Sleepwalking in the Balkans

SARAJEVO - Almost exactly 13 years ago, American leadership brought an end to Bosnia's three-and-a-half-year war through the Dayton peace agreement. Today that country is now in real danger of collapse. As in 1995, resolve and transatlantic unity are needed if we are not to sleepwalk into another crisis.

Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, once the darling of the international community (and especially the United States) for his opposition to the nationalist Serb Democratic party, has adopted that party's agenda without being tainted by their genocidal baggage. His long-term policy seems clear: to place his Serb entity, Republika Srpska, in a position to secede if the opportunity arises. Exploiting the weaknesses in Bosnia’s constitutional structure, the international community's weariness and EU inability to stick by its conditionality, he has, in two years, reversed much of the real progress in Bosnia over the past 13, crucially weakened the institutions of the Bosnian state, and all but stopped the country's evolution into a functioning (and EU-compatible) state.

Dodik's actions have been fuelled by Russian encouragement and petrodollars. In addition his rival, the senior president of all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Haris Silajdzic, has stressed the need to abolish the two entities that make up Bosnia, to create one non-federal country. Dodik professes to respect Dayton and Silajdzic wishes to revise it, but both men are violating its basic principle: a federal system within a single state. This toxic interaction is at the heart of today's Bosnian crisis.

As a result, the suspicion and fear that began the war in 1992 has been reinvigorated. A destructive dynamic is accelerating, and Bosnian and Croat nationalism is on the rise.& Recent local elections gave a fillip to nationalist parties.