What should be the interest of BiH?

By Mirsad Karić

It is not an easy task to determine the strategy of the Bosnian foreign policy in the Western Balkans (WB), where several states are trying to establish their domination, especially if the considerably different interests of the three constituent peoples of BiH are taken into account, and that two neighboring countries – Serbia and Croatia - have a direct or indirect impact on the politics of BiH. However, taking into account the current situation and recent history of the WB, as well as the support that the West has been providing BiH with since the signing of the Dayton Agreement, the position of BiH within the WB can be significantly improved through co-ordinated diplomatic work.

The position of BiH should be defined primarily in relation to Croatia and Serbia, after which it will be much easier to reconcile BiH's position towards EU membership and the NATO alliance. Regarding relations with Croatia, it is necessary to prevent it from influencing the foreign policy and domestic politics of BiH. In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to define the interests of Croatia in BiH, as well as to define clearly what according to the international law Croatia is allowed to do for the Croatian people in BiH, and what is not. In doing so, a friendly attitude towards Croatia should be taken and be aware that Croatia, in addition to adverse impacts from the past period, has significantly contributed to the preservation of the territorial integrity of BiH, and it provided BiH with a certain assistance during the war. The issue of border disputes, the construction of the Pelješac Bridge, the restitution of property and the use of water from the Buško Lake should be dealt with in different ways. Instead of purely financial resources, it is possible to get, for example, delivery of electricity or certain concessions from Croatia, such as lobbying in international and EU institutions, assistance in solving internal problems in BiH, etc. There are also options for Croatia's debt with some political concessions to be canceled. There are also options that would allow Croatia's debt, along with some political concessions in return, to be written off.

Border disputes with Serbia should be used to reduce the influence of Serbia on the RS, or to stimulate the influence on the RS that would contribute to the reconciliation of the people, building of the state capacities, as well as the booking of military property and the continuation of the EU and NATO paths, accepted by the representatives of all three constituent peoples of BiH in 2009. Serbia is in hurry to resolve its border disputes because of its EU membership process, but according to previous public statements by its officials, they were not overly interested in reciprocal relations with BiH, and therefore, it is necessary to insist on changing such a position. BiH and Serbia already have good economic relations, but it is also necessary to insist on the relaxation of other, primarily political relations. Part of the Bosnian territory that is necessary to Serbia can be given under a long-term concession, and it is necessary to take into account the conclusions of the Badinter Commission in this context. If it is determined that Serbia owes a large financial compensation to BiH for concessions, it is possible to do the same as in case with Croatia, which can ultimately lead to the strengthening of economic ties between all three countries and thus to the improvement of security aspects. It should be kept in mind that the migrant crisis is likely to continue, and that the migration route will continue to be through the Balkans, which could bring certain security challenges to the WB. The way in which border disputes will be resolved will show how seriously WB countries are really prepared to cooperate and turn a new page in their history, while one of the options is to leave these issues – with the EU consent – to be solved after entering the EU and then resolve them based on the with international expert commissions and binding arbitration. BiH should also insist on the military balance in the WB, which is regulated by Annex 1-B of the Dayton Peace Agreement, and in addition, as in the case of Croatia, it is necessary to clearly define what Serbia is allowed to do to help the Serbian people in BiH and what it is not.

The overall position of BiH in terms of EU membership is more specific in relation to other WB countries, and the EU can therefore integrate it relatively quickly and simply in its community. Among other things, this was also enabled by the control mechanism, that is, the Dayton Peace Agreement and the powers of the High Representative. After BiH's accession to the EU, and under the patronage of the High Representative, who would resolutely used the Bonn powers, reform and harmonization of certain laws could be implemented in a relatively short time, but because of direct benefits for citizens, the whole process would go much simpler than in the current, very unfavorable circumstances with extremely corrupt political elites with little respect for the EU and the rule of law. Bulgaria and Romania were admitted to the EU, although they did not meet the criteria that are now required from BiH, and therefore BiH would not be a precedent.

Regarding the EU and its efforts to integrate the WB into its community, it is necessary to convert the words into actions. Citizens of the WB need to be constantly informed about the benefits of the EU, because they still seem to be too elusive. Informing citizens about progress on the EU path is an obligation that must be imposed on all WB institutions. It is also necessary to use mechanisms to clearly point out those who hinder the European path of the WB and impose sanctions on them in accordance with international legal and other practices. The planned intensified exchange of students and labor will lead to a new pro-European generation in the WB, which will soon take over leadership positions in their own countries, while EU officials in the WB have to deal more resolutely with issues and start using mechanisms to integrate the WB into the EU as soon as possible and reduce the 'external influence' to the lowest extent possible.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Balkan Studies Centre (BSC).

*Originally written in Bosnian language within the project "Bosna i Hercegovina i Berlinski proces: Analiza stanja ključnih procesa u BiH pred Londonsku konferenciju 2018" [Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Berlin Process: Analysis of Key Processes in BiH prior to the London Conference in 2018], Balkan Studies Center (BSC).