Drawing Parallels between Bosnia and Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
Moldova’s European integration, like that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is complicated by the lack of integrity and socio-political unity, as well as by the influence of geopolitical players. The Bosnian case clearly demonstrates how these factors can markedly slow down the process of our country’s accession to the EU
Over the past few years, Moldova has seemingly anchored itself firmly in a single European integration package with Ukraine. During the first stages, it significantly accelerated some key decisions in Brussels, but lately it has limited our country’s ability to act more flexibly. Therefore, Chisinau was somewhat encouraged by the statements of the head of the EU Delegation, Janis Mazeiks, that after the start of negotiations on Moldova’s accession to the European Union, its process will be considered separately from Ukraine, even though both countries have been granted candidate status at the same time. Sounds like a fair point. Especially since the deteriorating conflict between Ukraine and Russia forces Brussels to adjust its policy and, in a sense, distance us from the confusing Ukrainian context. But is our own Moldovan context that simple in this sense? Despite the fact that the hostilities on the Dniester ended thirty years ago, the echoes of those difficult times still do not allow us to speak of the integrity and socio-political unity of our state. After Moldova gained candidate country status, experts tried to make comparative analyses with other seemingly similar cases, such as, for example, divided Cyprus. However, the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is much more relevant for us. Despite their different geographical location and distinctive regional perimeters, the two countries have much in common, especially with regard to the EU integration process. After the European Commission recommended the start of accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina, in March the European Council noted the progress made by the Balkan country since then and decided to start the dialogue. While local media labelled the event the greatest in post-war history, it is clear that conflict rhetoric within the country has increased in recent months. This indicates that the prospect of European integration for the country is rather dim, as it requires a fundamental revision of the foundations of the current statehood. The accelerated granting of candidate status and the launch of negotiations with Moldova and Ukraine did not cause as much surprise among politicians and experts as in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When Bosnia and Herzegovina are mentioned, many people have certain associations – a failed country in a state of endless internal political conflicts. The official version of such a rush of events on the part of Brussels is based on the desire to speed up reforms in BiH, which should help Sarajevo centralize the state and overcome permanent crises. But, obviously, there is also a geopolitical reason related to the desire to restrain the Kremlin’s capabilities in the Balkans and, especially, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the Russians are carefully playing the card of the country’s complex ethno-political structure and keeping it destabilized. The main irritant here is the odious leader of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, who has repeatedly threatened to secede from the state at times of acute aggravation of contradictions. Thus, in early April, at a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, he said that the republic would declare independence if the BiH authorities decided to alienate the property of Republika Srpska. Does that ring a bell? Modern Bosnia and Herzegovina is a tangle of ethnic, religious, property and (external) political contradictions. Despite the resolution of the fierce conflict, the Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs in BiH still have many claims against each other. Ethnic and national interests dominate the population, and as a result, the configuration of the common state is severely weakened. This year marks the 29th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, which formed the basis of the complex, poorly managed, multi-component political system of present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina. In fact, the country is divided along ethnic lines into two political entities, the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The former has a more unitary structure, while the Federation itself includes ten provinces, each with its own unique executive, judicial and legislative bodies. This governmental structure is one of the most complex in the world. The central authorities in Sarajevo are formed by independent elections in all three ethnic parts of the country, and each leader so elected has a veto right. As a result, the heads of state are three elected representatives from three different nations who can block each other’s decisions. That is, one representative can block the decisions of the others, blackmailing them with separatism, which makes the entire system of governance completely paralyzed. For this reason, a number of specialists call Bosnia and Herzegovina a completely dysfunctional state, which, if current trends continue, will come closer to its disintegration. Russia, which opposes centralization of BiH and advocates greater autonomy and empowerment of the confederal parts, is actively stirring up the situation. Given all the centrifugal processes, the likelihood of Bosnia and Herzegovina breaking up in the coming years is not so high, primarily because of the tight political and security protectorate from outside, which keeps the entities within the overall state contour. The Dayton Accords do not envisage secession of any part of BiH. And if under any circumstances the situation in the Balkans starts to change, it will lead to a catastrophe and total redrawing of borders in the region, which will most likely entail another wave of bloodshed. Republika Srpska, of course, makes no secret of its course towards Moscow and Belgrade, which may be the main reason for slowing down the process of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to the European Union. Any aggravation and attempt to declare independence of this entity will open a Pandora’s box, when both the European integration of BiH and the entire region of the Western Balkans will be out of the question. A look at the overall situation in Moldova, with Gagauzia and Transnistria in mind, shows an equally multifaceted picture, which may upset those who make European integration plans for 2030 and hold premature referendums. The only key difference is that we do not (yet?) have our own Dayton Accords. Nevertheless, the parallels are numerous, as are the risks that will complicate our dialogue with Brussels. Meanwhile, the EU is in no hurry to open a negotiation session in order to wait, apparently, for the electoral autumn to be over and to understand how eager Moldovan citizens are to join the EU.