The pragmatic delusion
Since the last issue of Bosnia Report was published in late February 2006, two events of momentous regional significance have occurred - both not merely of external relevance to Bosnia-Herzegovina, but intimately connected with its own protracted internal crisis. First, on 11 March Slobodan Miloševic died in his prison cell at The Hague, thus bringing symbolic closure to a tragic cycle of events in the course of which the forces under his leadership had destroyed the federal order of the former Yugoslavia, which had provided a stable and workable system for decades after World War II, and had then embarked on a bloody campaign to carve out an enlarged independent Serbia - all under the banner of ‘preserving Yugoslavia’ and keeping ‘all Serbs in a single state’. The guiding principle of this enterprise was repudiation of the established boundaries between Yugoslavia’s constituent republics and provinces in favour of new ‘ethnic’ borders. Although the big powers did eventually refuse to accept such a redrawing of European frontiers, their vacillating policies allowed the break-up to occur in a manner that was most injurious to the populations of the area, i.e. through war, forcible shifts of population and genocide, as has been amply documented for posterity in the trial of Miloševic despite its premature conclusion.
The second momentous event of the past few months was the clear-cut decision of Montenegro’s electorate to opt for a sovereign, independent state, thereby ending the unpopular, imposed ‘state union’ with Serbia and leading to the latter’s own declaration of independence shortly afterwards. Among other significant implications of this decision was a forthright repudiation by Montenegro’s multi-national electorate of the idea that different national groups cannot live together, but need to be territorially separated.- a notion still fatefully embodied by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s dysfunctional post-Dayton structures.
It remains only for the current limping negotiations over the status of Kosova to be brought to their necessary conclusion, with this former Yugoslav federal unit too being recognized as sovereign. This would close the long cycle of conflict unleashed by Miloševic precisely in Prishtina in 1989. The political and military defeat suffered by the Greater Serbia project has ensured that the old (AVNOJ) frontiers will remain intact, and will now give Serbia itself the chance at last to concentrate on its own problems within fixed and known borders. The conditions will thus be created for vanquishing those domestic forces that still hanker after a Greater Serbia (support for the Radicals currently stands at some 40% of the Serbian electorate).
The outstanding problem of how to ensure civic and human rights, and physical security, for national minorities within the newly sovereign states - Serbs in Kosova; Albanians, Bosniaks and Hungarians in Serbia; and so on - will then be soluble according to EU norms and with appropriate international encouragement. What remains to be solved, however, is the anomaly of the B-H constitution. As things stand, the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina manifests the inherent contradiction of international policy, with its affirmation of state borders on the one hand and, on the other, its endorsement of the outcomes of genocide designed to alter those borders. It is impossible to see how a Bosnia based on ethnic principles rather than those of individual citizenship can ever become functional, or ever join the EU. There are historical moments when policies based on pragmatic adaptation to the status quo become an obstacle to the qualitative changes that alone might bring genuine stability.