Bosnia is the latest to fall for the ‘Balkan Spring’

Written by: Cate Gillon, CNN The last time Slovenia and Montenegro were independent, the Soviet Union was still around and there was a Cold War. Now, after their declaration of independence in 2004, the…

Bosnia is the latest to fall for the 'Balkan Spring'

Written by: Cate Gillon, CNN

The last time Slovenia and Montenegro were independent, the Soviet Union was still around and there was a Cold War. Now, after their declaration of independence in 2004, the two countries are set to merge back into the federal structure of their former Yugoslavia.

They’re the most recent additions to the group of 12 countries in the Balkans which also includes Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Croatia. And they’re the ones who arguably most worry European Union member states as they become a key focus of efforts to protect the region from renewed separatist tensions.

“I’m afraid there will be more such movements. In Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, there was a referendum in favor of separation last year. Now if you go to Kosovo, the movement there is going faster,” said Robert Martens, vice president of the Association of EU Northern Balkan Countries. “And if you get to Bosnia and Herzegovina now, the differences between the parties between Serbs and Croats are becoming more acute every day.”

Those divisions were confirmed this week when the Serbian Parliament voted to authorize President Aleksandar Vucic to dissolve Bosnia and Herzegovina. That amounts to a legal green light to start preparing for a referendum vote that could lead to secession from the union.

A ‘shocker’

The latest referendum was widely seen as a shocker. But the biggest shock came in 2017 when Bosnia overwhelmingly voted to re-join Serbia.

“Both in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, clearly the people are making a choice to be part of the union and they want to be part of the EU,” said Martens.

The independence movement was revived in 1998 as the more moderate federal government looked set to become irrelevant to the growing conflicts in the Balkans.

But Bosnia’s efforts to become a neutral third country, led by the Republic of Srpska, ran into trouble when it gained recognition as a separate country by Russia in 2011. Serbia, which pledged allegiance to the treaty and was condemned by EU members like Germany, had to quickly backtrack and stick to the federal structure.

The country still remains under international rule, and yet many within the region still see it as the most stable option for its citizens. The Serbs who make up the majority of the electorate in Bosnia’s northern region even voted to re-employ the peace agreement, in defiance of the constitutional court.

Marwa Zyadka, a PhD candidate in the city of Tuzla, said that this week’s developments might be seen as divisive and provocative. But she said that the “appealing” arguments on the nationalists’ side give people a political option at a time when things look really grim.

“It was great to experience Bosnia and Herzegovina becoming independent. I feel really happy and proud that our country is now very strong,” she said. “But still … there are a lot of negative feelings in the country which are feeling the warm sun.”

Deciding where to draw the line between secession and integration is a tricky one, she said. On one hand, everyone wants stability — but on the other, the nation is at a tipping point. “If people were to go and choose to be outside and say ‘no, we’re not happy,’ what would be their solution?”

“Maybe they would want to get their own state but with strong federal institutions… and this is the territory which we always wanted as our own,” she said.

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