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Opinion

Opinion: The new war of words in the Balkans

From Belgrade and Banja Luka to Pristina, politicians are again speaking of war and division. But they are the words of political losers, running out of arguments to justify their hold on power, writes Frank Hofmann.

Milorad Dodik has been blacklisted by the US government for obstructing the implementation of the Dayton Agreement. The president of Republika Srpska, the autonomous region of the small Balkan nation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has been touting the separation of the territory he rules. He seems to be enjoying the attention from US diplomats, as it may actually support his image as the alleged savior of the Serbs. Now he is seeking validation in the form of a referendum for independence.  

Thinking the rhetoric through to the end 

If someone is to understand what is behind the politics, it is helpful to think through the consequences to the end. If the autonomous region of Republika Srpska were to separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, one can probably expect that other half of the country, which is made up of Bosniak and Croatian minorities, will protest. The consequence would be a conflict that would likely entail bloodshed. In a short matter of time, Bosnian police forces would be overwhelmed. As a result, the EUFOR Althea forces stationed at the airport of Sarajevo would probably request reinforcement.

The military deployment EUFOR Althea (short for European Union Force Althea) is supposed to ensure security and stability in the region, thereby assisting Bosnian authorities. If they are no longer able to do this, EUFOR Althea can quickly fly in intervention forces from countries participating in the mission. Within days, a total of 1,200 soldiers on standby from NATO countries, could be patrolling the streets of Banja Luka and Sarajevo, and in the worst case, intervening militarily.

Frank Hofmann DW Korrespondent und Büroleiter in Kiew Ukraine Osteuropa (DW)

DW's Frank Hofmann.

Dodik would be finished politically

This would mean that Banja Luka's plans for Bosnian Serb sovereignty would fall through. And Serb-leader, Dodik, would probably be finished politically, as his Serbian supporters in Belgrade would no longer be able to bear any responsibility for the actions of this agitator. The Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is following a pro-EU course.

However, this does not seem to deter politicians in Belgrade from talking about war. Tomislav Nikolic is the country's president, as well as the supreme commander of the military. He recently threated to send the Serbian army to the northern Kosovan city of Mitrovica, because the Serbian minority there felt threatened. With the help of Russian donations, Belgrade had planned to send a train to Kosovo covered with Orthodox icons and painted with the words "Kosovo is Serbia" in 20 languages. This was seen as a provocative gesture in Kosovo, as 90 percent of its population consists of ethnic Albanians. Now Belgrade newspapers are once again writing about separating the Serbian dominated area to the north of the Ibar River from the rest of Kosovo. Once again, a crisis in this region would lead to violence. The Kosovar president's rhetoric in recent weeks has been similarly belligerent. Belgrade's Kosovo policy resembles Russia's annexation of Crimea, stated President Hasim Thaci unabashedly.

Inevitable bloodshed in Kosovo

If Belgrade tried to take Serbian dominated northern Mitrovica by force, then Albanian demonstrators would immediately take to the streets in other Serbian enclaves that cannot be protected. There they would come up against plain clothes Serbian security forces that are apparently already equipped with light weapons provided by Serbian authorities. A bloodbath would ensue. As a result, the NATO-led troops would have to request reinforcement and would be engaged in protecting large parts of Kosovo. If Belgrade deployed its military, then NATO forces would use their power to counteract. It would lead to a war that cannot be won.

The one thing these crisis scenarios have in common is the fact that the affected countries' economic development would be set back at least ten years. Subsequently, society in these countries would not only become more politically dependent on its large neighbor, the European Union, but it would also need the EU economically even more than they already do. The ruling elites, who have been using such nationalist rhetoric, would be stripped of their power and achieve the opposite of their current aspirations.

Anachronistic political elites

The new war of words in the Balkans is thus no more than a collection of anachronistic and hollow slogans. They are empty threats being made by a generation of politicians who were propelled to power in the 1980s, when the former Yugoslavia was in the process of collapsing.  The multi-ethnic, socialist state came to its demise after four decades of totalitarian rule, but its nationalist grave-diggers have survived until today. It may be that their time is up. Yet they are still trying to distract their respective electorates from their dismal political performance, with regard to jobs and prosperity, by using rhetoric that is far removed from reality. Right now, there are no political alternatives. But that can change.

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