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Unrest in Bosnia

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For Bosnia and Herzegovina many analysts will say that is artificial creation. That is why there is a saying for Bosnia: ”Where logic ends, Bosnia begins”. Anyway, the latest Bosniak initiative, has surprised many, because it strikes at the very basis of existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently, the Party for Democratic Action (SDA), the main Bosniak party in the country, announced that will initiate a legal procedure before the Constitututional Court to challenge the name of Bosnia`s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.

”The previous practice of the Republika Srpska institutions showed that the entyty`s name was intensively and efficiently used to discriminate against the other two constituent peoples – Bosniaks and Croats, “ the SDA said. “Linking the name to only one people living in the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina is contrary to the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.” The strongest Bosniak national party, further said that the Constitutional Court made an earlier decision on the constituency of the people which stipulated that the entities must ensure full equality of all constituent peoples in their legal systems.

Reacting to calls for the Constitutional Court to review the legality of the name of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, the leader of ruling Republika Srpska party Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and current Chairman of Bosnia’s Tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, strongly condemned the Party for Democratic Action initiative at a press conference the same day and called upon the SDS (second strongest Serb party) to support a decision on the “independence of the Republika Srpska” if the initiative is submitted to the Constitutional Court.

“Our authentic and original constitutional rights is for us to decide on our status. We will do that,” he said, dismissing earlier statements by the High Representative Valentin Inzko, named by the international community to oversee the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement, who said that Republika Srpska can not secede. ”He was put here to conduct repercussions against Republika Srpska. But this is a moment where there will be no calculations,” Dodik said. ”If you wanted to throw us, Republika Srpska, out of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you are doing best job possible. Finish it. I have nothing against it,” Dodik said, referring to the Party for Democratic Action.

This attack on Republika Srpska showed that Serbian politicians are united in its defense. The move drew condemnation from both the ruling Republika Srpska Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), and Bosnian Serb opposition parties in the entity, such as the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP).

In one of the first reactions to the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action announcement, the Republika Srpska National Assembly Speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic said this was a nothing but a provocation and that it represents an anti-Constitutional act.

”The SDA’s claims are disgusting and laughable at the same time because they are the ones who refuse to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision issued 12 years ago, stipulating that Serbs must be equally represented in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cubrilovic said. ”Initiating a Constitutional Court discussion on the name of the Republika Srpska would mark the end of the project called Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cubrilovic noted.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), top international institution overseesing the peace implementation in the country stated that the initiative to dispute the name of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity before the Constitutional Court amid the post-election government formation is “irresponsible and counterproductive.” Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities, the OHR said, and the Peace Implementation Council continuosly expresses its commitment to basic structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an integral, sovereign state that consists of the two entities.

The international community’s High Representative was installed to oversee the civilian part of the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the peace threaty that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Its Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board, which is composed of foreign ambassadors in Bosnia, meets twice a year to assess the progress in the process.

Background

The statement of Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the strongest Bosniak party SDA, who addressed the public saying that he is ready to consider abandoning the initiative to change the name of Republika Srpska, if in the next six months “the SNSD change its behavior”, and accept the further path of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards NATO, clearly shows who is standing behind this initiative. Even “Croatian” member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Željko Komšić – several days before Bakir Izetbegovic- conditioned the appointment of a mandate for the Council of Ministers (which currently belongs to the Serbs) by membership in the NATO. It should be added that this initiative of the Bosniaks comes shortly after the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Serbia, where he met, among other things, with the leadership of Republika Srpska.

An interesting analysis of the events in Bosnia was published on January 13 in National Interest, American bimonthly international affairs magazine, by Sean Maguire and Ryan Scherba, with title: “The Bosnia Boondoggle: This is Why Sarajevo Can’t Join NATO”. In the analysis, among other things, is written: “If the United States is serious about backing NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina, then it has to get serious about the failures of the Dayton Peace Accords and drop its support for them as Bosnia’s governance system. They may have ended Bosnia’s civil war in 1995, but they have become synonymous with stagnation, frustration, despair, poor governance and weak institutions. This not only hinders the joint U.S.-Bosnian aspirations to join NATO, but has stagnated Bosnia overall, enshrining ethnic divisions (and tensions) legally between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats, and Serbs that have left Bosnia divided and ripe for geopolitical goals of Russia. The recent elections in October that delivered a hardline Serb-nationalist who is stridently anti-West and NATO to the Bosnian presidency are evidence of this, while serving as a wake-up call to Washington that it is time to re-engage in Bosnia.” In addition to the National Interest, from Turkey also arrived messages regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina future. During a meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged for the revision of the Dayton Agreement. Turkish President and Croatian President apparently agreed that this document, prepared in haste for only three weeks to stop the war, did not create the conditions for finding a stable solution for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the international community representatives who oversee the implementation of the agreement that ended Bosnia’s war, said they recognize the concerns regarding discrimination of constituent peoples and citizens across the country as legitimate, but that the name “Republika Srpska” is enshrined in the Constitution. The PIC recalled that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognizes that the country consists of two entites, the Bosniak-Croat shared Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

Challenging the name of the Republika Srpska entity before the Constitutional Court would be counterproductive and irresponsible, the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board stated while it also condemned recent rhetoric and actions that question the territorial integrity of Bosnia.

Russia refused to join the statement that foreign diplomats in Bosnia issued in response to the recent initiative to challenge the name of Republia Srpska before Bosnia’s Constitutional Court, the Russian Ambasador confirmed to journalists.

”Russia did not give consent for the PIC’s (Peace Implementation Council) joint statement because it is too general. It is everyone’s yet no one’s fault,” Petr Ivantsov told media after the meeting of ambassadors. The conclusions his colleagues passed has a broad meaning that speaks of mistakes of all political actors in Bosnia, said Russia’s diplomat, adding that the statement does not focus on current problems. According to Mr. Ivantsov, the SDA’s “threat” to dispute the Republika Srpska’s name at the Constitutional Court is “a serious mistake” and is not in line with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

Conclusion

The Bosniaks would never undertake such a radical move if they did not have the support in the first place of the West, and also Turkey. After undemocratic accession of Montenegro into NATO, and soon Macedonia, NATO directs its attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main opponent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry into NATO is Republika Srpska, whose Assembly passed a resolution on military neutrality.

The West makes it clear that it will not give up until all Balkan states become NATO members. The most important land and riparian transportation corridors between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, and between the Baltic and Aegean Seas, run through Serbia. Because of that, the main goal of the West is Serbia’s entry into NATO, which would also leave Russia without a strategic ally in the Balkans. The main obstacle to this is the “second Serbian state in the Balkans”, that is Republika Srpska. This is precisely why the Bosniaks are encouraged to strike on the basis of Dayton.

The structure of Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina plays a major role in the political life of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it consists of three foreign judges, two Bosniaks, two Serbs and two Croats, which means in practice and it has been established so far – that three foreign and two Bosniak judges have majority, and they use it. So arbitrarily impose their decisions on all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If the initiative to abolish the name of Republika Srpska go to Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbs must show their determination, which is now announced by the most powerful Serb politician Milorad Dodik. A decision must be made to declare the independence of the Republika Srpska. Such a decision carries a risk of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, Republika Srpska has no other choice.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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French Senator Allizard: Mediterranean – Theatre for future Europe

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On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by the Modern Diplomacy, IFIMES and their partners, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.[1]

Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency OlivérVárhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers, the first to open the floor was French Senator Pascal Allizard, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Vice President (and its Special rapporteur for Mediterranean issues). Discussing regional issues of the southern Europe, its relations with the black sea and with North of Africa, this is what Senator outlined in his intervention:

As 2021 is the ten-year anniversary of the Arab spring, Senator Pascal highlights that a decade later, the events of the Arab Spring are crucial to the problems of today. Europe should reevaluate the region through European lens. Excellency Alizard criticizes Europe, due to the fact that it tends to take a step back from the region of the North African affected area of the Arab Spring conflict as there is an abundance of issues which are unlikely to be solved with ease. One must still do its duties difficult or not to question the region. Turning a blind eye to the problems there is something that Senator says Europe tends to do to elevate their consciousness.

However, one must look at the problems head-on. The biggest concern is that there is an explosive growth in population, a rise in radicalism and the Black Sea is what separates that northern conflict region of Africa and the Mediterranean coast of Europe.

The Mediterranean Sea is known to be one of the most crucial routes to transport illegal cargo such as drugs, hydrocarbon and human trafficking into Europe, specifically through Spain and Italy. It’s crucial for Europe to have a discussion and plan for this region as it is a necessity to keep Europe safe. The different countries along the Mediterranean must come together to create a cohesive, inclusive yet firm diplomatic strategy to answer all the challenges. The region along the Mediterranean Sea is a strategic area for Europe as there are many ships that come from around the world into those ports.

Senator Pascal proceeded by stating that the eastern Mediterranean region escalated after the discovery of significant oil and gas reserves. It is also the ongoing war in Syria, and the destabilization of the region with yet unsettled situation in Libya (with presence of multiple external players which generate instability).

Senator reminded the conference audience that Europe must also mention the actors in the Mediterranean on the European side;

‘’The European Union is a leading player, at least for the display of its normative ambitions, also for its diplomacy of the checkbook and its discourse on human rights. However, the EU is not a power in the state and sovereign sense of the term, and it systematically curbs the sovereign aspirations of its own member states. The EU does not yet project itself sufficiently as an international actor capable of implementing a foreign policy. The EU appears, I believe, seen from the Mediterranean at most as a soft power which, in word, watches over the balance of power in the region. And the hopes placed in EU policy dedicated to the Mediterranean have been in vain, to the extent that they do not seem effective, neither economically nor politically, at least from my point of view, insufficiently. And if on the northern shore a few countries are interested in the Mediterranean area, we can see that this is not the center of European concerns and that no common vision is really emerging.’’

Unification of that region is vital, because if the Mediterranean nations do not collaborate as a union and show their strength, control of that area could fall into the hands of Turkey, Russia and China. Turkey walks bold on the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone in Euro-Med, which would – if accepted – project its power in the Mediterranean, giving it a more prominent regional political role. Russia, which is once again becoming a key player in the Middle East, in the Black Sea area, in the Mediterranean and even in Africa walks bold too. Lastly, China which mainly projects itself through its trade, investments, and its bilateral agreements is pressing on maritime space too. Lately, Chinese military navy can be also seen.

The navies of the regions are preparing for a hardening of relations at sea in a strategic area where world trade flows, but also now, for the exploration, the exploitation of hydrocarbons. This is why questions of sovereignty are once again emerging, naturally in the sense of our concerns.

Hopefully the new US administration will also pay attention to the Mediterranean Sea and not just the Indo-Pacific. 

The only way to establish more of a grip in the Mediterranean theater is cooperation. This is also the key to success for all the European nations gathered around unified code of conduct and rule of law.

Concluding, Excellency Pascal stated that the European Union must recognize realities of unresolved conflicts that are interwoven, as well as to understand the new challenges that can threaten the very fabrics of the Union: security, demography, unregulated immigration. If not equal to these challenges, the universalist European model might lose its grounds beyond point of return – warned Senator.

*the above text is based on the informal French language transcript as per conference recordings, which may have no intentionally caused minor omittances or imprecisions in the reporting.


[1]This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

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Vienna Process: Re-visiting and Re-thinking the Euro-MED

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On the historic date of March 08th – International Women’s Day, a large number of international affairs specialists gathered for the second consecutive summit in Vienna, Austria. This leg of the Vienna Process titled: “Europe – Future – Neighbourhood at 75: Disruptions Recalibration Continuity”. The conference, jointly organized by the Modern Diplomacy, IFIMES and their partners, with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, was aimed at discussing the future of Europe and its neighbourhood in the wake of its old and new challenges.[1]

Along with the two acting State Presidents, the event was endorsed by the keynote of the EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement, Excellency OlivérVárhelyi. The first, of the three-panel conference, was brilliantly conducted by the OSCE Sec-General (2011-2017), current IFIMES Euro-Med Director, Amb. Lamberto Zannier. Among his speakers were academics, government and IGO representatives of different yet complimentary backgrounds. Following is the brief, yet not conclusive, overview of the discussed. 

Although not new, the EURO-MED cooperation matter remains a distinguished area where the field of possibilities is immense, and where progress vis-à-vis this transregional collaboration would tremendously impact all involved parties’ crisis management abilities. Thus, re-discussing EURO-MED with, if necessary, a novel overall geometry is rightfully referred to as a both compelling and heat-on point of the agenda by the conference panellists.

Admittedly, the Barcelona Process of 1995 and PEM Convention having entered into force in early 2012 were remarkable initiatives aiming notably at introducing institutional frameworks and promoting deeper economic integration based on the “rules of origin” concept. However, the initiatives did not blossom as was hoped, and this is due to several reasons that keynote speaker Monika Wohlfeld (German Chair for Peace Studies & Conflict Prevention) and Ettore Greco (Vice-President of the Institute for International Affairs) have touched upon during the 8th March international event. Given that our awareness and understanding of the lack of prosperity having surrounded those first initiatives is key to re-thinking, re-calibrating and, in turn, re-engage in an auspicious direction, this piece will be taking you back to the salient message vehicled by Wohlfeld and Greco respectively.

First, Monika Wohlfeld took the floor and opened up by acknowledging the past attempts at reaching cooperation security agreements as well as their relative deficiency up until now. Equally as important to recognize are the causes of such failings: actually, little traction was brought on following the emergence of the first initiatives due to, notably, an absence of lasting peace climate and old relational patterns within the involved regions. The context having been set, she moves onto the juicy bit: the inherent inadequacy of the multilateral approach whose prints are all over the 90s and 2000s proposals. What is more, she brings to the table a counter-approach as the path to engage in: minilateralism.

The aforesaid concept offers an alternative cooperation modus that is more selective, flexible and mostly more conscious of, and focused on, the fact (or rather the reality) that States can participate in various ad-hoc frameworks with fluctuating membership. The latter would then be assessed through case-by-case interests, shared values and pertinent capabilities. In that sense, by contrast to a multilateralist angle, a minilateralist attitude would be oriented towards the sub-regional rather than the international; would be a voluntary undertaking rather than a binding one; would concern fragmented but specialized fields of application rather than general comprehensive ones; would tend to be multi-stakeholders rather than State-centric; and would proceed from a bottom-up thinking rather than top-down. Monika’s suggested shift in approach answers an important need, backed-up by local expert voices, which is that of the serious taking into account of sub-regional diversity in the process. By doing so, the odds of reaching cooperation agreements with MED countries – and moreover the chances of those agreements panning out – would be extremely favourable.

As a matter of fact, Ettore Greco endorsed a consubstantial view in his intervention during the conference. More specifically, he believes that a looser approach based on an empowered co-ownership and greater attention to actual regional dynamics and situational constraints ought to be adopted.

Drawing on the Barcelona Process experience, which rendered apparent its shortcomings and the recent state of deadlock having affected the EURO-MED coop, Greco equally provides alternate lines of thinking. What is clear to him is that the integrationist approach and the idea according to which cooperation should equate to structural convergence makes for an unworkable avenue. Indeed, he also pointed out that one main issue encountered with regard to earlier cooperation models (whether in the Barcelona Process or even in the ERANET Project of 2013) was the transfer and, by way of symmetry, the reception of Western policies in the Middle-East and North Africa. This cannot help but to ring an old bell; that of Watson’s concept of the ‘legal transplant’ and related limits. His famous metaphor of the mountain plant being uprooted and planted back in the desert, incurring changes to the plant’s nature remains particularly striking and timely. This goes to show, or rather to remind some, that purely transplanting policies that are specific to a certain ethos without adjusting to the new local particular context can often prove inefficient.

Consequently, is it well-advised that the EU places more emphasis on, and deploys more energy towards, stability and resilience as goals set out for the cooperation in lieu of democratization along with institutional reforms. That being said, Greco concedes that in the absence of profound transformation – and hence, reforms, to some extent – stability in itself is seldom achievable.

Setting aside the MED inner conflict dynamics over which the EU has very little if no control over, new forms of partnerships should be relentlessly explored and promoted in a world where the concurring, mutually-reinforcing challenges can only be optimally addressed through wider pan-regional operative frameworks. In that spirit, Ettore Greco, as emissary for the IAI, lays out some ground requirements we need to achieve as a roadmap to making successful advances. These are:

  • The promotion of a comprehensive concept of security. That is, one more inclusive and of broader scope – and thereby more realistic.[2]
  • The creation of better synergies between the different cooperation frameworks (NATO-MED dialogue, OSCE MED partnership, Union of the MED) and clarification of each initiative’s own added-value.
  • The involvement of valuable non-EU actors such as Russia or the United States of America.

Those guidelines, whether proposed by Monika Wohlfeld or by Ettore Greco, prove that the re-thinking of the EURO-MED cooperation is a breeding ground already being cultured. Besides, this political activation or mobilization towards re-shaping a functional and tighter cooperation scheme can be observed across the board of regional and sub-regional players directly affected by the issue. But mostly, there is one common thread in the discourses of those airing opinions to lead the best way: acknowledgement of the omnipresent diversity and pluralism at play. Only by factoring in the diversity of the partners and their sub-regions can there be beneficial arrangements and progress be made. This, of course, has to be understood as a central remark directed to the European side of the table. All and any relic of hegemony need be completely done away with, so as to fully respect and integrate the diverse identities in the process. And in fact, this shouldn’t be hard to comprehend and assimilate from a EU perspective considering the various cultural bundles interacting within the EU block itself. What is more, the European Court of Human Rights is King as revering and upholding the national particularism of its Member States – it makes it a point of honour in the crushing majority of its judgements whenever harmony flirts too close with a homogeneity requirement that comes short of negating a region’s tradition.


[1]This highly anticipated conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from three continents, and the viewers from Australia to Canada and from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the rethinking and revisiting Europe and its three equally important neighbourhoods: Euro-Med, Eastern and trans-Atlantic (or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”); the socio-political and economic greening; as well as the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials and Code, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century.

[2] On that, see the OSCE model proposal

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U.S government’s own negative impacts in eroding human rights and media freedom in Bulgaria

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The US State Department’s annual human rights report is out and just like every March, critical voices and activists around the world rush to their own country’s section to see what’s included and what they can use openly, with the stamp of criticism by the US government.

This year, the State Department’s report on human rights violations in Bulgaria covers the usual ground and what’s publicly known. There were no surprises. The section on Bulgaria includes very prominently violence against media and journalists, and excessive use of force by law enforcement.

What the US government does not include in the Bulgaria section is the US government’s own role in the erosion of human rights and media freedom in Bulgaria through US government agencies such as the FBI, the CIA and even the US State Department. This is not something that US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, is willing to admit – at least not yet.

Ever since the US Ambassador to Bulgaria, Hero Mustafa, stepped into office back in 2019, the US Embassy in Sofia has maintained media freedom as a main theme. And what was not to like about that? Many of us over here cheered. But not so fast.

The US government construes media freedom only in the narrow sense that only speech praising the US government and going after US enemies should be free and protected. “Direct your freedom of speech against them, not us” is not freedom of speech. That’s not a rights-based approach; it’s authoritarianism. This was my first-hand experience with the US government when I was a top finalist for UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech in 2020. This is also my experience with the US government, as I try to spearhead the debate on the joint European position on China, and as I criticize the new US confrontational policy on China in pumping a new unnecessary Cold War with China, while expecting Europe to follow blindly. When the US is provoking China into a military and defense race at China’s own door step, while pointing to the Chinese reaction as “aggression”, hoping to draw Europe also into this, European voices have to speak up and warn about what’s coming on the horizon.

The FBI and the CIA operating under the hat of the US Embassy in Sofia make sure that independent, politically critical voices are kept under check through a variety of illegal means that the US government somehow believes it can allow itself to use on EU soil. The US State Department is happy to tag and sing along with the US intelligence agencies, here in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian authorities are also happy to help the US government in the US government’s repression against progressive, politically critical voices in Bulgaria.

The key take-away for the US government in Bulgaria has to be that the history of US human rights infringements in Europe shows that things like that only drive the transatlantic bond further away, and don’t bring it closer. This is also something that US President Joe Biden is about to learn very soon.

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