Bosnia and Herzegovina: The End of a Troublesome Peace?

Status: 20.11.2021 9:15 a.m.

The current state of Bosnia and Herzegovina is just 25 years old. The younger generation no longer wants to hear about war, but nationalist rhetoric is getting caught – especially among the Serbs. Is the country falling apart?

By Wolfgang Vichtl, ARD-Studio Vienna

Zulejha Keco is a post-war child, 24 years old, born in Sarajevo in the second year after the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war between Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks in 1995 and is supposed to guarantee peaceful coexistence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the old people say again: “It smells like war” – like back then.

Wolfgang Vichtl
ARD studio Vienna

Keco shakes his head: Who should fight – for what and why? She asks. She prefers to dance with Serbs, Croats, Slovenes and dancers from the so-called Republic of Srpska, the Serbian part of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She tells of the common “ex-Yugoslavia spirit”, the common spirit of the former Yugoslavia in her troupe, the “Balkan Dance Project”.

Ballerina Zulejha Keco says she doesn’t want to be part of a new war generation.

No “new war generation”

Keco is a ballerina at the National Theater in Sarajevo. “I don’t want to be part of a new war generation,” she says very firmly. Keco speaks excellent German, she studied German. Of course, she will think about whether she should go to Germany, like many of her friends – if it gets worse. 70 percent of their generation thinks that way. It’s not that far for them yet.

Christian Schmidt is the High Representative of the international community for Bosnia and Herzegovina including the Republika Srpska. With far-reaching powers he should oversee what was agreed in Dayton. Keco and her generation need not be afraid, says Schmidt: The international community is there, it is different than it was back then.

Permanent propaganda against “Dayton”

Schmidt has just come back from a conversation with non-governmental organizations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, all ethnic groups were represented. “Do not undermine the Dayton Agreement” was their appeal. Schmidt is impressed.

His start in the new office was difficult, accompanied by constant provocations from his opponent Milorad Dodik, the nationalist leader of the Serbian-dominated part of the country. Dodik sounded that he would get out of the joint army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and – with the Serbian units – found his own, his own police force and his own financial authorities. In plain language: a threat of secession.

Increasingly threatened with the break-away of the Bosnian Serbs: Milorad Dodik.


Bosnia and Herzegovina: one state, three ethnic groups, at least two worlds. Dodik does not recognize Schmidt as a high representative. The Serb is hiding behind Russia, which supports Dodik’s separatist course. Dodik is a member of the three-person Presidium of the entire state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He also resides in Banja Luka in the Republika Srpska, behind a pompous socialist facade, only 190 kilometers from Sarajevo, but the drive there still takes three and a half to four hours.

Where has the money gone?

Svetlana Cenic calls Dodik an autocrat whom the international community has made great. With joint photos after joint discussions, with subsidies that seep away in the Dodik system. “You gave so much money, where are the results?” She asks. The Sarajevo-Banja Luka motorway, for example, should have been completed long ago. Cenic is an economist, was once a minister in one of Dodik’s early cabinets, responsible for finances – non-party, that’s important to her.

“Corruption is a lifestyle in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” says Tanja Topic, who works for the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Banja Luka. None of the rulers here want a constitutional state, she says, because that would mean that they end up in prison.

She sees the future of the Serbian part of the country bleak. The men used to go away as guest workers. Now it is whole families who are selling their houses because they “don’t want to gamble away their children’s future”. While Dodik’s propaganda sounds: Life is most beautiful here, in the Republika Srpska.

Dodik’s opponents accuse him of corruption – they demand his withdrawal.

Build: AP

“Republika Srpska is ruined”

Many here know what it really is like. And still support Dodik. Poll on the street: The Republika Srpska is ruined, says Miroslav, 40, manager. He blames the plight of the Bosniak leadership in Sarajevo, which is trying to take away the autonomy of the Srpska Serbs: “Dodik is trying to maintain this autonomy, so we have to support him.” “There is no better person than Dodik,” says a pensioner in passing.

Dodik tell the stories that Serbian ears like to hear, says Srdjan Puhalo, a social psychologist from Banja Luka. Puhalo speaks of years of “agony”, of Dodik’s strategy of crushing all institutions until “people are fed up with it and will ask to be allowed to part”, separated by ethnic group: Serbs, Bosniaks, Croats.

An exercise by the Bosnian Serb police in the Jahorina Mountains last October was understood as part of Dodik’s threats to leave.

Build: AP

What else can Schmidt achieve?

The High Representative can prevent that from happening. He can fire elected politicians and overturn laws. Some still call him a toothless tiger, including Srdjan Puhalo – although: He hesitates and compares Schmidt with the German national soccer team. They often played ninety minutes without success – “maybe he’ll score a goal at the last moment?”

Of course there is a red line, says Christian Schmidt. When is it reached for him, when does he show Dodik the stop sign? “You don’t announce things like that, you do things like that when it’s necessary,” he says.

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