Ten years on from the end of the war – and the idea of Bosnia as a fully-fledged nation remains in the realm of theory – the day-to-day reality is that of different ethnic communities living in parallel political worlds. Under the Dayton peace accords the country was divided into two entities, the Serb Republic and the Muslim Croat Federation, united under the umbrella structure of the Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina.
But it’s in the entities where the real power lies: each has its own army, judiciary and police force – and in the Serb Republic the majority of the population would like to take things one step further and go for outright divorce. Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik comfortably won Sunday’s poll on a pro-independence agenda – he argues that if the people of Kosovo are to be allowed a referendum on independence, then so should the Serb Republic.
The animosity is mutual, and many hardliners within Bosnia’s muslim community would happily divorce from the Serbs. But there are many muslim’s who believe a multiethnic Bosnia is still worth working for – and Haris Silajdzic’s election win represents a victory for that strand of thought: “The ethnic division in Bosnia and Herzegovina came as a result of the aggression and genocide. It’s not natural to Bosnia,” he said. “Whatever problems there are in Bosnia come from outside.” Meanwhile many in the Croat community resent the fact that Muslims can vote in the election for the Croat member of the Bosnian presidency – and nationalists such as Ivo Miro Jovic want a separate Croat entity to be created.
The European Union has a 6000 strong peacekeeping force in Bosnia that it would like to withdraw just as soon as the nation is deemed capable of looking after itself. The carrot of economic progress is proffered if multi-ethnic harmony can be achieved – but in Bosnia the legacy of mistrust runs deep.