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Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Introduction

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) consists of two Entities within the state, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Federation) and the Republika Srpska, and Brcko District, with a total population of approximately four million. The Federation has a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Croat majority, while the Republika Srpska has a Serb majority. The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace (the Dayton Accords), provides for a democratic republic with a bicameral parliamentary assembly but assigns many governmental functions to the two entities. The Dayton Accords also provide for a High Representative with the authority to impose legislation and remove officials.

Bosnia has been heading in the wrong direction since 2006. The symptoms are easily identifiable: rising nationalist rhetoric; unwillingness on the part of political leaders to engage in genuine dialogue and reach meaningful compromises; a stalled reform process, and in some cases, dangerous backsliding. The greatest danger is efforts by the RS to de-legitimize and undermine the state. Republika Srpska (RS) Prime Minister, Milorad Dodik regularly raises the prospect of an RS future outside of Bosnia and the possibility of an RS referendum on secession. He began a campaign in 2009 to roll back previous reforms -- the very reforms that prompted NATO to invite Bosnia to join the Partnership for Peace and the EU to sign a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Bosnia. At a minimum, the aim appeared to be to restore to the RS the level of autonomy it enjoyed at the end of the 1992-95 war, which would ultimately result in the collapse of the state.

The fundamental problem in Bosnia remains that the state lacks legitimacy among the three largest ethnic groups, as Bosniaks (Muslims), Serbs, and Croats differ in their visions about the kind of Bosnia in which they want to live. Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has an area of 31,816 square miles and an estimated population of 3.9 million. The country's territory is divided into two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS), with a separate administrative district in Brcko (Brcko District).

Bosniaks [ie, Muslims], who make up close to 50 percent of the country's population, want a strong, centralized state with governing structures that include minimal ethnic checks and balances. Some seek to abolish the Republika Srpska (RS), which many Bosniaks consider a product of the genocide and ethnic cleansing during the 1992-1995 war. Others have raised in recent discussions a desire to remove the Dayton provision for vetoes of national legislation at the entity level, a mechanism that has been significantly overused by the Bosnian Serbs.

Croats aspire to their own entity, or at minimum, formal safeguards which guarantee political defense of "Croat interests," however defined. In discussions on political reform with the U.S. and the EU, they remain concerned with the perception that, while Bosnia has three "constituent peoples," the Bosniaks and Serbs appear to each exercise political control in an entity while Croats, in the minority in both the Federation and Republika Srpska, do not.

Serbs, after years of attacking the Dayton Accords, have now embraced Dayton's entity-based structures and weak central state. But, over the years, they have sought to roll back reforms designed to make Dayton work and advance Bosnia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations, arguing that such reforms were not explicitly provided for in Dayton. Many Serbs would prefer the dissolution of Bosnia in favor of the independence of the RS. In 2011 the RS National Assembly considered a Law on Referenda that could open the door later this year to the RS populace voicing its opinion on NATO Membership and/or secession. Even the most enlightened Bosnian Serbs continue to demand that the RS's status remains unchanged, i.e. that none of the relative autonomy of the RS vis-a-vis the state be surrendered, regardless of the demands of EU or NATO accession.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a complex country, burdened with internal problems resulting from different political factors such as:

  • The remnants of political and social animosities as a result of the 1992-1995 conflict, supported by elements propagating various forms of nationalistic extremism;
  • Slow implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords;
  • Problems of political transition that have resulted in the slow development of effective and efficient executive, legislative and judicial authorities;
  • Problems of transition to a market economy that have resulted in a low level of domestic and foreign investment, the existence of the grey economy and black market, slow implementation of privatisation processes, technologically obsolete production facilities and uneven reconstruction of damaged infrastructure;
  • Porous borders that allow trafficking in narcotics and weapons and human trafficking, and that enable the concealment and transit of persons accused for war crimes, international criminals and terrorists;
  • Problems of unemployment that have caused a brain drain of highly educated and young people and contributed to increased general poverty, social differences and instability, particularly among pensioners and other groups requiring greater social assistance;
  • Excessive amounts of armaments and ammunition stored in inadequate facilities;
  • Large numbers of anti-personnel mines and unexploded ordnance throughout the country, posing a physical danger for the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and an obstacle to the development of tourism and foreign investment; and
  • A variety of environmental challenges, including natural and man-made disasters, management problems of solid waste and military waste, degradation of arable land and forest resources, water and air pollution, and the slow development and implementation of acceptable environmental protection standards and conventions.

On March 24, 2016 the United Nations war crimes tribunal dealing with conflicts in the former Yugoslavia has found former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guilty of genocide. He was accused of leading the forces that carried out the Srebrenica Massacre in which 8,000 men and boys died. Karadzic insisted he is innocent. He says his actions during the Bosnian War were meant to protect fellow Serbs. In his closing statement at the tribunal in 2014, Karadzic admitted only "moral responsibility" for his wartime actions. He is charged with genocide for the 1995 Srebrenica killings, when his forces slaughtered nearly 8,000 Muslim men and boys in what has been called the worst atrocity in Europe since the Holocaust.

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