Bosnia and Herzegovina – ethnic disarmament

With Bosnia’s leaders unimpressed by the EU’s remote carrots, a New Deal is required; one that offers fast-track EU membership in return for a new constitution.

By Charles Crawford

Bosnia is a sulky donkey with three bickering heads, unimpressed by the EU’s remote carrots and unmoved by sharp smacks on its rump from successive High Representatives.

Hopeless? No. I’d go for a New Deal. A fast-track EU membership with visa-free travel for all Bosnians, in return for a new constitution. This would create three regions, each dominated by one community but with substantive responsibility for its own affairs, all with light but real central powers and a push to make Bosnia the least regulated economy in Europe. A fair, coherent structure which rewards responsibility and private initiative.

Alas, to reach there things will have to get notably worse, to bring all concerned in Bosnia and Brussels to agree that, finally, there is no alternative. A future Foreign Secretary will need strong nerves.

Bosnia is, of course, a remarkable example of diplomatic action for all sorts of reasons. It is a small country whose population is half the size of London’s, in Europe, literate and so on. If we can’t fix that, what can we fix?

Bosnia shows how if the foundations of policy are illogical and incoherent, the results will be so too, far into the future.

And it reminds us that having launched an unsatisfactory project the ‘international community’ then must not be surprised when it takes on new exotic life-forms of its own which, by virtue of being in some way ‘organic’ and legitimised over time are damn difficult to change later without serious breakdown.

My ideas, such as they are, are to give Bosnia a constitution which roughly corresponds to reality and is coherent in itself, something the current one concocted in huge haste at Dayton to help Bill Clinton get re-elected is not.

The main problem with a sort of ‘three Entity’ arrangement is that the largest group (Bosniacs/Muslims) hanker after a ‘one Entity’ outcome, which necessarily suits them as the largest group.

But that, I think, is not now achievable, or fair. In part because the Bosniacs themselves have refused to contemplate ‘ethnic disarmament’.

Former President Izetbegovic put this to me in so many words: “we won’t accept ethnic disarmament for fifty years”. His argument was that the Bosniacs at some two million people had to build their strength for many years to come, as they were surrounded by some 15 million dangerous Serbs and Croats.

So be it. By insisting on maintaining their ethnic weapon stockpiles, maybe for plausible reasons, the Bosniacs now will do well to be part of a BH that actually works and starts to get richer, which means a BH rearranged to function sensibly.

But someone will have to do very heavy lifting to achieve anything like that, when attentions are on even more ghastly problems further East.

Charles Crawford is the former British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina (1996-1998) and Serbia (2001-2003).

Further comment and analysis by Mr. Crawford is available at



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