SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (CN) – All too often, the people of Sarajevo, a city marked by wars, talk as though another war is not an impossibility. Heightening concerns are general elections in Bosnia on Sunday and the likelihood of a messy outcome.
Twenty-three years after the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, and armed conflict in Bosnia ended, there's a sense of potential danger hanging over this fragile region.
This historically volatile peninsula, experts warn, could unravel again due to a number of factors. Among them: old ethnic rifts, the West vying with Russia for influence, a rise in nationalism and Muslim extremism, ineffective European Union and US diplomacy, widespread corruption, economic turmoil, a brain drain of young people, and legal and political problems created by the Dayton accord.
“Peace is not certain here in Bosnia,” said Nihad Čolpa, the 35-year-old leader of the Civil Alliance, a small liberal political party in Bosnia, as he sat at an outdoor cafe and spoke with a Courthouse News reporter on a recent afternoon. One by one, he ticked off a list of problems that threatened the stability of the Balkans and Bosnia.
Asked if entry into the European Union might resolve many of Bosnia-Herzegovina's problems, Čolpa shook his head.
“I think Bosnia will never join the EU,” he said. “I don’t think Europe wants a Muslim country in the midst of Europe.”
Others too warn of possible conflict brewing.
“The risk of renewed violence and political instability is growing in the Balkans,” Daniel Serwer, a Middle East Institute scholar and former US diplomat in the Balkans, warned in a November 2017 report for the Council on Foreign Relations, a US foreign policy think tank. He urged more US involvement in the region.
Serwer did not reply to a message seeking comment, but he continues to cite his 2017 report as a summary of the region’s problems and a road map to potential solutions. He said peace agreements are “fraying” and could “unravel.”
In the report, Serwer said the United States has “passed the baton” to Europe, but that the EU has proven to be “distracted, disunited, and hesitant.”
It’s hard to imagine this city being plunged into conflict again.
In its city center, Sarajevo is busy with glitzy shopping malls and a downtown that bustles with tourists in the summer. Life seems to be ticking along well enough, and the horrors of war a thing of the past.
But it’s an unsettling geopolitical period in the Balkans that has people like Čolpa worried.
A look across the map of the Balkans is a study in friction.
There are concerns about renewed violence in Kosovo between Serbs and ethnic Albanians. Kosovo broke away from Serbia in 1998 and war ensued between Belgrade and NATO and Kosovar rebel forces. Serbia and its ally Russia still do not recognize Kosovo as independent.
One idea for cementing peace in Kosovo has been a proposal to redraw Kosovo's boundaries: The Serb-inhabited northern parts would become part of Serbia and in exchange Belgrade would allow the mostly ethnic-Albanian Preševo Valley to join Kosovo. Tentatively, the United States and the EU have backed the plan.