22 C
Friday, September 22, 2023

What is ‘being cooked up’ in the Balkans?

By Álvaro Peñas

On 28 February, Slovenia’s then prime minister, the conservative Janez Janša, claimed that the fall of Ukraine could trigger a domino effect, noting that Moldova, Georgia, and probably the Baltic states would be next, and warned of “things being cooked up” in the Western Balkans. Just two months later, Janša lost the election to Robert Golob, a Green-Liberal candidate with a party created in January and backed by Brussels progressives and, curiously, the Kremlin’s friends in Slovenia. “Unfortunately, some strong politicians, decorated with Putin’s medals, are trying to push Slovenia back into the Russian sphere of influence… We see a strong involvement in Slovenian politics of some interest groups linked to Russian companies (Gazprom, Yandex, etc.),” Janša wrote before the elections that have given the power to the left. But what was the veteran conservative politician referring to, and what is “being cooked up” in the Balkans?

According to Bogdan Sajovic, international editor of the Slovenian weekly Demokracija, the problem lies in Bosnia and Herzegovina: “Tensions seem to be rising. As I understand it, the Serb community is unhappy because some twenty years ago it transferred, like Bosniacs and Croats, certain powers (over the armed forces, judiciary, and taxation) to the federal government and now they want to return these powers to their community. The other two communities accuse the Serbs of wanting to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Serbs, for their part, claim they are being repressed. So there is a certain possibility of conflict, even armed conflict”. As Sajovic points out, Milorad Dodik, the leader of Republika Srpska, declared in November last year his intention to remove Bosnian Serbs from the army, intelligence services, judiciary, and tax administration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. On 10 December, the Republika Srpska parliament gave the Bosnian Serb government six months to implement the departure of these institutions, and in February an independent judiciary was created. “Bosnia and Herzegovina has failed,” Dodik said.

On 21 April, a delegation from the European Parliament’s Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group paid an official visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Among those present was VOX MP Hermann Tertsch, who wrote the following on Twitter: “Bosnia-Herzegovina turned into a subsidised and supervised administrative patchwork, is one of the most corrupt states in the world and devours 78% of its budget in administrative running costs. The historical parties of the three ethnic groups manage and live off the rot. In October, elections will be held without electoral reform, the crisis is on the cards and a catastrophe is looming. Russia and China are advancing in the Balkans and the entire legal framework of Bosnia-Herzegovina is to be reviewed in the UN Security Council, with Ukraine at war. There is tinder for an inferno.

Marko Milanović Litre MEP of the Croatian Sovereignists was one of the organisers of the visit, which was also attended by representatives of Fratelli d’Italia and Poland’s Law and Justice. Mr. Litre agrees with the Spanish MEP’s analysis: “With the war raging in Ukraine, we should all be aware that the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina should receive more attention from the international community”. Corruption, lack of administrative reform, and a fair and equitable electoral system in which all three constituent peoples are represented, coupled with the Serb secessionist movement and Bosnian unitarism, could drag Bosnia and Herzegovina into the conflict: “We can see Russia’s influence in Republika Srpska and it is not out of the question that Russia will try to focus attention on the problems, or potentially create new ones, in Bosnia and Herzegovina to downplay its losses in Ukraine. Russia has done absolutely nothing to have the high reputation it enjoys in Republika Srpska, but the ideology of its leaders is almost identical. The Bosnian side is under the influence of Turkish interests, and the Croats are abandoned to patronage and weak support from the Croatian government. Without a constitutional election and administrative reform, Bosnia and Herzegovina will be plunged into an electoral crisis that will lead to increased Russian influence in the Western Balkans.

The situation is also viewed with concern in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although other culprits are being blamed. Bosnian historian Omer Hamzic sums it up: “In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the situation is quite bad. Everything started to deteriorate very badly even before the Russian aggression against Ukraine. This is a direct consequence of the increased pressure from Belgrade and Zagreb, which has been continuously applied since Dayton, and their aspirations to weaken Bosnia and Herzegovina as much as possible as a state, with the ultimate goal of dividing it. This ‘frozen’ conflict situation has been further complicated by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. This aggression is openly or covertly supported by Croatia and Serbia, and their political satellites in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Milorad Dodik and Dragan Covic”. It is a different approach that repeats the term “conflict”.

In Serbia, the population has been vocal in its support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (the memory of NATO’s bombing of Belgrade is vivid) and its government has refused to back international sanctions or criticise Russia’s actions. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who renewed his mandate on 3 April, maintains close relations with Russia and China on important issues such as defence. In 2019, Serbia surpassed Croatia’s military spending, in NATO and also modernising its military, with a 43 percent increase over the previous year. Spending has been rising steadily and last year was double the 2018 figure. At a military maneuver in June 2021, Vucic said the Serbian army was “five times stronger” than it was years ago and announced that it would increase dramatically in the next nine months.

Russia and Belarus have supplied Serbia with MiG-29 fighter jets and anti-aircraft missiles worth $640 million. However, China is becoming Serbia’s largest arms supplier. On 9 April, six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes landed in Belgrade with ‘regular military supplies’. In an operation that, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, “has nothing to do with the current situation”. Its cargo was modern HQ-22 surface-to-air missiles, which the Serbian military publicly unveiled on 1 May. China has also supplied drones to Belgrade.

Rearmament, ethnic tensions, and the unstable situation created by the war in Ukraine could reignite the fire in the Balkans. Until now the most likely focus, or at least the one most pointed to by international analysts, was a renewed conflict in Kosovo, whose government has applied for NATO membership and offered a permanent base to the United States. However, the very possible disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina could reignite the bloody war that took place thirty years ago. In the new multipolar world, anything is possible.

Source: El Correo de España


Latest news

Related news