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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started her two-day Balkan tour in Sarajevo on Tuesday by issuing a fresh call for Bosnia’s centralization. She urged “reforms that would improve key services, attract more foreign investment, and make the government more functional and accountable.” Hatreds have eased, she went on, “but nationalism persists. Meanwhile the promise of greater stability and opportunity—represented by integration into Europe—remains out of reach.”
Mrs. Clinton’s performance amounted to yet another coded demand for the abolition of the Republika Srpska, the autonomous Serb republic covering 49% of Bosnia—and the assertion of Muslim (“Bosniak”) dominance in a “reformed” (that is, unitarized) Bosnia-Herzegovina. She treats the Balkans as one of the few spots in the world where she can assert her credibility by postulating a maximalist set of objectives and insisting on their fulfillment. She is greatly helped in that task by the fact that the regime of Boris Tadic in Belgrade has capitulated to Brussels and Washington on all fronts, from accepting the fait accompli of Kosovo’s secession to imposing the degrading farce of a ‘gay pride parade’ on its long-suffering people.
Like a dog returning to lap up its own vomit, Hillary Clinton just cannot let go of Bosnia, a place she fundamentally misunderstands and treats as an "imagined community." And yet this figment is so important to her that during the primaries in 2008 she repeatedly invoked embellished memories of a “dangerous” trip to Bosnia in 1996, when she was supposedly threatened by Serb sniper fire at Tuzla airport—although the war had ended six months earlier, and video footage shows smiling schoolchildren greeting her in Tuzla. The same obsession was evident in her Senate hearing in January 2009, when she declared she was committed to wrapping up what she called ‘the unfinished business in the Balkans.’ The same fixation was manifested in her Tuesday call on Serbs, Muslims and Croats “to put country ahead of ethnicity.”
Mrs. Clinton’s Sarajevo speech is the latest in a long series of attempts by the Department of State under her guidance to meddle in Bosnian affairs. Exactly a year ago her Deputy, James Steinberg, came to Sarajevo with a set of proposals for constitutional reform. The news was hyped in the Western media as the imminent remaking of Dayton. Even the location chosen for the talks—a NATO military base at Butmir near Sarajevo—echoed the events of November 1995, when the Bosnian war was ended at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton. The Serbs unsurprisingly rejected these proposals because they would have stripped them of the remaining elements of self-rule that were first guaranteed by the Dayton agreement. The failure of this attempt, one of many, to reduce the Republika Srpska to an empty shell devoid of self-rule did not stop Mrs. Clinton’s officials from taking of a “Butmir Process,” which would presumably lead to a “functional” government. In reality there was no such “process” at all.
A reasonable observer might have hoped that the outcome of last week’s elections—the results of which were tantamount, yet again, to an ethnic census—might finally convince Washington that no arrangement can be good for Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole unless it is good for each of its three constituent peoples. Yet Mrs. Clinton refuses to allow this reality to blur her “vision,” which is built on the self-defeating notion that the U.S. needs to be be seen, and perhaps even appreciated, in the Islamic world as the champion of Muslim interests in Europe. Accordingly, the push from Washington for Bosnia’s “reforms” will undoubtedly continue after Mrs. Clinton’s visit, which is unfortunate. That push is a major obstacle to the lasting stabilization of the area known as Western Balkans in general, and of Bosnia-Herzegovina in particular. It is but a codeword for establishing what in effect what would be a Muslim-dominated unitary state—in a majority-Christian country!—and amounting to the end of the RS in fact if not in name.
In addition to being certain to re-ignite old animosities that caused the war of 1992-1995, Mrs. Clinton’s claim that Bosnia’s constitutional arrangements are detrimental to European integration is at odds with the strong trend towards devolution, self-rule, and decentralization in some of the world’s most stable democracies—from Belgium to the Basque Country, from Scotland to Catalonia. It is also at odds with the Western demand that Serbia grants its northern province of Vojvodina the level of autonomy which is frowned upon when it is demanded from Banja Luka, the RS capital in Bosnia.
Whatever the defects of Dayton, the essential fact is that for over 14 years Serbs, Croats and Muslims living in Bosnia-Herzegovina have not been killing each other. Nothing should be done that risks a new confrontation among Bosnia’s communities and possibly reigniting the horrors of the 1990s. With all that America has on its plate today, at home and abroad, it is ill advised to trigger an optional crisis. What is really impeding Bosnia’s progress is not “nationalism” but heavy-handed international bureaucracy and excessive foreign meddling in local affairs. Such meddling is detrimental to the spontaneous growth of democratic institutions. Going a step beyond and imposing centralization would be a gross violation of democracy, law, and logic.
Fifteen years after Dayton, an old question remains unanswered by Mrs. Clinton and other advocates of unitary Bosnia: If Yugoslavia was untenable, and eventually collapsed under the weight of the supposedly insurmountable differences among its constituent nations, how can Bosnia-Herzegovina—the Yugoslav microcosm par excellence—develop and sustain the dynamics of a viable polity, let alone a centralized and unitary state?
Today, Bosnia is not much of a problem, and in any event it is Europe’s problem, not America’s: Bosnia’s future is integration with its immediate and regional neighbors. There are many responsible European officials who privately admit that they do not want Washington charging in and upsetting the applecart, especially since they would have to cope with the consequences. Furthermore, with no end in sight for America’s many foreign quagmires from Mesopotamia and Hindukush to the 38th parallel and beyond, and no end in sight for its ongoing economic, financial, and social-cultural decline, the United States does not have the resources to police and subsidize yet another stepchild "nation-building" project.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and the rest of the Balkans have suffered a lot through history, almost invariably due to some distant powers’ ambitions and policies. They deserve to be left well alone. Hillary, go home!
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