Bistrik

The picture below is my new blog icon.

Bistrik

Bistrik is an old, quiet neighborhood in Sarajevo full of kids playing soccer, tiny stone mosques and old guesthouses. I stayed in a creaky Bistrik guesthouse my first night in Sarajevo. The owner was a woman who spoke no English and fussed over me like I was her own child. I think back on her, and Bistrik, so fondly now.

Interesting things

The Migrant Express – Four days through Central Asia on the crowded Dushanbe to Moscow train. This tender, humane seven-part RFE_RL documentary explores the social and economic consequences of Tajiks migrating to Russia for work.

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Via the CPJ Blog – Afghan journalists are finally speaking with one voice, and are calling for a full investigation into the death of New York Times journalist Sultan Munadi and compensation for Munadi’s family.

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Also on the CPJ Blog – An Iraqi journalist finds refuge in Phoenix, Arizona, but struggles to find work. Eventually, his persistence pays off …he gets a job at Red Lobster.

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Kevin Heller blogs about the inevitable attacks on the Goldstone Commission, and the Goldstone-bashers respond in the comments.

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The slow march of justice in the former Yugoslavia continues. Four former members of the Bosnian Army have been arrested on suspicion of participating in war-time crimes against Bosnian Croats in a village in Herzegovina. Meanwhile, the ICTY trial of Radovan Karadzic is set to begin October 19th.

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The author of this article about expat snobbery and ignorance in Bosnia is someone I know personally, and we were part of the same large social circle in Sarajevo. He makes some important, if painful, points about how things work in the international organizations. However, I do think he exaggerates the extent to which young expats isolate themselves and eschew discovering all that is great about Bosnia. (Older, more mercenary expats are a different story.)  Also, the line, “the foreigners lecturing Bosnia have a fair amount of trouble mustering the necessary vocabulary to order a beer at a local bar” is a tad ridiculous. That’s the first phrase every expat learns.

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From the “things that make me ashamed of my country” files or, alternately, “America’s shitty domestic human rights record”: in eight states and the District of Columbia, many insurance companies consider being a victim of domestic violence a “pre-existing condition,” and thus grounds for denying coverage. Jillian Hewitt at Feministe is spot-on when she writes: “This is so ridiculous that it may make my post seem obvious or unnecessary, but I think it makes it all the more essential to talk about. This is not a controversial talking point; it does not even seem like a political one to me—this is about humanity. Or inhumanity, as it were.”

A different view on BiH and the EU’s visa free regime

Florian Bieber:

The EU has to insist on countries fulfilling the requirements it sets. It has been weak for some (which were arguably bad conditions), but if it relents just to be ‘nice’ to a country or to not leave anybody behind, why would any politician pass any necessary law anymore? Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms. Not including all countries at the same time does not mean leaving them behind. If Slovakia had not been lagging behind in the 1990s, there would have been no pressure to get rid of Vladimir Meciar and to begin serious reforms. Had been Slovakia given an easy ride early on, it probably would have been left behind at the end.

One argument put forth in the debate has been that it is mostly Bosniaks who would be left out from visa free travel and Croats already have Croatian passports and Serbs can or have Serbian passports. This is, however, as demagogic argument. First, Croatian passport holders are uneffected, so there is no change there. Second, there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. According to a report in Danas, only 2,557 Bosnian citizens also have a Serbian passport. While this might be underestimating the real number of double citizens, there is little evidence to suggest that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports. Finally, if Serbia were to provide easy access to Bosnian Serbs, the EC could easily impose similar limitations to Serbian passport holders from Bosnia as there will be for Serbian passport holders from Kosovo.

In a heated facebook debate started by one of my Bosnian friends in response to Bieber’s article (this friend agreed with Bieber), another Bosnian wrote:

This article states: “Lowering conditions and requirements would hurt citizens across the region, not least in BiH–not in regard to visa free travel, but in regard to other reforms” Are we talking about the same principle of conditions and requirements Turkey cannot fulfill for decades, but do not apply for Bulgaria and Romania. Second argument I find at least disturbing here is “First, Croatian passport holders are unaffected, so there is no change there.” Excuse me? That’s like saying there is no discrimination because we gave special privileges to a certain group long time ago.

What disturbs me the most is the claim that “there is little evidence that Bosnian Serbs have easy access to Serbian passports.” Does this person know that the Consulate of the Republic of Serbia was recently opened in Banja Luka with much publicity and the first person to receive the passport was the Prime Minister of the Republika Srpska. You do not have to be a PR expert to see that this was an open call for the citizens of Republika Srpska to stop by and get their passports. The only requirement was to declare Serbia as your homeland.

Would dropping the entry requirements for Bosnia be the least worst course of action — a way to ameliorate the feeling of injustice felt by the half of BiH’s population unable to obtain other passports, and pave the way for better relations between states in the region? Or would it put another dent in the EU’s already damaged ability to enforce  conditions evenly on states seeking accession? The latter could actually end up hurting the chances of Balkan states joining the union in the future, even if it led to short term gains, like inclusion in the visa free regime.

I’m not sure where I stand on this anymore.

Odds and ends

The Afghan parliament is revising the country’s marriage law, and not in woman-friendly ways, according to AlterNet:

The Afghan parliament is expected to soon approve revisions to its marriage law that will do very little in the way of improving women’s rights. Despite recent demands that the country radically rework its policies on issues such as polygamy and a woman’s right to work, Afghanistan’s government is signaling a continued adherence to regressive traditions.

In a recent letter to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, activists said, “slight changes in the wordings of the law, rather than changes in content,” have rendered the revisions ineffectual.

Additionally, Shinkai Kharokhel, a lawmaker involved in the legislation, told the Associated Press on July 14 that the law’s revisions do little more than uphold structural inequalities in the country. She said many Afghan women “are illiterate, and they don’t have financial security and no one will give her money … shelter, medical, food, all these expenses belong to the man, and he can hold that back.”

What is perhaps most unfortunate among the “revisions” is the Afghan government’s failure to erase a law that calls on women to engage in sex with their husbands at least every four days. Although the proposed revisions do eliminate a time frame for sexual requirements, they still allow a man to withhold financial support for his wife if she refuses to “submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment,” Human Rights Watch has reported.

“[...] submit to her husband’s reasonable sexual enjoyment”?

That’s grim stuff. Here’s hoping MP Kharokhel and other progressive MPs make more of a dent in this law.

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While we’re on the topic of misogyny and sexism, my landlord busted out the following gem two nights ago when I complained about sexual harassment of women on the streets of my city.

“You know the Bloodhound Gang song ‘Street Legal Whore’? Well, that describes most women your age. Take it [the harassment] as a compliment. Pretty soon you’ll be too old for it.”

Needless to say, I’m moving out at the end of the summer. I’d move out sooner, but can’t afford to.

(Oh, and that foul Bloodhound Gang song is actually titled “I’m the Least You Could Do.”)

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I have nothing but contempt for Jeff Sessions.

Via Human Rights Now:

Yesterday the Senate passed four amendments to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including a provision that would allow the death penalty to apply to hate crimes.  This amendment, added by Senator Jeff Sessions, R, AL (a vocal opponent of the Act itself), adds nothing to the justice the bill seeks for victims of gender and sexuality-based hate crimes.

The point Sessions was trying to convey is something like “If you’re going to pass legislation that discourages people from committing crimes against members of groups I resent the very existence of, I’m going to bundle that legislation with a big, fat human rights violation! How’d ya like that?”

My mind, it boggles.

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It's almost time for the Sarajevo Film Festival (pictured: posters from the 2007 SFF)

It's almost time for the Sarajevo Film Festival (pictured: posters from the 2007 SFF)

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afghanstarMy ex-boyfriend and I are going to see Afghan Star this weekend. I’m excited. Here’s the trailer.

What international justice looks like

Former paramilitaries Milan and Sredoje Lukic were sentenced to life and 30 years imprisonment, respectively, by the ICTY.

The cousins were found guilty of burning alive 130 civilians –most of them women, children and elderly men– near the Bosnian town in Visegrad in 1992, murdering an additional 12 civilian men, and beating prisoners in a detention camp.

According to the BBC:

Judge Patrick Robinson, reading his verdict, said: “The perpetration by Milan Lukic and Stredoje Lukic of crimes in this case is characterised by a callous and vicious disregard for human life.”

The burning alive of Muslims, he said, was extraordinarily brutal, and “exemplified the worst acts of humanity that one person may inflict on others”.

You can watch a video of the verdict here.

Sir, in Sarajevo, you’d be decked by passersby for that

Today, as has happened far too many times since I moved to this city, I was harassed at my bus stop. This time, a guy in a Ghostbusters t-shirt reached his fleshy paw of a hand out, stupid grin on his face, and grabbed for my chest.

(Hey, asshole!  I don’t exist for your personal amusement, and just because I have tattoos does not mean I am a display item, or ok with random strangers putting their hands on my body.)

Where do I enlist?

Where do I enlist?

Shit like that makes me really miss Sarajevo, where Ghostbusters dude would have been decked by the nearest male passerby for doing something so incredibly inappropriate and socially unacceptable, and probably pummeled and/or kicked with spiky heels by a passing group of women as well.

One of my male Bosnian friends once put it to me this way, “If a guy did something rude to a girl, whether she was foreign or local, he’d be taken outside and beaten a bit by his friends –for his own good.”

One of the many great things about Sarajevo, in sharp contrast to my current city in Rust Belt U.S.A., was that,  as a woman, I could wear whatever I wanted without having to worry about being grabbed, called offensive names or followed by strange men on the street. In Sarajevo, even the leering was kept to a minimum.

This was one of the primary reasons I started clubbing so much during my time in Bosnia. I felt safe, and in control of my personal space. My experiences with clubs prior to working in Bosnia were uniformly bad.

In the United States, I found guys at clubs –the few times I went clubbing in the U.S.– to be disrespectful, vulgar, and so horny they really shouldn’t have been in public.

Australia and Western Europe were no better. When I pulled away from a guy who grabbed me from behind at a nightclub in Brussels, the repugnant shit-for-brains scratched me so hard on my right hip that he drew blood. That same night, one of my friends was kicked in the back by a drunk dude outside the club.

Never once did anything remotely similar happen to me or any of my female friends in Bosnia. Sarajevo guys are the most respectful I’ve met anywhere in the world thus far. Nowhere else have I been to clubs where guys actually talk to you, try to learn your name, find out where you’re from and what you’re doing in town, before they so much as try to shake your hand, nevermind pull you onto the dance floor.

In fact, none of the lecherous people I knew in Bosnia were from Bosnia. They were all expats.

Every time I think twice about wearing my favourite little black sundress in public, I chuckle bitterly. I bought that dress on Ferhadija two summers ago.

Ok, so maybe that was a bad idea

No guide to Sarajevo for now. Too many angry comments. Ouch, people. I’m sorry I didn’t mention your favourite restaurant, or you thought I dissed your favourite food (I am not a foodie, and never claimed to be one), or  I left out the Sarajevo Film Festival (actually, if you read this blog regularly, you’d know that I’ve mentioned the Film Festival before, that’s why I left it out in the guide.)

I didn’t mention Banja Luka and Mostar because… I didn’t live in Banja Luka or Mostar, and I don’t know them well enough to advise anyone on adjusting. Ditto for Tuzla, Zenica, Doboj, Trebinje, and the others. I lived in Sarajevo, and only Sarajevo. 

The RS wasn’t mentioned in the post (expect implicitly in my mention of the Tara River) only because I spent most of my time in the FBiH. I thought about mentioning more attractions (yes, like Kozara National Park) but the post was long as it was. If you want a comprehensive guide to BiH, buy a guidebook. There are many good ones. I recommend the Brandt guide by Tim Clancy.

So, here’s the deal: instead of a guide, just ask me for advice if you need it and I’ll see if I can send you in the right direction.

And calm down. I wasn’t trying to insult anyone. What I wrote was based on the content of many emails I’ve gotten from people asking about life in Sarajevo. Some of the questions might seem dumb to you, but they are nonetheless standard questions people ask if they’ve never been to Bosnia before.

Expats, get a grip. I wasn’t claiming to be better than anyone else –I often behaved just as badly as everyone else.  The things I wrote were based on reality, and you damn well know it.  I’ve seen your photo albums on facebook, and some of you have seen mine, so let’s cut the bullshit.

A few things

Inspired by Devon Whittle’s Arusha guides for ICTR interns, I am working on a guide to living in Sarajevo as an intern, UNV, or just poorly paid NGO staffer. My guide will be a fully revised and blog-ified version of a short document I put together for my successor near the end of my time in Bosnia. I was going to post the guide last night, but I have decided to put more effort into it, polish it up a bit more.

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In offline life, I am writing something about the Democratic Republic of the Congo. When I began the piece, I had only the faintest understanding of the Second Congo War, and I feel like that hasn’t really changed. The sheer number of belligerent parties (more than twenty) and civilian deaths (between 4 and 5 million, including those who have died of disease and starvation as a result of the conflict) make my head spin. The magnitude of human suffering is dizzying. I hate “-ist” titles, but I suppose if you had to assign one to me it would be “Central Asianist” (blech!) or “Eurasianist” (blech!).  What I am definitely not is an “Africanist.”  Sometimes, I think this implies a kind of intellectual wussiness when it comes to conflicts. European and Central Asian conflicts aren’t simple by any stretch, but I get the feeling, reading about the DRC, that my Africa-focused friends at Wronging Rights and other blogs really do have to put more effort in.

And I thought the Afghan civil war was knotty. Crikey.

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Oh. Dear. God.

NBC is coming out with a new reality show called ‘The Wanted’, about pseudo-journalists entrapping accused terrorists and war criminals. I wish I was kidding.

Couldn’t they have gone for another ‘Law and Order’ spin-off  –perhaps ‘Law and Order: War Crimes Investigations’? Fiction would have been better.

Journalists are going ballistic over this, but I think the international justice set has even more reason to worry about unintended consequences.

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I’m going to lay off the haterade as far as Libertarians go for a while solely because Reason published this article.

Opponents of illegal immigration usually do little more than cite andecdotes attempting to link illegal immigration to violent crime. When they do try to use statistics, they come up short. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for example, has perpetuated the popular myth that illegal immigrants murder 12 Americans per day, and kill another 13 by driving drunk. King says his figures come from a Government Accountability Office study he requested, which found that about 27 percent of inmates in the federal prison system are non-citizens. Colorado Media Matters looked into King’s claim, and found his methodology lacking. King appears to have conjured his talking point by simply multiplying the annual number of murders and DWI fatalities in America by 27 percent. Of course, the GAO report only looked at federal prisons, not the state prisons and local jails where most convicted murderers and DWI offenders are kept. The Bureau of Justice Statistics puts the number of non-citizens (including legal immigrants) in state, local, and federal prisons and jails at about 6.4 percent (pdf). Of course, even that doesn’t mean that non-citizens account for 6.4 percent of murders and DWI fatalities, only 6.4 percent of the overall inmate population.

It’s too bad facts have never mattered to the likes of Lou Dobbs and Michelle Malkin.

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Memorial has ceased its work in Chechnya. This is equal parts sad and chilling. Oleg Orlov explained:

There is state terror in Russia.  We know about murders both inside Chechnya and elsewhere.  Those who are killed have tried to tell the truth and criticise the government.  Ramzan Kadyrov has made it impossible for human rights activists to work in Chechnya.  Natasha Estemirova’s killers wanted to put a stop to the flow of honest information from Chechnya.  Perhaps they have succeeded.

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Afghanistan needs better police, and why police reform has not been better planned and resourced boggles the mind.

“The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them and take their money,” said Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been securing for the past three days after flying in by helicopter.

He pointed to two compounds of neighbors where pre-teen children had been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys.

“If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he said. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.”

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The EU fucked up badly with this, probably more than the Commissioners understand as of yet.  The least worst thing the EU can do now, what it should do, is waive the border control requirements for Bosnia’s inclusion in the visa-free regime.

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Today, while I was walking to the grocery store, the Arcade Fire song ‘Keep the Car Running/Broken Window’ played on my ipod. It seems a fitting soundtrack to the news of late, whether you buy into the “forcibly disappeared dissident” interpretation of the lyrics or the “terrorist on the run” interpretation.

Every night my dream’s the same.
Same old city with a different name.
Men are coming to take me away.
I don’t know why but I know I can’t stay.

There’s a weight that’s pressing down.
Late at night you can hear the sound.
Even the noise you make when you sleep.
Can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, when It’s coming.

There’s a fear I keep so deep,
Knew it’s name since before I could speak:
Aaaah aaaaaah aaaaah aaaaaah
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when It’s coming

Keep the car running

If some night I don’t come home,
Please don’t think I’ve left you alone.
The same place animals go when they die,
You can’t climb across a mountain so high.
The same city where I go when I sleep,
You can’t swim across a river so deep.
They know my name ’cause I told it to them,
But they don’t know where
And they don’t know
When It’s coming, Oh! when is it coming?

Keep the car running
Keep the car running
Keep the car running

 

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This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

This photo of the Ploče train station is a perfect representation of where my life and frame of mind are at this moment.

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I still owe Michael at Humanitarian Relief a post on the crisis in refugee resettlement. I owe a lot of things to a lot of people right now.

Thoughts for the weekend

HOLY SH*T!

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Next time I come across one of those ‘Feminism Killed Romance/Chivalry/Marriage/Civilization’ pieces that seem to be so popular right now, I think I’m going to start projectile vomiting Exorcist-style.

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Dozens killed in suicide bombings: Iraq is going to pieces. I didn’t think the surge would work, but I didn’t want it to fail. On the contrary, I very much wanted to be wrong in my prediction, and I still do.

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I am disappointed that Ashraf Ghani has hired James Carville to advise him in his bid for the Afghan presidency. Carville represents all that is mercenary, cynical and deeply illiberal in American politics.

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A trusted friend sent me a very reassuring email from Sarajevo, basically telling me to chill, and that Dodik knows he has already lost, but enjoys theatrics. Despite the deadlock, we push ahead, keeping sight of larger goals that move us beyond divisive politics –that was his message. This friend of mine is his country’s future, I am convinced.

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Ann Corcoran hates refugees. And Muslims. But more than anything else, she hates vulnerable Muslim minority refugees. Iraqi Palestinians, for example. On my other blog, I wrote about this.

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I keep telling my boss that I have hope that the reformists will win out in Iran. I believe they will, and I look forward to visiting a democratic Iran some day. I want to sit in a cafe in Tehran with my peers and listen to them tell me how they forced their government to recognize them as citizens and not mere subjects, how they won.

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“The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another word for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values.”

-Jose Zalaquett, at the opening of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

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“One cannot expect morality from politicians, but one can hold them to the ethics of accountability.” -Antjie Krog. From  ‘None More Parted Than Us’ in the amazing book Country of My Skull.

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I know a lot of people think  Amnesty International letter (now email/fax) writing campaigns on behalf of prisoners of conscience are futile, but they’re not, even when the subject of the campaign remains imprisoned. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was right when she said this:

I know from the time of the GDR (East Germany) how important it was that people around the world made sure that the people stuck in (Stasi prisons) Bautzen and Hohenschoenhausen … were not forgotten. Iran must know, particularly in the age of modern communications, that we will do everything in our power to ensure that these people (arrested in Iran during the recent turmoil) are not forgotten about.

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Thinking of Bosnia, of Srebrenica, of the grim anniversary. A powerful letter by a member of Women in Black (Belgrade), translated and published here:

And my dear Senka…

I missed you…so much…yesterday in Srebrenica…Again at the place where crimes were committed in my name, in our name…
Srebrenica…every time…it is an experience that will be remembered…the physical experience above all…which can never be forgotten…it’s here again…in me…and me with her (Srebrenica).

Meeting with the Women of Srebrenica…meeting with women whose bodies have been emptied of children killed by Serbs in my, in our name…

That’s them, those are “our” women…the same ones that followed the trial of the “Scorpions” with us, the same ones who we visit in Tuzla, and the ones that we meet in Srebrenica every year…You know this best…You know…Home is where you are loved…They always welcome you with a smile in their eyes, the same eyes that will never see their loved ones again…Serbs killed them! And they always open their arms to us, the same arms that will never hold their children again…Serbs killed them! And they come to you with a pure heart and a pure soul…they hug you and kiss you and even say thank you… to us, people from a brutalized, shameful, guilty land…And then you just want to die…to be gone…to vanish…to cease to exist…

And then…after all, after you have been burned by the July sun…wearing black…when you feel so guilty that you think this is it…Srebrenica is inside you…and that, my dear Senka, is confronting the past…our feminist approach…No abstract process…and it’s not happening to someone else, someone  far away…it’s happening to us in a land of  humanity, we who live in a land deprived of its humanity.

And then I remembered you…You, my image of you, every time we would travel back together from Bosnia…that horrible…hard…weight and silence I would see in your eyes…In front of me I see a large eyeball, a mouth of stone, which gives the impression that the verdict is already there…in front of me is a stone jury…
“We are guilty…”

I love you,
Milos

Bosnia

This worries me, just as it worries my colleagues, who see some disturbing parallels with the early 1990′s.

However, there are a few very significant differences between then and now, and in those differences, I take comfort.

1 – European (EU) engagement in the region is vastly more significant politically, militarily (peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo) and economically. Furthermore, the EU is much closer. Any destabilization in Bosnia today would literally take place on the EU’s doorstep.

2 – The RS doesn’t have access to one of Europe’s largest military arsenals anymore. That’s kind of significant.

3 – The leadership in Belgrade may voice support for Dodik and even travel to Banja Luka to show solidarity with Bosnian Serb leaders in their campaign of obstructionism, but Tadic and his people are smart enough to know when to step back. Moreover, the RS joining Serbia following secession from BiH is highly unlikely. Serbia as it is will have a difficult enough time meeting the preconditions for EU membership, it could kiss membership within the next decade goodbye if it absorbed the RS.

4 – Croatia is eying EU membership in the very near future, possibly before 2012, and won’t do anything to jeopardize that.

5 – The Obama Administration has made clear that it will be engaged in the Balkans. Biden’s speech in Bosnia was appropriately blunt, signaling to Bosnia’s rotted political class that they have to make Bosnia and Herzegovina work as a state, or there will be consequences. The international community will not permit a return to 1992. (Some outside commentators called Biden’s speech condescending and disrespectful — many Bosnians loved it, and say far worse things about their own leaders.)

All of that said, I’m still worried.