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Baerbock’s preventive diplomatic work: The pure fear of a new Balkan war – politics

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The last thing Europe needs right now is a new Balkan war. But this is precisely what is warned about. From October 2021 at the latest, there is an open desire for Bosnia and Herzegovina to secede into the Republic of Bosnian Serbs. It is promoted by the political leader of the Bosnian Serbs, Milorad Dodik.

He finds himself supported by brother Russian President Putin, as well as parts of the political elite in neighboring Serbia. Separatist drums are being beaten, sheer fear of war has been talked about, Muslims are said to be sitting on packed suitcases.

However, so far there has been hardly any reaction from Brussels or Berlin, and the West has neglected the Western Balkans. It was time for preventive diplomatic work, it was time for a high-level trip, like that of the Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock. While Ukraine was being discussed in Versailles, Baerbock vehemently campaigned for “peace, freedom, democracy and prosperity” in Sarajevo, Kosovo and Belgrade. Those who share these values ​​can now “not slip away”.

Each of these travel destinations was and is associated with political tensions. However, everywhere there is growing willingness to come under the wing of the European Union. In Serbia, which has been negotiating its accession since 2014, the semi-secret formula is: EU yes, NATO no. Funds from Brussels – with pleasure, proximity to Moscow – with pleasure. NATO’s intervention in 1999 to protect the Albanian-speaking population of Kosovo, then a Serb province, is bitterly remembered.

[Alle aktuellen Nachrichten zum russischen Angriff auf die Ukraine bekommen Sie mit der Tagesspiegel-App live auf ihr Handy. Hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen.]

The older brother had disapproved of the mission: Russia, like Serbia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence. And invest in the economy of Serbia.

The loss of Kosovo is causing ghostly pains to Serbian nationalists, who would be happy if their little brother, the Serbian Republic, were to secede and join Serbia. The fantasy of a “Greater Serbia” continues to burn, comparable to Putin’s push for “Greater Russia,” including Ukraine. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic is in a dilemma as long as he wants to please everyone, east and west abroad, hardliners and younger reformers at home.

At the special session of the UN General Assembly in New York in early March, Serbia unexpectedly voted to condemn the Russian attack on Ukraine. However, Vucic does not want to support the EU sanctions. In Belgrade, Vucic assured on Friday that Germany was the “most important partner” from an economic point of view, and that he could “understand their positions very well.” He understands, that sounds like a precaution. Baerbock had already announced before leaving that “we will not leave this region in the heart of Europe to the influence of Moscow.”

In Belgrade, he skillfully differentiated between an understanding of cultural proximity to Russia and a demand for distance from the Kremlin’s aggressive policy. He boldly lured prospects with investments and jobs, and showed respect for the “special size” of someone who “turns its course 180 degrees” like Serbia with its UN vote.

Violent change of borders

Ultimately, however, with a view to Dodik’s aspirations, it was made very clear that nowhere in Europe should borders be moved by force, that Serbia is literally “resisted” “against unacceptable activities in Bosnia-Herzegovina “. Baerbock’s demand that Serbia should seek dialogue with Kosovo after the April 3 elections is also indispensable. The reward is full EU membership.

Until then, much has to change. A lot. During Vladimir Putin’s visit to Belgrade in 2019, the Orthodox Christian relative was hailed as a great guest. One symbol of friendship is a mural in Belgrade, a man-high portrait of Putin, behind which appears twice the Serbian tricolor, one wide and one narrow, representing Serbia and the Bosnian Serb Republic. The word “brat”, brother, is stamped in Cyrillic calligraphy.

In such popular paintings, the toxic idea of ​​the fusion of the two territories continues to burn. Someone added the hastily sprayed word “located” to the mural: “murderer.” But protests against traditional enthusiasm for Russia are not the rule, especially in the Bosnian Serb republic, the Republika Srpska.

Its volatility shows that Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be stabilized without deep constitutional reforms. With the Dayton Agreement, which ended the Yugoslav wars of disintegration in 1995, the state was created as if it were in pieces. A larger part is the Bosnian-Croatian Federation, a smaller part is the Republika Srpska. The still-ethnic country is governed by a Bosnian-Croat-Serb trio in the state presidency and by three poorly cooperating cabinets.

You can read more about the war against Ukraine on Tagesspiegel Plus:

Since 1995, the Office of the High Representative of the International Community (OHR) in Sarajevo has ensured that Dayton is respected. The mandate of the EU military mission EUFOR is renewed every year. Russia paid for approval of this at the UN with the partial relinquishment of power by the OHR.

Milorad Dodik wants his own army, his own police. Less than a year ago he denied the genocide of Srebrenica, which is in his Serbian Republic, the territory that was supposed to be “cleansed” of its Muslim population in the Bosnian war. Two of the former High Representatives, Christian Schwarz-Schilling and Valentin Inzko, warned the EU and NATO in early March of extending the Ukraine war to the Western Balkans region.

Given the situation of the Russian military in Ukraine, a Russian-backed second Balkan front seems unlikely at this point. However, it cannot be ruled out that the volatile mood in the Republic of Srpska could be exploited for diversionary maneuvers. Therefore, the demand to increase EUFOR’s presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at least temporarily, is as urgent as it is sensible.

The Chancellor rightly underlines that investments on the road to the European Union are linked to respect for democracy and the rule of law, as well as respect for international agreements and treaties. But at the same time, Dayton’s deficits must be highlighted. One of the largest peacebuilding sites in Europe is in Bosnia.


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