Books on Bosnia & Herzegovina
Update No: 133 - (30/06/08)
An important symbolic step
Bosnia-Herzegovina took its first step on the ladder to European Union
membership on June 16 when it signed a pre-accession agreement almost 13 years
after the end of its bloody civil war. The accord, signed at an EU foreign
ministers' meeting, was made possible in April when Bosnia's parliament adopted
reforms intended to achieve closer integration of the country's separate
Muslim-Croat and Serb police forces.
Other than Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in February,
Bosnia was the only part of former Yugoslavia that had not yet signed a
Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU. However, when the
27-nation bloc signed the accord with Serbia on April 29, it attached the
proviso that ratification by all EU governments would depend on full Serbian
co-operation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Netherlands.
EU ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, welcomed the agreement with Bosnia as
"an important step on the country's path towards the EU". Some Balkan
experts described it as the most significant breakthrough for Bosnia since the
Dayton, Ohio peace deal of 1995.
However, even European officials acknowledge that full EU membership for Bosnia
is a distant prospect. The EU is in the meantime conducting talks on visa
liberalisation for Bosnian citizens, but progress will depend on Bosnia's
ability to introduce biometric passports and meet other EU -criteria.
The relative recognition afforded by the EU move has emboldened the Bosnian
The relatives of victims of Bosnia's 1995 Srebrenica massacre were asking a
court in The Hague two days later on June 18, to lift the legal immunity of the
United Nations so they may seek damages.
They accuse the United Nations of failing to protect people in the town of
Srebrenica, in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, after declaring it a ‘safe haven’
for Bosnian Muslims.
Despite the town's safe-haven status, lightly-armed Dutch forces surrendered the
town to Serb forces in July 1995. The Serbs then massacred some 8,000 men and
boys, in the worst mass atrocity in Europe since World War II.
Lawyers for the victims' families say they represent about 6,000 people. They
are asking the court to allow the families to file a civil suit against the
United Nations and the Dutch state.
The Netherlands has argued its troops were abandoned by the United Nations
command, which refused to provide air support that might have prevented the
Two separate cases opened at The Hague Monday. One was brought by Hasan
Nuhanovic, who lost his parents and his brother in the massacre. The other was
brought by the family of Rizo Mustafic.
The triple tragedy
To look at the long haul, Bosnia is a tripartite state, like Iraq. Tragedy has
befallen each of their constituent parts.
In Bosnia's case the three diverse communities fall into a most interesting
pattern. Two are Christian, one Catholic, the other Orthodox, the third Muslim.
It is a curiosity that the Catholics and the Muslims live in comparative harmony
in the Croat-Muslim Republic, while the Orthodox Serbs are an eternal irritant
to the body politic as a whole and to themselves in their own Serb Republic, the
other constituent republic of the federal state.
The appalling wars in the 1990s in the Balkans left behind devastation and ruin.
No more so than in Bosnia. 240, 000 died, a comparable number were maimed and
one and a half million were displaced. This has left behind enormous emotional
scars. There is no gainsaying what suffering and torment has been involved.
The Continuing Balkans imbroglio
There is now the (faint) prospect of another war – as Kosovo went independent
from Serbia, announced on February 17. The chairman of Bosnia's rotating
presidency, Zeljko Komsic, made it immediately clear that Bosnia will not be
among those countries recognising the independence of the breakaway province.
A Bosnian Serb politician has warned that Kosovo’s independence from Serbia
could trigger regional instability and possible unrest in Bosnia’s smaller
entity, Republika Srpska (RS). “We believe that this [Kosovo’s independence]
is a grave danger for the region in a wider sense, and that it will lead to
rising political instability, unfortunately also in Bosnia and Herzegovina,”
said Branko Dokic, a leading member of the Party of Democratic Progress, the
junior partner in the Republika Srpska, RS, government.
Bosnian Serbs to go independent too?
In the past Bosnian Serbs nationalists have said that if Kosovo can break away
from Serbia, then RS should have the same right to separate from Bosnia and
However, the Dayton peace agreement, which brought the bloody Bosnian war to an
end in 1995, does not allow for the separation of either entity from the state.
What is required at this delicate juncture is exceptional statesmanship on all
sides, in complex Bosnia as well as other Balkan states.