The Balkans and the South Caucasus searching for integration

David Stepanyan, Yerevan-Sarajevo-Mostar-Srebrennitsa-Banja-Luka-Prijedor-Yerevan. Exclusive to Vestnik Kavkaza

In late March the international organization International Alert organized an information-gathering visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina for ten Armenian and Azerbaijani journalists. They visited Sarajevo, Mostar, Srebrennitsa, Banja-Luka, and Prijedor where they learnt about peacemaking ways and post-military political dynamics. Journalists from the Caucasus which is crossed by numerous borders were interested in the experience and practice of peaceful living of the sides of the Bosnian conflict 1992-1995, which resulted in the deaths of 100 thousand people. 500 thousand were injured, the number of refugees surpassed 1.5 million; almost the whole infrastructure and economy of B&H were destroyed.

Bosnia used to have a great military-strategic importance in due time because the major enterprises of the Yugoslavian military-industrial complex were situated in its territory. However, the collapse of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian war killed B&H prosperity and destroyed the future of the country. Dayton Agreement imposed on the sides of the conflict by the USA required that the society of formally integrated Bosnia was divided into three parts: the Serbian, the Croatian, and the Muslim one. Officially B&H is the republic which consists of the Serbian Republic and the Muslim Croatian Federation which is divided into 10 cantons. There are positive moments in the Serbian Republic, which is explained by presence of the Russian companies producing oil. However in the Federation the situation is different. According to local citizens, the industry of this area consists of milk, beer, or cigarettes producing enterprises. Political instability makes foreign investment into Bosnia impossible; but the economy half-destroyed by war cannot recover without it. There are a lot of spheres for investment in the republic – the country is still a transit way which connects Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia. The republic is full of thousands of small and big rivers, which makes B&H a hydro energy rich country.

It is interesting that neighboring countries which previously stood for division of Bosnia do not strive for welcoming its parts. According to the leader of the opposition Democratic Progress Party, the former Premier of the SR Mladen Ivanic, about 70% of the Serbian Reublic would like to be a part of Serbia today. However, Serbia doesn’t share this intention by its compatriots. At the best case only a half of Serbia’s residents wants to see the SR a part of Serbia.

According to Croatian residents of B&H the same situation is about Croatia. Thus, integration of B&H’s parts at the regional level with Serbia and Croatia is impossible today, despite the fact that Zagreb and Belgrade’s desire to divide the country was one of the reasons for the Bosnian war. Regarding Muslims, they have no one to integrate with in the post-Yugoslavian territory.

Striving for integration which is aimed at reaching a progress in B&H economy was stated either by Croatians or by Serbians or Muslims during our meetings. In this situation the only direction for Bosnia’s residents remains the European Union, moreover, B&H is situated within modern Europe. The impossibility of taking economy away from recession by their own forces, small average incomes, and very dim future of Bosnia which is de facto supervised by international society and is de jure independent make joining the EU inevitable. At the same time, Europe is not excited about welcoming a new member.

Numerous Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian politicians do not want to agree with each other. They prefer to accuse each other of various sins and complain to the High Representative of International Society Valentin Intsko. At the same time, both the SR and the Federation heavily criticize Intsko. One Bosnian told me that the withdrawal of Intsko’s institute would be the best reason for a dialogue between political forces of the country because there would be no one to complain to. So, they would have to negotiate…

The prospects and mechanisms of European integration are interesting; Bosnia will undergo it sooner or later. Armenia, Azerbaijan, and even Georgia suffer from presence of borderlines. For 22 years neither Baku nor Yerevan nor Tbilisi has thought about missed benefits which could be provided by regional integration. The Customs Union with participation of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan seems to be a mechanism for mutual trust between the three countries. It is Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens’ achievement that there are no borders between them. They understood that ethnic fighting was not prospective. Ethnic groups of B&H, who hated and murdered each other yesterday, live peacefully today - this is the best example for the countries of the South Caucasus.