A Serbian nationalist lights a match in the tinderbox of Bosnia


It was in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, that a young Serb nationalist sparked World War I with the assassination of an Austrian Archduke in June 1914, and where the apparently deranged skirmishes of the Serbian psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic heralded a three-year bloodletting in the 1990s. These Balkan wars killed around 140,000 people, attracted NATO warplanes and soldiers, and created a rift between Russia and the West that continues to this day.

Now the United States and the European Union, which Bosnia wants to join, are desperately trying to prevent the new crisis from escalating into conflict or the creation of a political instability that Russia could take advantage of. Russia, which wants to prevent Bosnia from joining the bloc or NATO, is already on Mr Dodik’s side.

Tensions in Bosnia have their roots in the 1995 Dayton Peace Accords brokered by the United States. The deal ended the fighting but created a sophisticated and highly dysfunctional political system with a weak central authority in which power was shared by different ethnic groups. The trio of presidents elected are Mr. Dodik, who represents Serbs, Mr. Dzaferovic, who represents Bosnian Muslims known as Bosniaks, and Zeljko Komsic, an ethnic Croat.

Mr Dodik has spoken about Serbian secession for more than a decade, but has never caused such a volatile crisis before. ONE October report by the United Nations Senior Official in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt from Germany, described the situation as the “greatest existential threat” to the country’s survival since the early 1990s.

Mr Schmidt downplayed the risk of a return to bloodletting in a recent interview, saying he expected Mr Dodik to reverse his threat to form his own ethnic Serb army.

For many Bosnians, however, fear is on the rise again.

When Mr. Schmidt met in mid-December with students from a vocational school in Tuzla, a city where the different ethnic groups of Bosnia rarely live together harmoniously, he was repeatedly asked what he was doing to prevent a return to war.


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