Among the rolling hills and open plains of the Balkans lies a nation, young, and fragile. Bosnia sits, safe, for now, guarded from the outside world by countless treaties and international laws. It was not too long ago that war came to her lands, borne from the ashes of Yugoslavia and a genocide that racked the world, Bosnia started off on a weak foundation. It is a nation always at the brink of being torn apart internally. However, the UN, the US, and NATO, are determined to keep the young nation afloat. Without their help, the fractured and unstable Bosnia might collapse long before they are invaded.
The Balkans, the wild lands north of Greece and south of the Danube, are famous for its ethnic, and religious diversity. Due to the ebb and flow of empire after empire, the landscape is left scarred by the cultural and religious mark of a hundred regimes. Bosnia itself is a land that is mostly Muslim, a left over from the days of the Ottoman Turks. However, her lands are also home to Catholic Croatians, and the Orthodox Serbs, along with other smaller groups. Bosnia lies within the corpse of Yugoslavia, the Eastern-Bloc country that held Bosnia and the other Balkan states together, that blew apart in the 90’s. This would result in a massive war and a genocide against the Bosnians, by the Serbians, not seen in Europe since WWII.
The UN would step in to help Bosnia, with the backing of the US and NATO. The western juggernaut stepped in, and protected the fledgling states against the Serbians, from both Serbia proper and the Republic of Srpska, whom would be beaten back with overwhelming firepower. Many involved, including the president of Srpska, were imprisoned for crimes against humanity. With the Treaty of Dayton, the bloody Bosnian war came to end, and the government of Bosnia was borne. For now, Bosnia would be safe from external threats.
However, the young nation was entering a whole new era of internal threats. The Bosnian political system was made specifically to be as equal among the different warring ethnicities as possible. Bosnia is roughly 50% Bosniak, 31% Serbian, and 15% Croat. The government was set up democratically, but as to make sure no ethnic group got more power than the others, it was split up thusly:
-Most of the Serbians live in an autonomous region of Bosnia called The Republic of Srspka, that is de-facto a separate nation within Bosnia. It has its own administration and acts more or less on its own accord within the Bosnian State.
-The Executive Branch is a rotating position, between 3 executives, one Croat, one Serb, and one Bosniak. The Serbian member is elected from the Republic Srpska, and the other two from the Federation of Bosnia.
-Each Executive gets elected for a four-year term and can only serve two executive terms.
-There is a chairperson, the head of the three, and this position rotates between the three every 8 months.
-The Legislative is split into 2 houses, House of Peoples and the House of Representatives, balanced in representatives between the ethnicities much like the executive.
As it can be seen, the nation was given the utmost care to give equal representation to the three ethnic groups, even though the numbers of people are not equal. Specifically, the region of Srpska, now part of the country that they committed genocide on, does not seem to have the best interest of the whole country in mind. The Serbian executive doesn’t even believe that Bosnia should exist, and makes snide comments about the country’s problems being solved by simply dissolving the union. The nation is also clearly and starkly divided ethnically, even decades after its formation. Its legislature is gridlocked, and as the Bosnian federation yearns to join the EU, Srpska seems to be trying to separate and prevent the union. A 2010 Gallup poll shows that 88% of Bosnian Serbs support secession from the Bosnian state. When things go horribly wrong, such as in the 2014 Bosnian Spring riots, the Serb leader was not willing to help keep the peace, and even accused the Bosniak and Croat leader of somehow spreading the protests into Srpska’s land. The Bosnian Federation and Republic of Srpska at all turns do not act as a unit, and Srpska, as shown by their actions during the Bosnian Spring, view their fellow countryman as an enemy to not be trusted. As a result of this, Bosnia has been polarizing down ethno-religious lines.
A key aspect of polarization in Bosnia and all countries, is a development of “Us vs. Them” mentality in politics. As McCoy, Rahman, and Somer write in their article, this is a key step towards polarization, and therefore democratic back sliding. It’s very easy to view your countryman as an enemy, and therefore as a threat that must be stopped, if they are a “them”. The article uses Venezuela and the United States as in example, and in these countries, polarization is often by party/political lines. However, Bosnia deals with this political polarization, on top of division down ethnic lines, and religious lines. The difference in Bosnia between “Us”, and “Them”, is not just that “They” might vote different, but also that “They” speak a language you don’t understand, and worship a God that you do not. This contributes to a causal chain of democratic breakdown, as described in an article. When “they” are the enemy, then every victory for them is a loss for you. The system creates conflict, and if a certain executive were to come along, promising to beat “them” in return for power, maybe you would be more willing to let them. However, due to the rules of the Dayton Agreement, the US and UN are breathing down Bosnia’s neck.
It is only through the US’ intervention, and the UN, that the nation seems to be staying together. It is telling, after Trump seemed to forget about the nation, that Bosnia’s reaction to Biden’s election was one of joy, hoping that Biden would once again increase US involvement in the country’s stability. And as the US crawls out of her isolationist shell, countries like Bosnia have good things to look forward to.
However, one must ask, if a nation must be held up seemingly entirely by outside influence, was the nation properly designed? Can such a nation stay democratic? A nation that started as a bright future for democracy in a divided, autocratic region is slowly turning into an ethnic political battlefield, and democracy is on the line. Only the US and the UN seem to have any interest in breaking up the fighting brothers, but as we saw with Trump, the US involvement in anything external is not guaranteed. If Bosnia is to march forward into the EU and World stage, perhaps it must rethink its political structure, and divisions, lest it lose its fragile democracy.