Bosnia’s future is becoming increasingly uncertain. An ethnic veto has long made the central government ineffective, and, most recently, Milorad Dodik, the leader of the Serb-controlled entity, Republika Srpska, has responded to efforts at reform with a threat to hold a referendum on independence.
Many consider secession unlikely, but Dodik’s threat does heighten fear that today’s fragile status quo could break down. While nobody expects the mass violence of the 1990’s to recur, that does not justify diplomatic indifference and inaction.
The Dayton Accords of 1995 ended Serb-instigated ethnic cleansing and established peace in Bosnia. But that agreement did not create a functional Bosnian central government with the capacity to undertake the reforms needed to meet the terms of accession to the European Union.
To appease Bosnian Serbs led by Slobodan Milosevic (who died while on trial for war crimes), Radovan Karadzic (who remains on trial for war crimes) and Ratko Mladic (who was indicted for war crimes and is still on the run in Serbia), the West accepted the territorial division of Bosnia at the war’s end. This acceptance was manifested in a constitutional structure that gave the Bosnian Serb region quasi-independence and the power to obstruct the emergence of an effective central government in Sarajevo.