Foreign Policy Implications of Instability in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Yugoslavia has been a cosmopolitan state where various ethnic identities live together. Despite being one of the pioneers of the Non-Aligned Movement, the influence of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in the country increased significantly after the death of Josip Brozz Tito. The USSR did not hesitate to support the Serbs due to its pan-Slavism policy in the region.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the struggle for independence of nations dissatisfied with the policy of Serbization and the goal of “Greater Serbia” in the region became inevitable. In this context, Bosnia and Herzegovina became one of the states that declared its independence. However, Serbian nationalism, which has been effective in the region since time immemorial, did not allow this. After the confrontation of different interests and ideologies, war broke out.

As a result of the war, the Dayton Agreement was signed in 1995 as a result of NATO intervention. Although the treaty ended the war, it left Bosnia and Herzegovina with new problems and a political system that was difficult to deal with. In addition, many people died up to the moment the treaty was signed. There have been concluded prosecutions in this regard, as well as crimes that are still pending trial. There are currently 172 active arrest warrants in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[1] Thus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which attaches importance to the democratization criteria of the European Union (EU), has shown the importance it attaches to democracy and human rights by prosecuting even its own citizens in the event of crimes against humanity.

With recent developments, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s relations with the EU have made significant progress. Leaving aside the dilemma between “deepening” and “enlargement”, the EU has taken various measures against possible threats. In addition to the rapid EU enlargement, the criteria of the organization are also of great importance in this process.

On the other hand, the importance given to these criteria by Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is looking for an ally after Russia threatened Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Russian-Ukrainian War, is clearly seen. For Bosnia and Herzegovina, which still cannot forget the losses it suffered in the recent past, getting rid of political isolation by establishing good relations with the United States (US) and the EU is a crucial issue.

In this context, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which wants to improve its diplomatic relations with various states, has also taken steps to improve its bilateral relations with Norway.[2] Traditional diplomacy has also changed with globalization. Instead of communicating only with governments, states have turned to the effective use of public diplomacy, which can be defined as the public relations of states.

States act with the motivation to prove the legitimacy of the steps they take by both promoting themselves in the international arena and creating public opinion in their favor. In this context, various forms of public diplomacy are preferred. Emphasizing the importance of political stability, Bosnia and Herzegovina tries to draw a pro-peace profile through humanitarian diplomacy. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sending 20 tons of humanitarian aid to Ukraine proves this.[3]

After the dissolution of the USSR between 1989 and 1991, Russia became relatively autocratic. The shadow governments in the buffer zones also put aside their competition in the bipolar order. After resolving its internal issues, Russia, which wanted to keep the tradition it inherited from the USSR alive, opened up to the outside world by stabilizing its domestic politics, even though its democratic nature was debated, especially under Vladimir Putin.

As Russia reappeared in the international system, it took over some of the USSR’s roles from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)-Warsaw Pact conflict. Russia has several important red lines against capitalism, which seeks to contain communism. One of them is the absence of a NATO member on its border. The US continued its expansion along the Black Sea. For Putin, who challenged the US unipolar system in various ways, Ukraine’s NATO membership was seen as unacceptable. Thus, the Ukrainian war became inevitable. In this situation, it would not be surprising if the relations between Russia, which keeps the historical legacy alive, and Serbian nationalists, who dream of a Greater Serbia, are back on the agenda. For this reason, the Republika Srpska, which still considers itself part of Serbia, awarded Putin the Order of the Republika Srpska for his patriotism and love for the Republika Srpska.[4]

It is inevitable for the US to support Ukraine, as it does not want to give its powerful rivals in the international system a free space to act. Ukraine, which has received both economic and military support from the US since the Russia-Ukraine War, is taking steps in favor of the US against Russia’s declining prestige. This situation has led Ukraine to interpret the awarding of a prize to Putin as “a terrorist rewarding a terrorist.”[5]

Unable to unite with Serbia in the current situation, the Serbs in Bosnia have found the right to represent themselves with a different political structure, the Republika Srpska. However, it cannot be said that they have given up their ultimate goal. Looking at Russia’s relationship with the Serbs, it is understood that Russia has not given up on the Balkans. Especially under the leadership of Dodik, it can be said that political instability in domestic politics has reached a high point. The moves of Dodik, who stands out with his separatist rhetoric and close relations with Moscow, have a negative impact on the foreign policy of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States has expressed its discomfort with this close relationship in light of the Order of Republika Srpska awarded to Putin.[6]

With the spread of the liberal system and the relative entrenchment of democracy, governance has become much more important than traditional public administration. The healthy functioning of democracy is crucial for the prestige of a state. Although prestige is not a constitutive element of the state such as sovereignty, it is very important for the recognition that strengthens the practice of statehood and provides its declaration.

States that can fully integrate democratic values and ensure governance demonstrate these values to the international public through various soft power instruments such as educational diplomacy, religious diplomacy, cultural diplomacy and humanitarian diplomacy. In this way, they will be able to gain recognition and enter various collaborations in line with their interests.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has suffered a loss of prestige due to political instability and Republika Srpska’s steps towards Russia. With the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Ukrainian War in 2022, Bosnia and Herzegovina, like other states in the region, is concerned about its right to self-determination. In particular, Russia’s blatant disregard for the principle of sovereign equality justifies this concern.

Moreover, the fear of what Russia might do if it succeeds in Ukraine has encouraged states to take various actions. In this context, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a recent candidate for EU membership, cannot turn its back on this threat and will engage with NATO to address its concerns and improve its reputation.[7]

In conclusion, the current policy of Republika Srpska, Belgrade’s stance on “Greater Serbia” and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s refusal to back down on the issue show that the events will not be easily resolved. It can be said that the severity of this instability, which can be interpreted as one of the reflections of the rivalry between the US and Russia in the region, can be reduced by the pressure arising from democratic criteria, which is one of the conditions for EU membership. For democratic principles, which have become even more important today, and for the prestige to be gained from this, the state parties are also trying to create international public opinion. However, looking at the political history of Bosnia and Herzegovina, there are political structures within the state that are not fully established. If the parties do not show the necessary sensitivity to this issue and pursue policies that encourage violence instead of deterring it, there is a concern that the tension in question may turn into chaos and cause the pain of history to be experienced again.

[1] “BH’de Mevcut Olmayan Savaş Suçu Şüphelileri Aleyhine 172 Aktif Tutuklama Var”, Sarajevo Times,, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).

[2] “BH Cumhurbaşkanlığı Üyesi Beciroviç, Norveç’in BH Büyükelçisi ile Görüştü”, Sarajevo Times,, (Date of Accession: 10.01.2023).

[3] “BH, Ukrayna’ya Yirmi Ton İnsani Yardım Gönderdi”, Sarajevo Times,, (Date of Accession: 16.12.2022).

[4] “Bosnalı Sırp Ayrılıkçılar Putin’e Onur Madalyası Verdi.”, The Washington Times,, (Date of Accession: 08.01.2023).

[5] “Ukrayna Büyükelçisi Dodik’in Putin Emri Üzerine: Teröristler Teröristleri Ödüllendiriyor.”, Online Vijesti 25,, (Date of Accession: 09.01.2023).

[6] “ABD’nin Bosna Büyükelçiliği Putin’e Ödül Verilmesini Kınadı”, Sarajevo Times,, (Date of Accession: 09.01.2023).

[7] “BH Cumhurbaşkanlığı Üyesi NATO Genel Sekreteri Jens Stoltenberg ile Görüşecek”, Sarajevo Times,, (Date of Accession: 13.01.2023).