Recently, a bus convoy of 270 migrants coming from war-torn and poverty-stricken countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East to central Bosnia-Herzegovina, and were detained by authorities. According to Breitbart News, the migrants were finally „allowed to pass after several hours of political bickering.“ According to media reports, the Balkan republic is struggling to cope with the influx of migrants while still confronting an already chaotic situation. Because countries such as Hungary and Slovakia have blocked northern routes, migrants are choosing to cross through the Balkan region in order to reach Western Europe.
Demographic deterioration in the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, coupled with immigration, have deeply affected the social fabric and economy of this Balkan country. The local population barely reaches 1.5 million, while 2 million citizens live outside its boundaries. The flow Asian and African asylum seekers in Bosnia-Herzegovina has tested and revealed once again the religious divide that exists among people who belong to the three main religions: Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Muslims.
To add even more confusion to the country’s “silent” but terrible religious strife are the statements of Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the president of the neighboring Republic of Croatia, who has stated publicly, without any concrete proof that Bosnia-Herzegovina “is turning into a hub for Islamic terrorists,” with the claim that there “is an increase of Islamic radical groups setting up a base near the Croatian border; there are between 5,000 and 10,000 Islamic radicals living in Bosnia.” Such a statement is completely false and certainly damages Bosnia and Herzegovina’s desire to join the European Union and will damage relations between Croats and Bosniak communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Bosnia-Herzegovina’s three principal ethnic groups consist of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs. In addition, there are miniscule Roma and Jewish communities. With the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1992, the region slipped into genocidal warfare that pitted the various ethnic groups against each other. In 1995, for example, 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered by the Bosnian Serb army. Most of the victims were Muslim. Bosniaks and Bosnian Croatians also committed war crimes against civilians. The whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina is sometimes called Bosnia.
The fate of immigrants from war-torn countries depends on the generosity of the dysfunctional layers of government throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, thanks to the 1995 Dayton Agreement that was brokered by the Clinton administration and which brought to an end to the three-and-a half-year-long war in Bosnia. Furthermore, by not appropriately attending to foreign asylum seekers, it is clear that local authorities in Mostar are betraying the centuries-old values of religious coexistence that have characterized this beautiful town by blaming the country’s interior ministry for “not informing local authorities about the [immigrant] convoy,” with the result of obliging the 270 immigrants to return again to the Sarajevo district where they were halted for hours on a mountain road. Among the immigrants, local media reported that there were 18 children who appeared terrified and confused.
According to Interior Minister Dragan Mektic, detaining the convoy was illegal and “jeopardizes the constitutional order” of Bosnia. He added that the blockade amounted to a “coup d’etat.”
Breitbart News reported: “Bosnia’s authorities earlier in the day dismantled a migrant tent settlement in central Sarajevo in preparation for the move to Mostar.” It appears that Mostar, a city well known for religious tolerance and faith coexistence, is becoming the source of religious turf-fighting and division amidst Bosnia and Herzegovina’s genuine aspirations to join the European Union and improve its current state of brain gain while reducing the massive migration of its citizens abroad.
One of consequences of a country being governed by approximately 140 government ministers is the confusion that is created between the the national government and the smaller jurisdictions. Bosnia-Herzegovina has a bicameral legislature and a three-member Presidency composed of a member of each major ethnic group. The central government's power is highly limited. The country is a union of two autonomous entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, with a third region, the Brčko District, governed under local government. The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, for its part, consists of 10 cantons.
Denis Zvizdić, the chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Council of Ministers, recently stated that Bosnian Croat authorities “will have to face the consequences” for preventing national government authorities to carry out their policies in trying to shelter these migrants “in a humane and dignified manner.” It must be noted that after the Bosnian War, Sarajevo came under Bosnian Muslim control, while Mostar is under the control of the Croats.
In an interview for Spero News, Professor Sabahudin Hadzialic of International University Travnik said, "A disorganized state established in Dayton, back in 1995, has shown once more that a complicated country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot immediately act in regards to refugees and immigrants from the Middle and Far East that comes to Bosnia-Herzegovina in a flood within the last 2-3 months (about 3,500- 4,000 of them on their way to Western Europe). The border with Montenegro and Serbia is like Swiss cheese and immigrants are constantly arriving. At the same time, although Europe (starting from Croatia and further west) does not want to let them cross their borders, some immigrants, among which you can see Catholics and Muslims, decide to stay in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Currently, the problem is solved and immigrants are settled at the refugees center.”
Hadzialic posed a rhetorical question to the public of Bosnia-Herzegovina, “Are you making a safe haven for immigrants and refugees? If you do so, do not forget that here we have a very weak democracy, more of a kleptocracy with a spice called corruption and nationalism. So, are we a holding-pen, or what?” Signalling his concern for the outcome of the influx of immigrants, the professor added, “Or what might be even worse is that it may be a starting point for undesired outcomes. Help us, please."
As revealed above, Hadzialić voiced the experience of two decades of suffering that has characterized the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina: a hard working nation that continues to struggle with economic hardship and unemployment, which have been exacerbated by deeply ingrained government inefficiency, religious segregation, and irredentist nationalism.
Spero News columnist Peter Tase is an analyst of international political and economic affairs.