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Bosnia could be destabilised by hate incidents, says world’s largest security body

28th Jan 2022

Elham Asaad Buaras

The world’s largest security-oriented intergovernmental body has warned that inflammatory rhetoric is leading to a surge in hate incidents in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH).

In the days around the Orthodox Christian Christmas and the banned national holiday, a spate of security incidents occurred across Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, with Serb nationalists encouraged by their leader’s rhetoric provoking their Muslim neighbours. Shots were fired near mosques during prayers and nationalist songs glorifying convicted war criminals were sung during street celebrations.

“The growing use of inflammatory, divisive rhetoric by some officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including in recent days in Republika Srpska, is contributing to the proliferation of such incidents.”
In a statement issued on January 12 the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Bosnia said, “The Mission cautions against any and all acts that carry the potential to incite conflict and lead to the destabilisation of peace and security in Bosnia.”

Serb separatist leader Milorad Dodik, who wants the Republika Srpska to secede from BiH, and its integration with Serbia, has been using ethnic slurs against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), branding them a non-ethnic religious group with a “colonial mentality”.

Following its civil war in the 1990s in which 100,000 died, most of them Bosniaks, BiH was partitioned into two autonomous regions – the Republika Srpska and the Federation dominated by Croats and Muslim Bosniaks, bound by a fragile central government.

BiH is experiencing its gravest political crisis since the end of the war, sparking fears of a new conflict. Bosnian Serbs last summer blocked the efforts of the central government and began a process aimed at dismantling state institutions.

On January 9, the Bosnian Serbs marked their region’s national holiday, commemorating the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence, triggering the war, with a parade of armed police forces in defiance of a court ban.

The US has urged Bosnia’s authorities to investigate reports that war criminals were glorified and non-Serbs targeted during the celebrations.

Additionally, the EU warned the Bosnian Serb leadership that continued incitement would result in sanctions and funding cuts. The US has imposed new sanctions on the Dodik, a television station under his control and two other officials for “significant corruption and destabilizing activities”.

The sanctions, involving asset freezes and visa bans, follow Dodik’s threat to withdraw Serbs from the Bosnian national army and other state-level institutions, potentially destroying the 1995 Dayton peace treaty and opening the way for a return to conflict. Official statements accompanying the sanctions focus on the corruption which US officials say underpins Dodik’s political posturing.

“His divisive ethno-nationalistic rhetoric reflects his efforts to advance these political goals and distract attention from his corrupt activities,” a Treasury statement said.

In related news Bosnian officials and faith leaders denounced comments made by the Hungarian premier and his spokesman that integrating Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Eurpean Union (EU) could prove difficult because of its sizeable Muslim population.

During a speech delivered on December 21 in Budapest, right-wing populist Viktor Orbán said Hungary supports Bosnia’s EU bid, adding that he would do his “best to convince Europe’s great leaders that the Balkans may be further away from them than from Hungary, but how we manage the security of a state in which 2 million Muslims live is a key issue for their security too.”

Orbán’s spokesman Zoltán Kovács tweeted that “the challenge with Bosnia is how to integrate a country with 2 million Muslims.”

Husein Kavazović, the country’s Grand Mufti branded Orbán’s remarks “xenophobic and racist,” while some Bosniak parties called for a ban on Orbán’s visit.

“If such ideologies become the basis on which the policies of a united Europe are based, then it takes us back to the times when the European unity was to be build on similar fascist, Nazi, violent and genocidal ideologies that led to the Holocaust and other horrific crimes,” he said.

The Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite presidency, Šefik Džaferović, called Orbán’s statement “shameful and rude.It is not a challenge for the EU to integrate 2 million (Bosnian) Muslims, because we are an indigenous European people who have always lived here, and we are Europeans,” he said.

During his speech, Orbán also said Hungary wouldn’t support EU sanctions against Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik as threatened by Germany and some other member states because of his separatist stands.

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