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EU expansion crucial to ‘maintaining peace’ in Bosnia, across the globe

Bosnia and Herzegovina gained European Union candidacy status last December, nearly two decades after the country stated its desire to join the bloc, but the question of eventual EU membership remains.

Candidate status means the country joined other countries that are also candidates – Serbia, Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine and Türkiye.

Stjepan Mesic, a former president of Croatia and the last serving president of Yugoslavia, told Anadolu that Bosnia and Herzegovina must join the EU, as this would ensure that there will no longer be “a motive for war.”

Allowing all the countries of the former Yugoslavia to join the EU would enable the union to develop further, which in turn would “enrich Europe,” said Mesic.

Despite promises of enlargement to the Western Balkans bloc, the EU’s expansion was halted, with Croatia being the only country to join the union in 2013.

In Mesic’s opinion, Europe lacks leadership, as “real leaders” would insist on quick inclusion and help those countries with less potential.

He argued that further EU expansion is crucial to maintaining peace across the globe.

For instance, “I have always been in favor of speeding up Türkiye’s entry into the European Union, because it is partly a European country, it is a big country, it is a strong country, and it should only be welcomed by Europe and the world precisely because it is a link between continents, a link between peoples, and these links can help peace in the world,” he added.

New pro-EU government

Last month, Bosnia and Herzegovina appointed a new pro-EU government which promised to return the country to the path towards EU membership.

Normally it takes over a year for political parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina to reach an agreement and compile a Cabinet, but this time around, the appointment of the government came a lot sooner than expected, around four months after the Oct. 2 general election.

Some 23 out of 42 lawmakers backed the new government in the House of the Representatives, which is the country’s state parliament.

Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two autonomous entities – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska – with each entity having its own parliament, government and president. There are also state-level institutions and the neutral Brcko District.

The political divisions were created by the Dayton Agreement, which ended the war in Bosnia in 1995.

In this complex structure, Bosnia and Herzegovina enjoyed peace ever since.

However, Mesic argues that in recent years, the EU and US have failed to press for reform in the country, which in turn led ultranationalist political leaders to capture the state.

“On one side, you have those who fight for a civil state, for a European state, and those who want on their own to profit from nationalism. Some even want to separate parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina to join other countries. That’s the problem,” he said.

The Dayton Agreement was initially believed to be a temporary solution, but the agreement continues almost after a quarter of a century, with many critics arguing that too many layers of government are preventing the country from moving forward in its ambitions to join the EU institution.

The critics also say that the agreement focuses on the rights of entities and not on the rights of individuals, where a small nation of only 3.5 million people is expected to finance multi-governments and parliaments, many presidents, and a large number of ministries.

All these factors contributed to many young people leaving, which is an issue the country is currently grappling with.

According to Mesic, EU membership could potentially end the departure of young people if the union changes its current political environment and invests in the country.

War in Ukraine

Mesic warned that the war in Ukraine could have negative consequences for the Balkans and elsewhere in Europe and that any expansion of the bloc is not possible until peace is reached.

He pointed out that Russia made “a big mistake” when it started military conflict in Ukraine, because it violated international law.

Moscow instead needed to resolve the issue of danger to its borders through international forums and “get the international community on their side,” Mesic advised.

“One can think that the problem can be solved in the same way in another part of Europe,” he said.

This, he said, was evident when Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic threatened to go in with the army and attack Kosovo.

But in the Kosovo conflict that started in 1998, “they (Serbs) were there with the army and lost the war. So that’s not the solution,” said Mesic.

Now you have Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik in Bosnia and Herzegovina, “who thinks that he can break up Bosnia and Herzegovina,” he added.​​​​​​​

Serbian and Croatian interference

Mesic also stressed that the Western Balkan country will be unable to take a step in a positive direction since Serbia and Croatia are interfering in its affairs and as long as Europe and the world “puts up with it.”

The real problem is not “either in Mostar, in Sarajevo, or in Banja Luka. The problem is in Zagreb and Belgrade,” he said.

This meddling in the country’s politics prevents Bosnia from moving closer to becoming an EU member, Mesic said.

According to Mesic, politicians in Republika Srpska and beyond must give up separatist unrealistic ideas and realize that “Bosnia and Herzegovina is a fact, and that it is unchangeable. No Dodik and no Ursula von der Leyen (the president of the European Commission) can change that.”

“Bosnia existed throughout history. Bosnia is today, and Bosnia will be in the future,” he added.

Mesic pointed out that the European and American decision-makers must give up on the belief that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina can’t get along and that the only way to solve the country’s problems is through endless conflict mediation or more ethnic autonomy.

“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, people lived in that country hundreds of years ago, and they always knew how to solve their problems, and they solved them well,” he added.

Despite “divisive politics” and reckless governance, the country has shown an outstanding societal resilience evident in great achievements in arts, sports and entrepreneurship for instance.

The new successful governance initiatives led by reformist politicians together with the private sector and civil society “can bring about the change” that Bosnia and Herzegovina needs, which in turn will pave the way to EU membership, said Mesic.​​​​​​​

Source : AA