponsibly to the idea that Bosnia’s non-being could be made permanent; the other, aware the settlement could not last, looking to its supersession in a ‘European’ future. In the early years - when SFOR policed entity borders against returning refugees and refused to make any serious attempt to apprehend war criminals; when the OHR watched impassively as SDS leaders chivvied most of the Serb population out of Sarajevo’s Grbavica and Ilidža districts; and when Bosnia’s largely cosmetic central institutions co-existed with virtual states-within-the-state controlled by Croat and Serb nationalists - it seemed that the first conception had won. In subsequent years, as Tuđman died, Milošević ended up at The Hague and the Western politicians responsible for Dayton lost office, the balance tilted haltingly but unmistakably towards the second. Croatia’s decision to renounce special relations with ‘Herzeg-Bosna’; the B-H constitutional court ruling that Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs were constituent peoples throughout the country’s territory; successive high representatives’ strengthening of central bodies, with more B-H ministries and a united B-H military command; the departure of many of the most compromised and feared Serb and Croat nationalist officials, either to The Hague or into political oblivion; most recently, the admission by RS authorities, however belated and grudging, that at least 7,800 Bosniaks were indeed massacred at Srebrenica in July 1995 by the army of RS commanded by Mladić - all of these have been stages on what now looks increasingly like an irreversible process of normalization. The economy is still in a dire state; poverty and unemployment still blight the lives of much of the population; returnees are still at risk from Zvornik to Stolac; foreign officials still express hypocritical surprise about Serbia’s continued financing of the Bosnian Serb army, including Mladić’s pension, or about the latter’s presence in his old wartime lair at Han Pijesak; the all-Bosnian Zemaljski Muzej with its priceless treasures still has to close its doors to the public (for the first time!) for lack of any state support. But the sale of the Zenica steelworks and the Omarska iron mine complex to a single foreign investor speaks of a much-needed confidence in Bosnia’s future and could herald the start of economic regeneration and reintegration - though, of course, the demands of the Omarska camp victims for an appropriate memorial and protection for ongoing and future exhumations would have to be met. The recent assessment by Mirsad Tokača, head of Sarajevo’s documentation centre, that the total of B-H war dead was probably fewer than 150,000 is further good news. Now that the international community seems finally to be accepting that the nation’s future cannot forever remain in thrall to those who aided and abetted the 1992-5 aggression and war crimes (including that of genocide, as established by ICTY), it is permissible to hope that 2005 may prove a turning point on the way to a better future for Bosnia-Herzegovina - hence also for its neighbours and Europe as a whole.


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