Instability and Uncertain Future in Central Balkans. Part II, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Except briefly at the end of June in 1914, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnia for short) hardly attracted much public attention until the outbreak of the Yugoslav civil wars in the 1990s. In Bosnia and Herzegovina the seemingly irreconcilable protagonists in that conflict were in fact confessionally divided communities of the same people, sharing ethnicity, language, and historical origins. That may have made the mayhem all the more bloody and fierce, if credit is given to General Philippe Morillon’s remark, while giving evidence at the Milošević trial, that “no war tends to be as savage as when it is waged among brothers.”
The tripartite conflict in Bosnia, occurring within the larger context of the wars of Yugoslav secession, was noted for ruthlessness on all sides. Its memory seems to be as fresh today as two decades ago, when it was officially terminated with the signing and implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. At least two circumstances, however, made the Dayton accords a less than ideal instrument of lasting peace in Bosnia.
The first was the apparent determination of the Atlanticist power block (unctuously self-promoted as the “international community”) to treat the cessation of hostilities not as a permanent settlement but merely as a temporary truce. As soon as it became manifest, an independent and functional Bosnia was not contemplated at all by these power centers. Rather, the plan was to centralize the country and turn it into a long-term subservient protectorate. In Phase 2 of the “Dayton process,” which was left undisclosed at the time, it was envisaged to do away with constituent entities and local autonomy altogether and to centralize Bosnia’s administration in Sarajevo, purely for the convenience of colonial overlords.
In a recent interview, Bosnian journalist and diplomat Zlatko Dizdarević put his finger on the crux of the matter when he stated that the Dayton Agreement established “a travesty of a state with the constant exacerbation of differences and low intensity conflicts… Technically, the country is endowed with foreign borders but its internal composition is based entirely on ethnic and religious divisions making the presence of a powerful foreign protector mandatory.”
The other circumstance which makes any semblance of mutual co-existence in Bosnia hugely difficult is the unforgivingly long memory of its inhabitants. Injuries, real or imagined, going back for hundreds of years, are eagerly remembered as if those painful events had taken place only yesterday. In ecclesiastical terminology, that would be a perfect example of памятозлобые. It is a pity that this mental condition is so widely practiced by all the parties in Bosnia, including the nominally Orthodox, and to the detriment of them all.
It is also fitting to note, in the context of a general introduction, that Bosnia has not enjoyed anything resembling formal statehood since the Middle Ages, and even then in a very desultory and historically thin documented fashion. That has led to conflicting claims and intense controversies among the present-day parties. From the middle of the fifteenth century until the nineteenth, Bosnia was ruled from Constantinople as an outpost of the Ottoman Empire and during that long period underwent enormous stagnation, and in some respects also indisputable civilizational retrocession. One of the major legacies of Ottoman rule was the induced and perhaps to some extent also voluntary conversion of at least a third of the population to Islam. That generated in their ranks a new way of thinking and laid the groundwork for a sense of separateness from their Christian (Orthodox and Roman Catholic) compatriots. The widespread sense within the large Islamic community in Bosnia of constituting a corpus separatum later made it a fertile ground for geopolitical power plays and most recently for rather awkward Western-managed ethnic identity engineering.
Briefly, after the termination of Ottoman rule at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, Bosnia was turned over to “enlightened” Austria-Hungary as an international protectorate (not unlike the status Bosnia has today), only to be later unilaterally annexed by the Habsburg Empire in 1908. In 1918, after Austria’s defeat, Bosnia became part of the newly created Kingdom of Yugoslavia. During World War II, 1941-1945, in the dismembered Yugoslavia, the Nazis made it part of their Croatian satellite state. In that period, the then majority Serbian Orthodox population of Bosnia was subjected to unspeakable persecution and a genocide in which hundreds of thousands perished at the hands of the Croats, with some assistance by pro-Axis elements of the Muslim population.
During four decades of post-war Communist rule, the “national question” was settled by applying similar ideological precepts as in the Soviet Union, which means that it was essentially swept under the rug. It reemerged with a vengeance in the late eighties and early nineties, with generous encouragement from interested Western intelligence and other agencies, whose geopolitical designs called for the parallel destruction of both Yugoslavia and the USSR. The scenarios by which this was accomplished were so similar that Yugoslav events scarcely need special elaboration for the benefit of those who recall how the downfall of the Soviet Union was engineered.
Srebrenica: In the background of all political, cultural, and social controversies in Bosnia today there looms the mass execution of probably up to a thousand Bosnian Muslim prisoners of war after Serbian forces took over the UN-protected enclave of Srebrenica in July of 1995, an event that took place just as the war was drawing to a close. In keeping with the Balkans’ mental habit of sticking (as Diana Johnstone has put it) to “a tribal concept of truth,” the Bosnian parties’ perception of what happened in Srebrenica varies drastically.
With encouragement from the aforementioned “international community,” which has found in its alleged failure to prevent genocide in Srebrenica an ideal argument for justifying a series of interventions against disobedient sovereign states, from Kosovo to Syria, supposedly to prevent its reoccurrence, Bosnian Muslims overwhelmingly take the view that they are victims of genocide at the hands of their Serbian neighbors. On the basis of that perceived victimhood, they argue that the Serb entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska, was founded on genocide, lacks moral legitimacy, and should therefore be abolished in favor of a unitary state in which, it just so happens, the genocided Muslims are close to becoming the majority.
The Serbs’ perception of the same event is that no proper investigation of Srebrenica events had ever been conducted and that the verdicts of Western-controlled and financed ad hoc tribunals, such as the one at The Hague, are politically inspired and legally (largely) null and void. They generally do not contest that in Srebrenica a serious breach of international law did occur, but they reject the officially cited figure of 8,000 Muslim execution victims and point out that after two decades no evidence has surfaced of any Serb intent to exterminate the Muslim community as such, a condition which the Genocide Convention stipulates must be established for such a crime to have occurred.
Regardless of the actual facts, Srebrenica has been deliberately politicized to a point where it is being dealt with almost exclusively on the level of perceptions and emotions. As such, it has deeply alienated the two principal communities in Bosnia, the Orthodox and the Muslims, who together comprise about 85% of the population and are therefore crucial to Bosnia’s peace and stability.
NATO and EU accession and the push for centralization: In keeping with the Atlanticist playbook for neighboring Serbia, Bosnia is also allegedly groomed for EU and almost certainly for NATO membership. While there is no reason to doubt NATO’s desire to integrate Bosnia, the sincerity of the invitation to join the EU is a matter of speculation. The central authorities in Sarajevo have announced triumphantly that a “credible” (whatever that means) EU membership application will be submitted in a few weeks. Considering that Turkey’s application was submitted many years ago, that may not amount to much.
Both steps in the direction of Euro-Atlantic integration, however, are heavily conditioned upon the adoption of internal policies even more advantageous for foreign corporate investors than regulations currently in effect and on further cuts of accumulated social gains in the areas of workers’ rights and other benefits frowned upon by neo-liberal economics. The way this works was put best by astute American analyst Paul Craig Roberts: “These measures are to curtail public services and the government sector, reduce public pensions, and sell national resources to foreigners. The money saved by reduced social benefits and raised by selling off the country’s assets to foreigners serves to repay the IMF”.
Beyond that, the key demand put to the Bosnian political elite is accelerated centralization at the expense of the largely autonomous Serb and Muslim-Croat entities set up under the Dayton Agreement. The official rationale holds that only a centralized and therefore “functional” Bosnia can meaningfully participate in these supranational structures. That argument is bogus because it overlooks the fact that a similarly divided Belgium has had no difficulty hosting both NATO and the EU on its territory, and is also a functional member of both.
Bosnian Muslims are all too happy to support centralization proposals under any pretext because they anticipate soon becoming the absolute majority in the country, which would make them the ultimate beneficiaries of such a system. The Serbs, however, are staunchly opposed to any reduction in their autonomy and moreover are demanding the return of competences forcibly transferred from the Republika Srpska to the central Sarajevo government by successive EU High Representatives invoking bogus “Bonn Powers” which are nowhere mentioned in the Dayton peace accords. The Croats, watching from the sidelines, are not only unimpressed by centralization arguments but are calling for their own right to secede from the Federation with Muslims which the Americans imposed on them during the war in 1994. They wish to set up in Bosnia a separate autonomous entity of their own.
With red lines clearly drawn by each of the parties, the huge political controversy that will mark the upcoming period is the referendum called by the Republika Srpska on the legality of the State Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, one of the disputed, constitutionally unrecognized central institutions that in 2002 was arbitrarily set up by decree of the foreign appointed High Representative. Republika Srpska’s plan to hold a referendum on this subject has been bitterly denounced by Bosnia’s foreign overseers and their Sarajevo Muslim allies. Serbian leaders have been threatened with grave reprisals should they proceed in the next couple of months to give their people an opportunity to state their views, using a procedure that anywhere else would be praised as quintessentially democratic.
Color (or Hybrid) Revolution in Republika Srpska: Republika Srpska was the target of a Color Revolution attempt in 2014. It passed largely unnoticed but provoked an immense internal political commotion. Going back several years, President Milorad Dodik has been building close political, economic, and cultural ties with the Russian Federation in an obvious attempt to counterbalance the heavy concentration of Western support for the Muslim-dominated central government in Sarajevo. His cultivation of close ties with Moscow evidently did not pass unnoticed in Washington and Brussels and the decision was made to overthrow him.
For several years the usual collection of pro-Western “NGOs” was financed in the Republika Srpska by USAID, the Soros Fund, NED, and other well-known “democracy promoters” to prepare the ground. A strategic decision was made to use the conjunction of increasing economic difficulties and the 2014 general elections as the occasion to deliver the coup de grâce to Dodik and his coalition. Activists from Canvas (formerly OTPOR), the Western-trained “color revolution” specialists who spearheaded the overthrown of Slobodan Milošević in 2000, were part of a well financed and logistically supported campaign to change the regime in Republika Srpska from nationalist and pro-Russian to one that would be subservient to Western plans and demands.
The 2014 “color revolution” in Republica Srpska failed by a whisker. President Dodik’s government was caught fundamentally unprepared and had not developed a coherent counter-strategy. It was the grass roots activity of ordinary citizens, who grasped the danger, carefully studied Gene Sharp’s operational manuals, and worked hard to unmask the true intentions of the fifth column, which ultimately made the difference.
As could have been predicted, Western sponsors have not given up on the goal of “regime change” in the Republika Srpska. Last year was spent reviewing tactics, correcting mistakes, and regrouping forces. A new wave of color revolution agitation is currently in progress. It will present a more complex challenge because it is being raised to what Andrew Korybko calls the “hybrid revolution” level. One of its main features will be the activation of Bosnian jihadist elements who will gradually be withdrawn from the Syrian theater and introduced into Bosnia in order to provoke chaos.
Security expert Predrag Ćeranić points out that the Wahhabis are currently engaged in intense “missionary” activities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their ultimate goal, according to him, is to “mobilize as many followers as possible and spark a revolution in order to set up their own state throughout Bosnia.”
Another expert and keen observer of local security threats, Dževad Galijašević, warns that the “Bloody Spring” which ISIL propaganda has promised for Bosnia may yet materialize and overshadow the violent attacks which recently took place in Paris. Galijašević is highly critical of the confused and ineffective response of Bosnia’s security agencies at the central level which, he claims, are paralyzed because they are infested with Islamist sympathizers.
Discussion. Bosnia is a major Balkan asset in the political rivalry between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic alliance. The outcome of that contest will, by all accounts, help set the stage for a large-scale, possibly military, future conflict. Guided by a logic not unlike Hitler’s in the Balkans in 1941, the Western alliance is currently securing its rear positions ahead of the confrontation with the Russian Federation, which it is clearly anticipating.
Due to the peculiar constitutional arrangements set up under the Dayton Agreement in 1995, Bosnia cannot be fully integrated within the Western political and military system without the agreement of the Republika Srpska. That makes it essential to install in Banja Luka a cooperative regime that would be receptive to Western strategic objectives and willing to place the resources of the Serb Bosnian entity at their disposal, even to the point of self-extinction.
For the Russian Federation the chief dilemmas in Bosnia are the following:
First, how far is it worthwhile to go in securing the Russian sphere of influence? Ideally, given the high strategic stakes, practically no investment should be begrudged assuming it can lead to tangible and positive results.
Second, what is the level of reliability of local partners, which means essentially the Republika Srpska? It should be noted that under cover of an allegedly “clever” policy of giving Caesar his due, Republika Srpska leadership spent a considerable part of last year pursuing a doomed and hare-brained Gaddafiesque accomodationist course of trying to cash in on their thin electoral victory by attempting to work out a pragmatic settlement with the Euro-Atlanticist power block. They failed to draw the obvious analytical conclusion that having become, unintendedly or by design, a symbol of successful small-country resistance to Western domination they now must be destroyed as an object lesson to others. Consequently, other than brief tactical truces, no lasting settlement is possible for them any more than it was for Gaddafi. Their overtures seem to have been unsuccessful anyway, they are now being subjected to a new subversive onslaught, and they have again actively turned to Russia for support, but questions about their political competence and maturity persist.
Third, given that the overall balance of forces is to Republika Srpska’s acute disadvantage and that the leadership wasted precious time last year instead of fortifying internal and external defenses, it is reasonable to ask what Russia realistically could do to counter a full scale Western political offensive, if it ever comes to the verge of being successful. For a number of compelling reasons, in Bosnia a “Syrian response” to such a crisis in order to reinforce the positions of a Russian Federation-friendly regime would not be feasible. Unless Banja Luka “gets its act together” very quickly, and masters the art of organizing an effective self-defense from hybrid revolution, feasible forms of Russian assistance simply may not be enough to make a decisive difference.
Fourth, political developments in the Republic of Srpska cannot be viewed separately from Serbia. Either the strong pro-Russian sentiment in both Serbian lands is translated very soon into political alignment on state level with the Russian Federation and the multi-polar forces it leads, or they will ultimately both succumb to Western pressure and be absorbed by the opposing power block. For Russia, that would be an enormous geopolitical loss, all the more so for being completely avoidable. Therefore, while being flexible and taking into account the specifics of each situation, Russian policy must take a holistic view of these key components of Serbian cultural and political space in the Balkans. It should develop an integral policy concept to enable both to do the natural thing and join Russia as full-fledged partners, save themselves from destruction, and make a tangible contribution to the construction of a better world.