Kosovo/Serbia swap

Former High Representatives to Bosnia call on Mogherini to abandon plans to transfer territory between Serbia and Kosovo

Three former High Representative’s for Bosnia and Herzegovina: Carl Bildt, Paddy Ashdown, and Christian Schwarz-Schilling have written an open letter to Federica Mogherini and the Foreign Ministers of EU Member States on the Correction of Borders between Serbia and Kosovo.

The letter underlines “deep concern” about suggestions made by EU officials that they may be willing to support agreement between Presidents Vucic and Thaci that involves the transfer of territory between Serbia and Kosovo through “border corrections”.

The three experts fear that moving borders in the region like this “will not solve divisions, it will deepen them”.

In the letter Paddy Ashdown, Carl Bildt, and Christian Schwarz-Schilling state:

“We know Bosnia and Herzegovina well enough to know that this will give comfort and support to those who would break up the country, who are already calling for a return to the status quo ante in Dayton, unravelling all we and our Bosnian partners have worked for over more than two decades.

“We know the EU and Europe well enough to know that our principles and our bloody history teach us that sustainable peace can only come when we learn to live in multi-ethnic communities, rather than re-drawing borders to create mono-ethnic ones;

“We can in short, think of no policy more likely to lead us back to division and conflict in the Balkans than the one which some are apparently now supporting.”


For media contact:

Paddy Ashdown –  HYPERLINK “mailto:paddyashdown1@me.com” paddyashdown1@me.com – 01935 882000 – 07946-272173

Carl Bildt –  HYPERLINK “mailto:carlbildt@me.com” carlbildt@me.com

Christian Schwarz-Schilling  –  HYPERLINK “mailto:css@schwarz-schilling.de” css@schwarz-schilling.de –00496042964441 –

Notes to editor:

The letter was sent as defence ministers meet for an informal meeting to discuss the matter later today  HYPERLINK “https://foreignbrief.com/daily-news/eu-defence-ministers-convene-to-discuss-west-balkan-security-and-accession/” here

Letter in full:

Her Excellency Federica Mogherini
High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy;
cc: Secretariat of the Foreign Affairs Council of the European Union

August 29, 2018

An Open Letter to Federica Mogherini and the Foreign Ministers of EU Member States on the Correction of Borders between Serbia and Kosovo.

As former High Representatives for Bosnia and Herzegovina, we are deeply concerned by announcements made recently by high level officials of the European Union, suggesting that the EU may be willing to support an agreement between Presidents Vucic and Thaci that involves the transfer of territory between Serbia and Kosovo through “border corrections”.

We know the region well enough to know that moving borders like this will not solve divisions, it will deepen them;

And although there can be no comparison between the case of Kosovo and the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, we know the western Balkans well enough to know that such a policy would be misused by nationalist politicians to further challenge borders and destabilize other countries in the region.

We know Bosnia and Herzegovina well enough to know that this will give comfort and support to those who would break up the country, who are already calling for a return to the status quo ante in Dayton, unraveling all we and our Bosnian partners have worked for over more than two decades;

We know the EU and Europe well enough to know that our principles and our bloody history teach us that sustainable peace can only come when we learn to live in multi-ethnic communities, rather than re-drawing borders to create mono-ethnic ones;

We can in short, think of no policy more likely to lead us back to division and conflict in the Balkans than the one which some are apparently now supporting.

We have little doubt that this risks destabilising current agreements, such as in Macedonia, undermining the unity of states such as Bosnia, encouraging those who wish to see exchange of territory elsewhere, such as in Ukraine and is likely to lead to the exodus of minorities from their existing communities.

We therefore urge you to ensure that these proposals are dropped without delay.

Yours etc

Carl Bildt,
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995-1997

Paddy Ashdown,
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina 2002-2006

Christian Schwarz-Schilling,
High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina 2006-2007

Remembering Srebrenica 2017


7pm 12 July 2017

St James’s Church Piccadilly

Speech by Paddy Ashdown

A few days after the fall of Srebrenica, while the killing was going on, I was driving through the battle of Igman in a battered old Renault 5 with some Bosnian friends. We were heading for the secret tunnel dug under the airfield by which we hoped to arrive in besieged Sarajevo. By the time we arrived in city, the whole place was abuzz with some terrible event – even more terrible than the other horrors of the Bosnian war – which had happened in the Srebrenica “safe haven”.

The story finally came to be revealed in all its unspeakable horror, little by little over the following days. Even to those of us used to the medievalism of the Bosnian wars, it seemed unbelievable.

But it wasn’t

Later, as International High Representative  in Bosnia, it became my job to go and see the mass graves and the broken shards of bodies in the Tuzla caves. Here they were trying to identify those who had been murdered, so that they could receive a burial in dignity in the Srebrenica memorial graveyard, where more than 8 thousand white stones, row on row point their stark finger at heaven, in accusation of man’s inhumanity to man.

And we all said “It must never happen again”.

But it has. In Rwanda in Iraq and in Syria before our very eyes – today.

And we all said that those who committed these atrocities should be brought to justice.

But they haven’t – not all of them.

The main architects of the killing have been dealt with, true enough. But many of the lower level killers still walk free in Bosnia today – some not far from the Golgotha they helped to create.

It was not part of my job as International High Representative to create the extraordinary memorial ground at Potocari. Yet it was one of the proudest moments of my life to work with Munira Subasic and the Majke Srebrenica and play a small part in creating this iconic memorial to those who died – and to our commitment to remember them all our days

It is no good pointing at religions as the cause of this. Ungodly people of every religion have committed these horrors – and Godly people of every religion have sought to stop them.

It is not the religions we must blame. It is the extremists of all religions who are the curse of our age and of every age before us.

My friend Mustafa Ceric, the Reis ul Ulema of Bosnia and Herzegovina wrote this;

“Isn’t it true then that our life is nothing but sharing the fears and hopes of our times.

We share the clay from which we all came and to which we will, once again return.

We share the belief in One God who created us from a single soul and then scattered us like seeds into countless human beings

We share the same father Adam and the same mother Eve.

We shear the air we breathe and the rise of the sun we see every day.

We share Abrahams faith and Noah’s Ark of salvation

We share the love of the Virgin Mary (Maryam) and respect for her son Jesus (Yasue).

We share the true stories of Moses and his divine leadership of his people in Sinai.

We share the clear word of the Holy Qur’an and the exemplary life of the Messenger Muhammad.

We share the joy of good tidings and the sorrow of horrors

We share the pleasures of our successes and the pain of our failures.

We share the humanity of our hearts and minds”

In a trouble and turbulent world, it is in this principle alone that our salvation lies – that we remember above those things that divide us, those things that we share as part of our common humanity and our common heritage.

It is to that principle that we rededicate ourselves as we remember the murdered of Srebrenica today.

Remembering Srebrenica 24 June 2015

There were many many terrible deeds in the three years of war which devastated Bosnia and Herzegovina. I know because I witnessed some of them and saw the aftermath of many, many more.


But the greatest atrocity was the genocide at Srebrenica, which was, at once, the worst crime to happen on European soil since the Second World War and the signature horror representing all the horrors suffered by the Bosnian people.


Nothing can diminish the culpability of those who perpetrated this genocide. But, in condemning this evil, it is also right to acknowledge our passive complicity, as members of the international community for what happened in the UN “Safe Haven” of Srebrenica. We could have prevented this horror – but we chose not to.


Whether through error, misjudgement, an inability to comprehend, or just inattention, we stood aside when we should not have done. We should therefore remember Srebrenica, not just to bear witness to those who suffered, but also as a warning to us all of what happens when we turn our back.


The 8,000 gravestones in Srebrenica which mark the last resting place of those who were murdered, are also signposts that tell us of the consequences which can ensue when we fail to be vigilant against hatred and intolerance, even in our own societies. They oblige every one of us to be active, not passive in defending the universal values which are not the possession of any single religion or race, but are rather the common property of all humanity.

Remembering these painful truths about the past and acknowledging our own failures at the time, is the key to our shared quest for a better and more tolerant world in the future.


That is the best memorial to those who were killed at Srebrenica and the best commitment we can make to those who suffer still from of its aftermath.


Dnevni Avaz Editorial 20 Sep 2012

Editorial – Paddy Ashdown


Bosnia and Herzegovina has passed many many watersheds in the eleven long and difficult years since the coming of peace in 1995. But last Sunday’s elections must mark one of the most important of these.


I have thought it right to stay silent since I left BiH in February to leave a decent interval before I allow myself the luxury of commenting, not as a High Representative, but just as a friend. But this does not mean that I do not watch events in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the closeness of someone who still feels a very strong attachment to the country and concern for its future. I have been speaking quite a lot with Bosnia’s many friends abroad these last few months and I share with them some worries about the kind of things which some have been saying in BiH recently. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integrity can never be placed in jeopardy without also placing in jeopardy the best interest of its people, any chance for a future in Europe and any hope of stability in the region.


In the last few months, BiH has not moved forwards; it has moved back wards. Opportunities to reform have been lost which ought not to have been lost. The International Community has pulled back from leadership as it must; but BiH’s politicians have not moved forward to fill the space as they should have done. BiH’s future as a modern European country has not moved closer; it has moved further away.


So these elections offer both a moment to change and an opportunity to return to the path of reform.


It is clear that, as many hoped that the old war time monolithic nationalist blocks are now beginning to break up – as many believed they would under the pressure of the reforms necessary to take BiH to Europe. The splits within the nationalists have created some very surprising outcomes – no doubt some of these will cause even more alarming calls to be made. Those who, because of their own internal divisions, have suffered must not be allowed to cause damage to Bosnia and Herzegovina and its future. Those who have gained should not allow themselves to be misled into believing that they have a mandate for instability and division which would reverse all the progress that BiH and the region have made over recent years. Bosnia’s new government must now shift up several gears, going into reverse is not an option.


One thing should be very clear. The nationalist groupings in BiH may be breaking up, but BiH will not.


BiH’s politics may at last be in the process of re-shaping themselves, just as the politics of its European neighbours have had to do when they were on the road to Europe. This is an opportunity not to be missed, for on it depends BiH’s ability to have a European future, not one tied to the past. These elections have produced a unique opportunity to reform the political structures of BiH so that it can be led by the forces who are looking to build a new future, not recreate an old past.


The reforms needed for Europe are not just buzz words, they are what would be needed anyway to make BiH better for its people. Progress on police reform will make BiH safer; economic and banking reform will make BiH more attractive to investors, raise wage rates and standards of living; getting into the EU will mean free movement and investment. The real turn in the road to reform will come when politics stops being a stage for individuals to grandstand on, but a platform to get people and BiH back to work and prosperity.


But this will require real courage from those who have won. The greatest responsibility now lies with them because with office comes responsibility. They need to show that they are prepared to push forward the reforms BiH so desperately needs with a renewed urgency, especially when it comes to constitutional reform and key SAA requirements such as police restructuring. It is concrete achievements like this that will determine whether the new government is an improvement on its predecessor. Those who are within the old nationalist parties who have lost need to take stock, too. In the end they failed to deliver enough reform and so failed to meet their own promises and the thirst of the people for jobs, justice and progress towards Europe. If the politics of BiH is re-shaping itself, they need to be part of that process – not left behind in the increasingly discredited ghettos of nationalism. The HDZ in Croatia understood that as has Montenegro. Serbia is slowly coming to the same conclusion and BiH must understand it too.


Reform has been tough these last five years. But then everyone must have known it would be. But it is still the only road which can offer BiH a future.


So the most important question for BiH now is not who forms the new government, but whether the citizens of BiH get a new type of government, one that has a shared platform rather than three and that is capable of delivering it rather than just dividing up the spoils of office.



The Arrest of Karadzic July 2008

It was three years ago almost to the day when I looked into a mass grave to see the remains of 600 men, women and children slaughtered by Radovan Karadzic’s henchmen.


When I saw the children’s dolls lying alongside those broken bones, it was clear this was one of the worst war crime since the end of the Nazis.


The lives of these people, whose remains were dumped near Srebrenica, were snuffed out on the command of Europe’s most evil man in 1992.


You can imagine how happy I am that this man who I helped chased for four years over the over the mountains and forests of Bosnia is now on his way to the Hague and justice.


I flew into Sarajevo on a trip down memory lane this morning to find a city in celebration – and I understand why.


I was here many times too in the four-year siege when 10,000 of their citizens were killed by Serb guns.


It is important that the Serbs caught him because it was they who hid him for so long.


It’s also crucial that Serbia, under its new president Boris Tadic has taken this step to put the past behind them so the people can build their future in Europe.


One act now remains – and that is to bring General Ratko Mladic, Milosovic’s partner in war crime, to justice.


He and his lieutenants still have the blood of 8,000 men and boys killed in three days at Srebrenica on their hands.


I am certain that the Serbs can do this if they want to, just as they were able to arrest Karadzic.


When that is done, Bosnia will at last have justice, Serbia can again begin to build its future and a great act of international justice will have been brought to its inevitable conclusion.

When this happens, it will send a powerful message to tyrants and murderers in every corner of the world.


There is also good reason for the international community to celebrate.


The fact that the European authorities have insisted on the capture of this murderer should be hailed by Muslims around the globe.


It shows that there cannot be double standards when it comes to the protection of human life and that we are prepared to do what is necessary to ensure Muslims are never again treated with the horror they experienced.


Today is a great day for justice, a great day for the Balkans and great day for Europe.





Int Herald Tribune – Bosnia Sep 2012

After the fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue, arguably the most iconic image of the Iraq conflict is that of President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln. Hubris has often proved a close companion to international intervention – and never more so than when it comes to announcing success and losing interest too early.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the rather few international interventions which we can point to as successful and the only one – so far -which has been both US led and conducted in a country in which Muslims form the largest proportion of the population.

I say “so far”, not because the field is crowded with others heading in the same direction – but because Bosnia’s success is not yet assured and can still be lost if the international community takes its eye off the ball too early. Which I fear is what some of the Western capitals most engaged in Bosnia’s reconstruction, are in danger of doing.

Troop numbers in the country are now dropping fast. And that is right. Peace has returned to Bosnia; 1 million refugees have gone home; two armies, three intelligence services and two customs services have all been welded into single state institutions; a broadly effective state government, funded by a single VAT taxation system, has been established; all three ethnicities are cohabiting peacefully if not yet co-operating enthusiastically and the Bosnian economy is now growing sustainably, albeit from  a very low base.

The soldiers were there to stabilise the peace and their job is now largely done.

But that of the international politicians, charged with creating a sustainable state has not.

Below the level of state institutions, the Dayton Agreement monster with its thirteen Prime Ministers and mini governments for a country of 3.5 million, still exists. The US led attempt to reform this dysfunctional muddle of interlocking bureaucracies failed last year, chiefly I believe, because the European Union was not prepared to make constitutional reform a condition for EU membership. Now the predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, emboldened by the international community’s  concentration on Kosovo and apparent nervousness about offending Belgrade, is seeking to reverse some of the key state reforms of recent years. NATO is perceived in both Belgrade and Banja Luka, to have relaxed its conditions on the capture of Karadzic and Mladic as a price for membership of its Partnership for Peace and these two primary architects of the Bosnian atrocities now look, if anything, further away from justice than ever. Meanwhile, the final but essential stone in creating the edifice of State institutions, police reform, is in danger of descending into a series of Potemkin compromises which will hobble the country’s capacity to ensure its own rule of law, long into the future.

Bosnia is held on the road to reform by the magnetic “pull” of the Brussels institutions (NATO and the EU) and the tough “push” of the power of sanction vested in the High Representative  by the Dayton Agreement. In the last year the first has visibly weakened as European capitals have become more sceptical about further enlargement and the latter has all but vanished. And the consequence has been that local politicians have felt free to return to old habits, rather than grasping new opportunities. The forces of radical Islam are showing renewed interest in the country, having been comprehensively rebuffed by the determined moderation of Bosnian Muslims in the past. At best Bosnia’s remarkable progress these ten years has come to a juddering halt; at worst things are actually beginning to go back wards. The danger here is not a return to conflict – that is now well nigh impossible with a massively downsized single state army. The danger is that the opportunity to finish the job and create a sustainable EU standard state is being lost and Bosnia will be left as a dysfunctional space which we do not have the will to reform, but cannot afford to ignore.

The problem of Kosovo will neither be easy to solve nor, comfortable to cope with in the short term. But in the long term, Bosnia is the fulcrum of peace in the Balkans. Compromising on standards in Bosnia in the hope of achieving a quiet life in Belgrade will cost us much more in Bosnian dysfunctionality and an unanchored peace in the future. The international community – and especially Washington and Brussels, need to be much clearer about the standards they seek and, especially in the case of the EU, more muscular in exercising conditionality in order to achieve it

Success in this remarkable little country is within our reach – but it is not yet within our grasp. A new High Representative will soon be appointed in Bosnia. It is vital that he or she arrives with a clear plan and the full backing of international capitals to carry it through and finish the job.

817 words

Bosnia – Back to the Future again July 2008

Bosnia moves back to the future again

Sarajevo 25 July



There is a terrible irony unfolding in Bosnia. Karadzic is at last on his way to The Hague. But the division of Bosnia that was his dream is now more likely than at any time since he first became a fugitive.

I flew into Sarajevo the day after Karadzic was arrested, expecting to find a city in celebration because the architect of their four-year torment from the Serb guns which killed 10,000 in the Sarajevo siege, was behind bars.


But, after a brief flurry of jubilation, the mood here is sombre. For people know that, after ten years of progress which made Bosnia the world’s most successful exercise in post-conflict reconstruction, things are now going backwards and there is a real threat of Bosnia breaking-up again.


But now this is happening not because of aggression from outside, but because of the recent weariness, weakness and misjudgement of the international community who are still supposed to be guiding Bosnia to its future.


I think Washington sees the danger.


But I am not at all sure Brussels does. They think Bosnia is done. Their policy now is “don’t rock the boat in Bosnia” while we deal with Kosovo and Belgrade.


This is not just tactically wrong – it is strategically disastrous. If the last twenty years have taught us anything it is that, when it comes to trouble, Bosnia is the fulcrum of the Balkans. Kosovo was never going to be easy, but it was short term and solvable. Belgrade is always going to be central and often, difficult. But, though Serbia has exported conflict, it has not in recent years been its seat. That, down centuries, has always been Bosnia, where even a brief spell of wrong headedness can quickly become the prelude to enduring tragedy. You do not need imagination to know what happens when things go wrong in Bosnia; a memory should be enough.


Bosnia’s predominantly Serb entity, Republika Srpska, originally Karadzic’s creation, has seen the vacuum where will and policy should be and moved into it. Its premier, Milorad Dodik is now aggressively reversing a decade of reforms that moved Bosnia towards functional statehood. He has set up parallel institutions and sent delegations to Montenegro to find out how they broke away. He has used the autonomy granted by the Dayton Agreement to undermine the Bosnia which Dayton envisaged. We do not have to speculate on his intentions, for he has said them plainly himself. He does not think Bosnia can survive and he doesn’t want it to. He does not regard the RS as part of a state, but as a state in itself. To be fair Mr Dodik has, in recent years, been firmly anti-Karadzic. He is not that kind of Serb nationalist. He is an opportunist like Milosevic who uses nationalism for power and who is taking advantage of our short attention span. His control over his mini-state is becoming more and more centralist, while its institutions are more and more subject to serious accusations of corruption. His aim is certainly complete autonomy and probably ultimate secession as soon as the international community leaves or loses interest. Which, by the way, could start midway through next year with the closure of the Office of the High Representative and the end of its executive powers.


Bosnia was the crucible in which the EU’s foreign policy instruments were created. With an EU military force, an EU Special Representative with executive powers, a huge EU aid budget and a full-scale EU Police Mission, the EU has more leverage in Bosnia than in any other country. What will it say about the EU’s pretensions if we cannot or will not act effectively to stop this bust-up happening?


Bosnia’s recent entry into the EU’s Stabilisation and Association Agreement, while welcome, but will not by itself change this dynamic, Chris Patten, when a European Commissioner, used to say that the danger was that the Balkans pretended to reform and the EU pretended to believe them. Now some in Bosnia do not even pretend to reform, but the EU still pretends to believe them. European conditionality used to be a lever for reform in Bosnia. It is becoming less and less so. On all sides, the commitment to Europe among Bosnia’s leaders now takes second place to the preservation of corrupt fiefdoms.


The problem is that Mr Dodik is the only man with a plan. The Croats wait and see. The Bosniak Muslims are squabbling among themselves. Their leaders, from President Haris Silaidzic down, need to start putting the public’s interest before their own. And they need above all to start living in the present not the past and stop, believing that because they are victims they do not need a plan; the international community will always ride over the hill to save them. This is fatally to misjudge the will of the international community post Iraq and Afghanistan. If Bosnia’s Muslims will not even coherently help themselves, they cannot expect others to do it for them.


Meanwhile, in European capitals the growing view goes like this. We invested thirteen years of hard work and huge resource in Bosnia. Now it is stable and peaceful and we are tired. Kosovo has proved it is possible to divide a country. What matter if Bosnia becomes another Cyprus? We don’t want it, of course, but we are not really prepared to do much to stop it happening.


This is folly of a very dangerous order. Bosnia is not Kosovo or Cyprus. What happens to the Muslim populations who have moved back to Republika Srpska, even to Srebrenica, if they are handed back to an exclusively Serb-dominated regime? What happens to Bosnia’s shining star, the multi-ethnic and markedly successful sub-entity of Brcko, hemmed in by Republika Srpska. Is it to be handed over, too? I do not believe that Bosnia is likely to go back to conflict – most of its people are just too war weary. But the one event that could change that calculation in favour of blood would be to return to the old Karadzic/Milosevic plan to divide Bosnia. That was how it all started, back in 1992.


And the consequences, incidentally, would not end with the Serbs. The Croats in the south have always wanted their own space. If Republika Srpska s breaks away, they will, too. This would leave only central Bosnia as a home for its Muslims. What does it say to the Islamic world if, having once failed to protect Bosnia’s Muslims from annihilation, we now fail to stand up for their right to live as part (the largest part, incidentally) of a democratic, multi-ethnic state? Or if we stand idly by once again, while they are reduced to a rump pocket of Islam in a part of Europe in which they are surrounded by enmity?


It is always more difficult, especially in the Balkans, to defend the preservation of multi-ethnic spaces and resist the creation of mono-ethnic ones. But to do otherwise is always folly and nearly always ends in blood.


It is time to wake up. Bosnia is going backwards again. The EU must now stop running its policy for Bosnia for the benefit of its policy for Belgrade and Kosovo . Brussels must toughen up its conditionality, support its instruments on the ground, resist attempts to undermine the Bosnian state, insist on constitutional reform to make Bosnia more functional and tackle corruption which is becoming ever more deeply embedded. It should also tell Belgrade that a key condition for progress towards Europe will be to support the Bosnian state, and to give no succour to those who seek to undermine it


I am sorry if all this disturbs the comfortable slumber of some capitals, especially in Europe. But I know of no way to whisper a wakeup call and no words to describe the pain that will ensue if Europe, once again, misjudges or misunderstands what is happening in Bosnia.



Going backwards in Bosnia Hague/Ashdown 2008

Going backwards in Bosnia

The fourteenth anniversary of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords passed unnoticed in November.  With ethnic cleansing effectively halted since the guns felt silent after Dayton, a cold but seemingly durable peace has prevailed. The collapse of a U.S.-EU diplomatic initiative in Bosnia-Herzegovina last month went virtually unreported too, as is the fact that Bosnia’s cold peace is under serious threat.

Bosnia-Herzegovina may seem not to matter much to the US in the broader scheme of things – pressing challenges in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the wider Middle East rightly demand great attention. But the fate of the country should matter to Europe, and the risk of a failed state taking root in Europe cannot be ignored in Washington.

Old habits die hard, especially in Europe, where failure in Bosnia-Herzegovina risks becoming an EU niche specialty.  War may be hell, but in Brussels serious Balkan diplomacy seems more difficult – so many capitals to confer with, tactics to coordinate, and memos to draft and so little political will to take difficult decisions.  The local leaders driving Bosnia towards disintegration are accommodated by the EU, rather than faced down. The EU rests confident that their all-carrots, no-sticks approach linked entirely to the promise of an EU accession process, starting sometime in several years and after the parties resolve several substantial problems on their own, will ultimately change the domestic politics of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the neighbouring Serbia and produce the political cooperation that has been glaringly absent. The U.S. administration is backing this approach, despite the fact that Bosnia-Herzegovina today is further from EU membership than any other aspirant country and some in Bosnia clearly state that they rank independence higher than EU membership.

Bosnia’s economy has grown with foreign aid but the state has not and today it does not work. The Bosnian Serbs have exploited the autonomy they were granted at Dayton, relying on politicking to keep the country divided, its government dysfunctional, and their hopes of secession alive. Some resistance has been overcome only when the international High Representative overseeing Dayton has insisted on it. But even this level of effort has overtaxed the patience and capacity of the EU and US.  The High Representative’s office has been allowed to be cheapened and demeaned so that none of the parties, particularly the Bosnian Serbs, heed its efforts.  It is now proposed that the High Representative be recast as an EU Special Representative, weakening the role further by removing the US from the frame and stripping out the Bonn powers.

So many European capitals have thrown in the towel on Bosnia that Sarajevo is looking like a diplomats’ locker room.  Bosnian Serb leaders continue to use their stalling often insulting tactics while some Bosniak leaders can be equally rigid. The leader of the entity of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik is politically invulnerable and flush with money, jobs, and influence, so long as he positions himself against the state. . With the election season in Bosnia imminent, nationalist rhetoric will certainly increase in all parts. Even the Croatians increasingly talk of their own entity and a break with their federation with the Bosniaks.
What happens in Europe’s Backyard matters: the consequences of Bosnia’s disintegration would be catastrophic.  The breakdown of the country into independent ethnic statelets would not only reward ethnic cleansing – surely moral anathema – but would have long term security implications, risking the creation of ungoverned areas in the heart of Europe; a fertile ground for terrorism and crime and a monstrous betrayal of all those who survived the concentration camps, mass graves and displacement of the 1990s.

Bosnia will not solve itself, nor will the prospect of EU integration induce sufficient cooperation among Bosnian politicians.  Since 2006 the hands-off approach, leaving difficult issues to local politicians, has allowed BH to slide back. Bosnia needs a momentum-generating way to animate political progress.

We must recognize that all the countries in the region are linked and that we cannot deal with each in isolation. We urge the appointment of an EU Special Envoy for the Balkans, who would work alongside a dedicated US Envoy to deliver a united message to the region. Part of this message should be to impress on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s leaders that the sovereignty of the country is unquestionable and its break-up unthinkable. But it should also include a message to European candidate countries Serbia and Montenegro that they are expected to uphold EU policy towards the country and take positive acts to strengthen it.

A robust international approach would focus on a single goal: a central government effective enough to carry out the responsibilities of EU and NATO membership. Each Bosnian leader should have to stand up, or against, that simple idea — and face consequences for his answer.

This breaks from the recent diplomatic failures, which sought to reward the various parties with a little bit of what they want. In its place, we propose that the international community  be prepared to use sticks as well as carrots in pursuit of what it, and Bosnia’s citizens, have long favored — an EU perspective. There is a strong argument for the threat of targeted sanctions against politicians who undermine the Bosnian state.

Talk of timelines for the closure of the Office of the High Representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina must come to an end once and for all. The OHR should only be closed down once we have achieved constitutional and electoral reform, and the High Representative must have the rock solid backing of the EU and US so that all parties know that they cannot sit out the international presence in the country.

Finally the EU peacekeeping mission in Bosnia must be retained and reinforced if necessary, to send a strong signal that neither secession nor violence will be tolerated.

Today Radovan Karadzic is finally on trial in The Hague on charges of alleged genocide and war crimes in Bosnia. As he and others are called to account over their part in the horrendous events of the 1990s, it would be a supreme irony if their plans for carving up Bosnia-Herzegovina were to be realized simply because the international community was too busy to care.

Don’t forget Bosnia 19 Aug 2008


Don’t forget Bosnia


Almost exactly 13 years after American leadership brought an end to Bosnia’s three and a half year war, the country – perched on the European Union’s flank – is in real danger of descending into dysfunctionality and perhaps even dissolution. As in 1995, resolve and trans-Atlantic unity is needed if we are not to sleep walk into another Bosnian crisis – or worse.


Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, once the darling of the international community (and especially Washington) for his opposition to Karadzic’s Serb Democratic Party, has adopted that party’s nationalist agenda without being tainted with their genocidal baggage. His long-term policy seems clear: to place his Serb entity, Republika Srpska, in a position to secede, like Milo Djukanovic did in Montenegro, if the opportunity arises. Exploiting the weaknesses in the country’s constitutional structure, the international community’s weariness and the EU’s inability to stick by its conditionality, he has, in a little more than two years, reversed much of the real progress Bosnia has made over of the last 13, crucially weakening the institutions of the Bosnian state and all but stopping the country’s evolution into a functioning (and EU-compatible) state.

As a result , the fear and tension that began the war in 1992 has been reinvigorated, and an unhealthy and destructive dynamic is now accelerating, with Bosniak and Croat nationalism also on the rise. The recent local elections gave a marked fillip to the nationalist parties.


The situation has been allowed to reach this tipping point by a complacent and distracted international community. The European Union is deeply engaged in Bosnia; and the open door to EU membership has been the critical lever for pressing reforms in the country since it was first made policy in 2003. But the EU has yet to develop a coherent strategy commensurate with its leverage, exposure, potential, and responsibility. Worse still, by proclaiming progress where it has not, in reality, been achieved, the EU has weakened not only its own influence in the country, but also that of the Office of the High Representative (OHR) and the international military presence (nowadays EUFOR, which succeeded NATO) – both of which have been the drivers and guarantors of progress in Bosnia since the end of 1992-95 war.


It is no coincidence that the degeneration of the High Representative’s influence has coincided with the hollowing-out of EUFOR, which now has little in the way of operational capacity. The military presence has been the implicit enforcer of last resort for international decisions. But now, despite the danger signals, France, Spain and others in the EU apparently want to pull the plug on EUFOR before the end of the year, supposedly in order to prove that EU missions can end.


The EU, fixated on a still undefined “transition” from OHR to an EU-centered mission, seems intent on emptying its toolbox before it knows what tools it will need to enable Bosnia’s transition. It first failed to back its man on the ground, the able Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajčák, at a crucial moment, so fatally undermining his authority in the country. It has now placed him in a position where, with no clear orders from Brussels and very little interest in European capitals, he is struggling to fill the vacuum where a policy should be.


Faced with this situation, the Bosnian Serbs control not only the Bosnian agenda, but the international one as well. They do so with overt Russian backing. Like Dodik, Russia is opportunistically exploiting the EU’s weak resolve, its agenda being to make trouble for the US and EU where possible. Yet Moscow’s equities in Bosnia pale in comparison to those of the EU or US. Their expected attempt next month to close OHR, regardless of whether the job is done, must be unanimously rebuffed by the other members of the international community. OHR has to remain open until the conditions for the international community’s transition to a more normal EU presence are met.


European governments, beginning with Britain and the Netherlands, must prevent matters from getting worse, and should now insist on the development of a clear EU strategy to re-establish its authority and Bosnia’s stability.


Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, should initiate an independent study, whose aim would be to propose a new trans-Atlantic policy, which can lead to a phase of deeper and broader international involvement in the country. It should also examine the creation of a new EU Balkan mechanism in Brussels, explore what adjustments are necessary to the EU’s accession process, and how to kick-start discussions on reforming Bosnia’s constitutional structure – all underpinned by clear, tough and rigorously enforced EU conditionality. This study, which should be available to the new US Administration before it takes office, could be discussed by EU foreign ministers under the Czech EU Presidency, which begins in December 2009, and at a special meeting of the new US foreign policy team and European leaders.


Post-Irish referendum, the EU’s foreign policy will be, above all, a Balkan policy. Attention has recently been on Kosovo. But Bosnia has always been the bigger and ultimately more dangerous challenge. The country’s decline can still be arrested, provided the EU wakes up, the new US administration gets engaged, and both renew their commitment to Bosnia’s survival as a state, maintain an effective international military presence, and begin the process of strengthening the international community’s long-term approach, including by finding ways to untie Bosnia’s constitutional knot.


It’s time to pay attention to Bosnia again if we don’t want things to get very nastily worse, possibly quite quickly. And by now we should all know the price of that.





Bosnia is going bad again -The Times – 11 April 2011

Bosnia is going bad again


The Times – 11 April 2011

Nothing better illustrates the West’s susceptibility to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder than its contrasting policies towards Libya and Bosnia- Herzegovina. Maximum activity is applied “to prevent Libya becoming another Bosnia”; but inaction, born of fatigue, somnolence and simple bad judgement, is the response to Bosnia, as it slides back towards the status of a failed state, and possibly one at conflict with itself.

In December 2009, I joined the then Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, to warn that, without stronger action to reverse the nationalist dynamic in Bosnia, there was a real risk that the country would break down into independent ethnic “statelets”. True to his word, Mr Hague made Bosnia a key foreign policy priority in the coalition agreement. Since then, the danger of Bosnia’s break-up has not decreased, it has deepened.

Bosnia is currently comprised of into two sub-divisons, called “entities” .Milorad Dodik , the President of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated “entity”, the Republika Srpska, has continued with impunity to use every opportunity to undermine the Bosnian state and push for secession. He talks of a referendum to break away from Bosnia, knowing full well that it was just such a referendum that started the Bosnian war in 1992.

Mr Dodik is not a nationalist — he is an opportunist who uses nationalism for political purposes. But then that was true of Slobodan Milosevic too.

And the consequences of his behaviour are exactly the same as in the early 1990s: increased nationalist rhetoric — and action — from the Republika Srpska capital Banja Luka is generating a response in kind from the Bosniak Muslims in Sarajevo; and some Croats in the south, whose population is dwindling, are resurrecting the old claim for a separate Croat territory which nearly blew Bosnia apart in the early 2000s. The Croat nationalist parties, meanwhile, blocked the formation of the government of the Bosniak/Croat “entity”, which should have been formed months ago, claiming — not without a degree of justification — to have been provoked to this by the Bosniak Muslim-dominated parties in Sarajevo.

Not surprisingly, this is fuelling a sharp rise in ethnic tensions.

Led by Mr Dodik, Bosnian Serbs are now engaged in a full-scale attempt at genocide denial over Srebrenica. In a classic act of provocation, a Serb Orthodox church is now being built next to the mass graveyard of slaughtered Muslims in Srebrenica. It is being constructed without either a legal permit or action from Mr Dodik’s government to enforce his own laws. As a spark for action, the denial of the right to sell vegetables which led to the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi and onwards to the conflict in Tunisia, looks small by comparison.

Now Mr Dodik is calling for Serbs in the state government to move out of the capital Sarajevo and into the Republika Srpska, next door. No doubt he is doing this to have them in the right place should the moment for secession come. But the parallel with the exodus of many Sarajevo Serbs just before Radovan Karadzic launched his attack in 1992, is not lost on anyone.

And so, little by little, as Brussels sleeps, Washington is distracted and the Chancelleries of Europe, absorbed by their own economic crises, look resolutely in the opposite direction, Bosnia slips deeper and deeper into dysfunctionality — and possibly far worse.

For the moment, conflict remains an unlikely outcome of all of this. But it is no longer an impossible one.

This hands-off policy has to end. The EU and US have to engage again. They have to work hand in glove to do whatever is necessary to prevent the break-up of Bosnia, to help build it into a fully functioning state capable of joining the EU and to overcome those who stand in their way. To say that we are too busy elsewhere in the world is not good enough.

The tragedy is that, for the first ten years after the Bosnian war, the country made more progress towards a sustainable peace than any other post-conflict country in recent history. Then the international community foolishly allowed itself to believe that the job was done and, distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan, shifted their attention elsewhere. Even more foolishly, Brussels and many European capitals allowed themselves to be persuaded that inaction was the best policy, even when the evidence became overwhelming that the dynamic in Bosnia had, thanks largely (but not exclusively) to Mr Dodik, turned from one of progress towards statehood, to one of retreat back to nationalism and dissolution.

There are many who still seem to believe this — some, perhaps even in the lower reaches of our own Foreign Office. Others can be heard whispering that it is all too much — what would it matter if Bosnia did break up? Surely now, it would do so peacefully?

The answer to that is a resounding NO. The place is awash with arms and with veterans still fit enough to fight. I just cannot see the Muslim Bosniaks allowing themselves to be trapped into a tiny pocket in central Bosnia, isolated, let down by Europe yet again and surrounded on all sides by their enemies. They did not allow it 20 years ago against far greater odds and they will not allow it now.

And even if that could be avoided, which I doubt, what would it say of the West, if having invested so much in persuading more than one million refugees to return to their homes in areas where they were the ethnic minority, we now have to watch an exodus back in the opposite direction, while the nationalists create three mono-ethnic spaces where multi-ethnic Bosnia used to be?

What would it say about our attempts to reach out to the newly emerging democratic Islamic states, if we are not prepared to defend Europe’s oldest Islamic community from isolation?

What would it say of Europe if, as Radovan Karadzic stands accused of war crimes at the Hague, Brussels through, apathy, ignorance or indifference becomes the inadvertent instrument of his policy of dismemberment in Bosnia?

What would it say for our attempt to help Libyans create a sustainable democracy on the other side of the Mediterranean, if we cannot even consolidate one within our own borders in Europe?