BRUSSELS - European Union (EU) officials are working “behind the scenes” to amend a new law that criminalises the denial of the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, The Guardian said. Diplomats for the bloc became involved after “privately concluding it risks reigniting fresh regional conflict”.

Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of a triumvirate power-sharing agreement, has claimed the legislation is “undemocratic” and “symptomatic” of “an imbalance of power” in the country, the paper added.

For four years after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, western powers decided against intervention as ethnic conflict gripped Bosnia.

More than 100,000 people were killed during the 1992-95 war, which led to mass murder on a scale not witnessed in Europe since the Second World War.

Now, a quarter of a century on from the peace deal that ended the war, those powers are again being confronted by the potential for deadly sectarian fighting.


The latest


EU officials are working “behind the scenes” to amend a new law that criminalises the denial of the massacre of 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica, The Guardian said. Diplomats for the bloc became involved after “privately concluding it risks reigniting fresh regional conflict”.

Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of a triumvirate power-sharing agreement, has claimed the legislation is “undemocratic” and “symptomatic” of “an imbalance of power” in the country, the paper added.

In recent months, Dodik has requested that parliament discuss pulling the Republika Srpska — the semi-autonomous Serb majority area of the country — out of several key institutions, including the Indirect Tax Authority and the inter-ethnic armed forces.

The threats to leave “key pillars of state security, rule of law and the fiscal system” have been described as “the worst crisis since the war ended”, Reuters said.

Introduced shortly before Valentin Inzko, the UN High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, stepped down from his role, the law outlawed genocide denial this summer.

During a meeting with the EU delegation to Bosnia, European Commissioner for Enlargement Oliver Varhelyi said it “was to blame for the current political crisis”.

“While the Inzko amendments could not be disputed from the point of view of the law’s substance, the fact that it was imposed on the last day of the HR Inzko’s mandate had been problematic,” minutes of the meeting show him to have said.

“Especially because it was an important decision, it should have been based on thorough debate having everyone on board. The question was now how to correct this.”


Uneasy truce


The Bosnian War was triggered when Bosnia and Herzegovina joined several republics of the former Yugoslavia and declared independence. After three and a half years of bloodshed, the conflict was ended by the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

By early 2008, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had convicted 45 Serbs, 12 Croats, and four Bosniaks of war crimes committed during the war.

Many thousands of Bosniaks and Croats died in concentration camps run by Serb forces at sites including Omarska and Trnopolje. But the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered, was the most notorious act of genocide.

Better known as the Dayton Accords, the peace deal saw the majority Muslim Bosniaks and Serb separatists, who fought under the flag of the Republika Srpska, agree to a single sovereign state.

But in what The Washington Post described as “a complex compromise”, this state was divided into two parts: the largely Serb-populated Republika Srpska and mainly Croat-Bosniak-populated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The deal “reestablished Bosnia as a unified state and granted the right of return for victims of ethnic cleansing”, a move that ran contrary to the “wishes of Serb and Croat ultra-nationalists”, the paper continued.

But it also “adopted ethnic federal structures recognising Republika Srpska as a political entity with self-governing rights”, something Bosniaks opposed.

The uneasy peace has been maintained ever since. But a report by new UN High Representative Christian Schmidt last month warned that recent threats by Bosnian Serb leader Dodik to “pull out of state-level institutions”, including the multi-ethnic national army, “is tantamount to secession without proclaiming it”.

The suggestion that Serbs could form their own military “endangers not only the peace and stability of the country and the region, but – if unanswered by the international community – could lead to the undoing of the [Dayton] agreement itself”, Schmidt wrote in his first report since becoming Bosnian overseer.

A splintering of the military “into two or more armies” would mean “the level of international military presence would require reassessment”, he added.

“A lack of response to the current situation would endanger the [Dayton Accord], while instability in BiH would have wider regional implications.”


‘Shopping spree’


Schmidt’s report came shortly after Bosnian Serb police held what they described as an “anti-terrorist” drill just outside the capital Sarajevo. The move was “seen by many as another provocation by the Serb separatist leadership”, reported Al Jazeera.

The exercise took place on 22 October in a ski resort at Mount Jahorina, an “area from where the Bosnian Serb military relentlessly shelled and sniped Sarajevo” during the conflict three decades ago.

The drill “involved armoured vehicles, helicopters, and special police force personnel in camouflage uniforms and armed with assault rifles”, the broadcaster added, and prompted the EU peacekeeping force that has remained in the country since the 1990s to deploy “an aircraft to monitor the exercise”.

Former Republika Srpska president Dodik “is conducting a reckless but illuminating political experiment”, said Balkan Insight.

The Serb ultra-nationalist appears to be “on a step-by-step campaign to unravel the Bosnian state, dismantle its institutions, and to realise long-stated desires for the secession of the Serb-led entity”, the news site added. “At the current rate, he may yet declare the Republika Srpska formal independence in due course.”

A “frequent genocide denier”, Dodik’s political ambition is “to secede from the Bosnian state, having rid it of its Muslim population, and join with next-door Belgrade to form a ‘Greater Serbia’”, according to Hamza Karcic, a professor in the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Sarajevo.

In an opinion piece for Haaretz, Karcic wrote that as part of his bid to achieve this goal, which “informed the wartime Serb leaders as well”, Dodik is “establishing closer links with Russia, and positioning himself as the supreme centre of political gravity in Republika Srpska”.

He is in effect “attempting to force the failure of the Bosnian state”, the academic added.

During the 1990s, ethnic Serbs forces in Bosnia were supported by both Russia and the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosovic. And as tensions rise again, concern is mounting over a recent “shopping spree for weapons” by the Serbian government, The Economist said.

Former Yugoslavian states are worried that Serbia’s army is “rising from the ashes”, having “decayed” following multiple conflicts in the 1990s, the paper reported.

“If Serbia were merely modernising its armed forces, no one would mind.” But given Bosnia’s “political turmoil”, the spending has “set off alarms”.


‘Gordian knot’


Serb leaders in Bosnia are “playing with fire”, according to Der Spiegel. Dodik is continually “stoking nationalist flames” through a series of moves that have put the country on “a dangerous path in an explosive region”.

Bosnia “remains an ethnic patchwork” and “a complicated political construct”, said the German magazine. So the ongoing threat to the Dayton Accords has prompted fears over whether Europe is “prepared for a potential outbreak of violence”.

In The Times, former Conservative leader William Hague warned that the western countries which took so long to decide in favour of intervention in the 1990s must “face down” the rising danger as “simmering ethnic tensions in Bosnia will plunge Europe into crisis”.

“History has shown many times that we neglect the western Balkans at our peril,” he said. “The collapse in Afghanistan indicates what happens when the West loses heart and exhausts its attention span”.

“The same cannot be allowed to happen within the continent of Europe.”

The UN Security Council voted earlier this month to renew the mandates of the remaining EU peacekeeping force and Nato’s Sarajevo base, both of which Russia had “threatened to block”, The Guardian reported.

But Bosnia has “long been Europe’s Gordian knot”, Der Spiegel said. The country was the site where “an ethnic Serb once shot and killed the Austrian heir apparent, sparking the spiral of violence that would become World War One”.

And now the region “will likely determine if lasting peace in the heart of Europe is possible”.