The Balkans – a possible flashpoint
I recently returned from a parliamentary visit to Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as part of my ongoing interest in the Western Balkans. I last visited Bosnia in 1999, shortly after the dreadful civil war of 1992-’95. Who can ever forget the massacre of 8,000 Bosniaks at Srebrenica over three days, which is still resulting in the prosecution of various Serbian politicians and military personnel. The 3.5-year siege of Sarajevo was the longest ever siege of a capital city, with daily shelling and sniper attacks taking thousands of lives. Emotions after this are still raw.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided between three ethic groups: Orthodox Christian Serbs in the north; Catholic Croatians in the west; and Sunni Muslim Bosniaks - making up more than half the population - in the rest of the country. Bosnia has always been a complex entity, being part of the former Yugoslav Republic, with a history of conflict both internally and externally driven. The Sarajevo assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the spark that lit the fire of WW1. It is possible to stand on the actual spot where this happened.
Although the conflict between the three ethnic groups is over with little immediate chance of restarting, relations remain tense. Ethnic cleansing has left the different ethnicities ensconced in their own communities. There is now very little intermarriage, and a Bosniak from Sarajevo is more likely to visit London than Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb Republic.
Worryingly, nationalism among the young seems even stronger than among those who experienced the war. In each ethnic group there is strong support for secession. Although widely accepted that this will not happen in the short term, the uncertainty has damaged both economic progress and social stability. There is little trust in the political process, with politicians widely seen as corrupt. But blame is not just attributed locally. The US-brokered Dayton Peace Accord which ended the war is seen as inflexible and complex, preventing genuine national negotiation.
Overall, the situation is not very optimistic. No wonder so many younger Bosnians wish to emigrate. It behoves those with any influence, including the international community, to give them hope in the future of their country.
MP for the Stroud Constituency