Could Bosnia Be Europe's Next Domino?

By Patrick Kelley

Russia's brazen geopolitical maneuvers and naked military intervention in Eastern Europe have many in the West wondering what will happen next. While Russian President Vladimir Putin's foray into Georgia caught many by surprise, a nuanced reading of Ukrainian history -- and of Putin's signals -- could have helped forecast his moves in the region. However, Eastern Europe's next about-face may come from a country that was never under Soviet control: Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Bosnia's constitution -- which was brokered by American negotiators to end the region's civil war -- has kept the country intact for the last 20 years by ensuring that leadership is shared between the country's three main ethic groups: Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs. But the same constitution that has kept the nation violence-free has kept it out of European Union consideration due to its lack of inclusion of minority groups in the country's unusual system of governance. With 99 percent of Bosnia's population coming from its three ethnic groups, the constitution states that parliament and the presidency must be represented equally by the three groups. However, this constitution explicitly excludes certain minorities from holding elected office, putting it at odds with the EU's Copenhagen Criteria -- a set of rules for joining the EU.

The Copenhagen Criteria considers "stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities" a requirement for membership.

With neighboring Croatia recently joining the EU and Serbia vying for membership, talk of restructuring Bosnia's constitution could come to fruition, which could lead to renewed bloodshed in Europe's powder keg.

In other words, there's a method to the madness when it comes to Bosnia's unconventional constitution.

It was the death of Yugoslavian dictator Josip Broz Tito and the fall of the Soviet Union that set the Balkan conflict into motion in the early 1990s. Without a pragmatic, respected and at times ruthless leader to keep order -- and with independence sweeping Eastern Europe -- nations within the territory formed states that fit their ethnic makeup. With numerous groups claiming the same land, civil war ensued. Rape was used as a tool of war and genocide occurred in Europe for the first time since the Holocaust.

The war reached a tipping point when the UN failed to protect the Bosnian town of Srebrenica from Bosnian Serb military forces, who then murdered or "ethnically cleansed" 7,000 men and boys.

With American credibility declining because of mismanagement of the conflict, an election year looming and another act of genocide, President Bill Clinton tore off his gloves. The combination of Operation Deliberate Force -- a NATO bombing campaign that decimated Bosnian Serb targets -- and a ground campaign by Croats, which reversed the Serb's territorial control from 70 percent of Bosnia to less than 50 percent, forced all three sides to the negotiating table at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

Known as the Dayton Peace Accords, the imperfect treaty that ended the war partitioned Bosnia into two entities -- Republika Srpska and the Bosnian Federation -- and framed the shaky constitution.

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Patrick Kelley is a Research Fellow at Sagamore Institute in Indianapolis. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickNKelley.

(AP Photo)

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