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Bosnia needs our immediate attention

This past summer, I stood in front of the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo with my fellow American Embassy co-workers to honor those killed in the Bosnian War, as the remains of 518 victims of the Srebrenica massacre were slowly driven past us in three semitrailer trucks. To give this memory of mine context, 14 years ago Serb forces surrounded the U.N. ‘Safe Zone’ of Srebrenica, overtook the city, and slaughtered 8,000 Muslim men and boys. The 400 U.N. peacekeepers present never fired a shot.

To this day, victims’ bodies are still being found in mass graves surrounding the city. As they are found, they are identified, and buried on the anniversary date of the genocide. The events of Srebrenica have been deemed the largest European genocide to have occurred since World War II. This event helped spur the United States to finally engage in the conflict, and end the ethnic fighting that destroyed this beautiful country.

It is in our country, in the town of Dayton, Ohio, that we helped the Bosnians attain the peace agreement they so desperately needed. The Dayton Peace Agreement became a sign of hope for Bosnia and Herzegovina, and helped the country begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding. Through the Dayton negotiation, a power-sharing agreement was created between the ethnic groups. While needed at the time, this peace agreement is outdated and is leading to present-day political turmoil within the country.

Currently, the country is divided into two halves, largely along ethnic lines, with each half having their own prime minister. Further, the presidency in the country consists of a power-sharing agreement between the three main ethnic groups, and all presidents must come to a consensus before any decisions are made.

Difficult conditions
As you can imagine, sharing power between ethnic groups that were recently engaged in a dirty war involving genocide, rape and torture against each other has proven to be difficult. Currently, the political parties cater to their own constituency, which falls along ethnic lines; nationalism is on the rise; and corruption is rampant. Children are once again being taught xenophobia as schools are often segregated and books are being re-written to encourage ethnic-tension.

After years of neglect during the Bush presidency, the Obama administration has already taken a more active role in Bosnian affairs. Vice President Joe Biden visited Sarajevo in May of this year and warned the Bosnian Parliament that, “I personally, and the leadership of my country is worried … about the direction of your country and your future.”

Biden went on to cite how “we have seen state institutions — which must be strengthened for Bosnia to meet the challenges of the 21st century and to advance toward EU and NATO membership — openly challenged and deliberately undermined. We have witnessed attempts to roll back the reforms of the last decade — the very reforms that prompted EU and NATO to open their doors to the citizens of this country.” And most important, the authority of the United Nations High Representative, who is in charge of directing the Dayton Peace Agreement, is being undermined by political leaders.

Reassert pressure now
Bosnia is a poor country, and it is impossible to not be reminded daily of the war, as a great majority of the buildings in Sarajevo remain bullet-ridden, and the beautiful Olympic Mountains and countryside still retain a quarter million land-mines that continue to kill civilians. Bosnia has legitimate problems. Yet, despite those problems, we cannot allow Bosnia to once again become synonymous with brutal crimes against humanity, war and instability.

We came to Bosnia’s aid too late in the game last time. We need to assert our pressure now, before violence strikes, before we once again lose thousands of innocent lives.

As Biden stated in his speech, “America takes pride in our commitment to a peaceful, successful, Bosnia and Herzegovina.” America needs to reassert this commitment.

Kelly Baker is a graduate student in public policy at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by vladimir gagic on 12/10/2009 - 07:56 am.

    No, like the typical American interloper, you are dead wrong. The buildings in Sarajevo, or Banja Luka for that matter, are not “riddled with bullets”. I was just there a couple of months ago, and both Sarajevo and Banja Luka were clean, well maintained, and orderly. I saw absolutely no sign of war damage in either city. In fact, Banja Luka reminded me quite a bit of Boulder, CO. Further, xenophobia/bigotry is not rampant. Citizens of either entity are free to travel throughout, and in Bijlinja, there is a large Mosque, with a big, green Turkish flag on it, 100 feet from away from the official Bosnian Serb war memorial. I even have a picture of it. The level of bigotry in Bosnia is no worse than bigotry in the American South. In any event, the Dayton Agreement is exactly what the Bosnian Serbs are tryig to preserve, while it is the Bosnians and Americans who are trying to ditch Dayton by destroying the Bosnian Serb Republic. Dodik and the Bosnian Serbs are merely defending the rights Dayton gave to them, and that is more important to them than impressing self-important American grad students.

  2. Submitted by Wim Roffel on 12/10/2009 - 08:28 am.

    When outsiders takes sides in a multi-ethnic country that works highly destabilizing. That’s how the conflict in Yugoslavia got started in 1991. The main reason Bosnia hasn’t further stabilized since Dayton is that the Muslims kept hope that the US would take their side when they refused compromises.

    So I don’t know what kind of “attention” Kelly Baker has in mind for Bosnia but it gives me bad feelings.

    Bosnia’s structure is not that different from Belgium. Sure, sometimes it result in a bit slower decision taking. But to blame this structure for Bosnia’s corruption sounds outrageous to me: Bosnia had already in Yugoslav times a rather corrupt reputation.

    In Dayton the role of the UN High Representative (HR) in Bosnia was defined as a mediator. Later he got more powers allocated by the Western countries (the “Bonn powers”). This made sense for removing war criminals and people who blocked refugee returns from public office. Recently some HR’s took it on themselves to become political players in the Bosnian politics – throwing their neutrality away. Understandably this evokes fierce protests. But in my opinion you can’t blame people who rightfully criticize a HR for overstepping his authority of undermining him.

  3. Submitted by Cary Morgan on 12/11/2009 - 01:39 am.

    I’d love to know which Sarajevo Vladimir found that isn’t riddled with bullets, (I imagine its more along the lines of Lukavica), because sitting here, looking out my window I can attest to the fact that he is sadly mistaken. He is correct, however, in saying Banja Luka is not riddled with bullet holes, and yes it is a quite clean and orderly city, but there is a very good reason for that. Banja Luka was not under siege for four years, and that comment is textbook Republika Srpska rhetoric. Of course were I an RS leader and had found an international community weak enough to validate and reward my ethnic cleansing and genocide, I’d defend it too, no doubt about that.

    The magnitude of ignorance in the second comment is mind-bending, however quite typical of EU politicians. I won’t touch that here.

    Yes, the international community has made startlingly large mistakes but at the end of the day they weren’t the ones pulling the triggers in Prijedor, Sanski Most, Srebrenica, Visegrad, etc.

  4. Submitted by Kemal Hamulic on 12/11/2009 - 08:09 am.

    Being from Prijedor myself, and having observed Serb atrocities and EU aloofness as a refugee in Switzerland I can only attest to shallowness and ignorance of the first two comments. Finally one country’s leadership decides to play a more active role and you slap a ‘biased’ label on them.
    Why don’t you try to do ‘the right thing’ for once? It’s easy to use jargon picked up from a newspaper or a website and start criticizing those who do have courage to try and resolve the situation.
    Instead of trying to sound like you ‘know’ the political process and its implications in Bosnia, why don’t you just trust the judgment of those individuals who are on the ground and involved in the political process you so much would like to label as partial…

  5. Submitted by vladimir gagic on 12/11/2009 - 02:56 pm.

    I was in every part of Sarajevo. The mercator was very nice, kind of like Walmart, I was in old town Sarajevo, full of tourists, and I was even in the new shopping mall, with its underground parking; it was very, very fancy. And in all my time there, I did not see a single “bullet riddled” building. But I did see plenty of shoppers, tourists, and brand new Western shops. As far as the cheap shot “Bosnian Serb rhetoric”, yes, I plead guilty: the truth is “Bosnian Serb rhetoric”. So Cary, save your sanctimonious melodrama for another part of the neocon/neoliberal empire, Iraq perhaps?

  6. Submitted by vladimir gagic on 12/11/2009 - 03:07 pm.

    Point in fact, the only buildings I saw any war damage was the governmental buildings NATO bombed in Belgrade. Funny, America is one of the most Islamophobic countries on Earth, but they want to kill Serbs to force them to live in a Muslim dominated country.

  7. Submitted by John Olson on 12/12/2009 - 06:01 am.

    Here’s a thought for all of you: if you don’t want the U.S. there, fine. Let’s remove whatever is left of our presence and bring those people/assets home. If the rest of the U.N. and/or NATO wants to stay put, fine.

    We have an economy here that is in tatters, two wars–neither of which is truly “winnable” –and a Congress and White House that struggle to convince anyone that the sun will rise in the east this morning and set in the west this evening.

    I’m tired of the U.S. billing itself as the “world’s policeman” and getting stuck with the tab for “peacekeeping” duties like this where we probably are neither trusted, nor wanted.

  8. Submitted by Vladimir Djukanovic on 12/12/2009 - 12:20 pm.

    Please do not help us the way you are helping Iraq and Avganistan. We do need your ignorant ways here any more. Most of the problems in Bosnia do stem from the Dayton agreement which was short-sighted to begin with.

  9. Submitted by Ann Richards on 12/14/2009 - 06:41 am.

    I too just returned from the lovely city of Sarajavo, and it is just as bright and cheerful as V Gagic says. But he is blind to the destruction that still shows. You cannot kill that many people & destroy that much of a city without leaving tell-tale signs. You can feel the bullet and shell holes in the dark, be careful walking in the street, some holes are large; and I defy him to find a building without bullet holes. There still stand gutted buildings. I guess he didn’t go up to see where the bobsled track is,now destroyed. Unfortunately it sits at just the right spot for snipers taking out children. Lots of documentary films still survive showing the civilians jumping from burning homes, and children shot trying to take cover in the street. As much as it has been rebuilt though, be careful not to walk off the defined walkway- unexploded mines still exist. Corruption? yup, show we one of the Balkans without it. The author is correct, the Dayton Agreement has lived past its usefulness. Imagine if we had a government of power sharing by Obama, Palin, & Paul. That is what we brokered for Bosnia. Yes, we have bigotry in Am, but there is an intense hatred that fueled the barbaric behavior and that is hard to imagine.

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