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Bosnia-Herzegovina Report #5 - Elections and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina
By Peter Lippman
September 2018


2018 Report index

Report 1: Anger, activism, exodus
Report 2: Srebrenica
Report 3: Kozarac and Prijedor
Report 4
Chicanery in the RS, Activism in Banja Luka
Report 5: Elections and stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Report 6: Migrants, environmental wreckage, sports

Previous journals and articles

To contact Peter in response to these reports or any of his articlesclick here

The Russians are coming—on motorcycles. The Americans are meddling in the elections. President Dodik will lose the election and start a war. Kosovo is going to be partitioned and then the RS will annex to Serbia.

Or none of the above. In a country where it's normal for a newspaper headline to end with a question mark, all is rumor. And the rumors become all the more dire in an election year, to the point where you really don't know what to believe.

National elections for the state-level presidency and all the parliaments on down to the entities are set to take place October 7th of this year. The candidates seem more gray and less eminent than ever. My friend Jadranka told me she wished she could go to sleep and wake up on October 8th.

It is tempting to ignore the elections; sometimes I wish I only came to Bosnia-Herzegovina in odd-numbered years. It's the same old soap opera, with the same old non-results. On the other hand, it's also tempting to pay attention; you get drawn in, because of that very soap opera quality. You engage in a quiz that asks, "Which of these dire threats and predictions can come true, and which is just the rhetoric of the season?"

But lately, the instability in and around Bosnia has intensified to that point that today, I feel that it's worth it to try to sort out some of the threats and predictions. This is not just about the elections, but about the fate of the country in the near term and beyond.

*

The main occupation of domestic politicians is the practice of corruption while distracting the public with nationalist manipulation. As a friend from Prijedor told me years ago, "These days, nationalism is only for the little people. The big politicians are just criminals; corruption is their real work." But the politicians use nationalism as a blunt instrument to keep their followers in a state of submission.

Leading politicians of all three ethnicities fit this mold. But in this practice, RS President Dodik is by far the most capable politician of the pack. One almost has to admire him for his skill and success. He is described as being fabulously wealthy. Dodik's corrupt practices go back to the war period, when he was said to be a smuggler of cigarettes.

As he ensconced himself in power over the postwar decades, Dodik excelled at deals such as construction contracts with his homies, without a tender process, leading directly to massive cost overruns. Of course, all this criminality comes with the risk of prosecution and eventual jail time. For now, that's just a fantasy, as the top dogs almost never get prosecuted. But they have to ensure that they stay free, by taking measures to remain popular and distract their constituents from the crimes. Even so, pretty much everyone knows that their own leaders are corrupt—but they are nevertheless their own, and thus preferable to leaders from another ethnicity.

Excelling at corruption requires Dodik to excel at manipulation, in order to retain power and to remain free in the long run. In his case, the ultimate weapon is separatism. He works full-time to establish the Serb-controlled entity as a place that's only for Serbs and as "the only functional part of Bosnia-Herzegovina," a place that's ready to be an independent state when the time comes. Of course, this will take place through a peaceful transition, according to Dodik.

Meanwhile, you get the impression that Dodik stays up late devising new ways to continue that manipulation. Or perhaps more accurate, new variants on the proven theme of division through fear and racism. Say that you "won't allow any Muslims to judge" you. Say that "the muezzin traumatizes Serbs." Institute an entity holiday, January 9, to commemorate the founding of the separatist entity—therefore, a holiday only for the Serb citizens of the entity. Organize grandiose celebrations for that holiday and, when the BiH Constitutional Court rules the holiday unconstitutional (because it is discriminatory), celebrate it anyway. Establish monuments to Karad
žić and Mladić, and name schools and hostpitals "Serbia." Send your prime minister to the US to consort with Corey Lewandowski and Steve Bannon, and with Dana Rohrabacher and other Trumpoid Congress members. Invite paramilitary formations from Serbia, masquerading as "humanitarians," to march in Banja Luka. Invite Russian mercenaries fresh from Crimea, the "Night Wolves," to visit the RS on their motorcycles. Purchase an additional 2,500 long-barreled rifles for the RS police (the Austrian police have only 400). Invite Russian security forces to train RS police and to set up a "humanitarian" center outside of Banja Luka. Hire former Trump campaign officials to set up a lobbying firm in the RS for Dodik's SNSD party in preparation for the October elections. (Yeah, Trump and Dodik: a natural food combination.) Annul the 2004 Srebrenica Report. Threaten to re-establish an independent armed services in the RS, which was disbanded in 2004...this paragraph could be a whole lot longer.

There's also Dodik's long-term project to ally with Bosnian Croat separatists and to encourage their campaign for a "third entity"—as long as that Croat entity does not take a chunk out of the RS. Breaking up the Croat- and Muslim-controlled Federation would bring Bosnia-Herzegovina that much closer to the end of its existence, as it would be that much easier for a Croat entity to split off and join Croatia. And it wouldn't do the Croats in central Bosnia or northeastern Bosnia (Posavina) any good—nor those remaining in the Tuzla area or Br
čko, as they would be left behind. But any movement towards the achievement of the Croat wartime separatist goals in peacetime helps Dodik achieve the same. So Dodik and Dragan Čović, perennial leader of the Croat separatists and cousin to Dodik in corruption, have become partners.

The fissiparous nature of Bosnia in the postwar period makes it interesting to a re-emerging Russia, which wants to counteract the expansion of the EU and the long-term threat of US imperial power around much of its borders. In this vein, Russia failed in an attempt to foment a coup in West-leaning Montenegro a couple years ago. President Putin has become cozy with Dodik, and with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vu
čić as well. (Serbia recently received six MIG-29 fighter jets from Russia.) Dodik has traveled to Russia to meet with Putin several times. Russian influence is strong in the RS—as is Turkish (some call it "neo-Ottoman) influence among Muslim nationalists in the Federation.

Kosovo Albanian activist and politician Albin Kurti described Russia's role this way: "Russia plays an active role in the Balkans, expanding its influence via Serbia, through the Serbian Orthodox Church, via its investments, informants, and Serbian satellites such as the Republika Srpska in BiH or parallel structures in Kosovo."

Serbia and RS are both playing two sides of the fence, saying that they are friends with Russia, but that they hope to join the EU. For now, all this is rhetoric designed to please those who want to be pleased in one direction or the other. And there are plenty of Serbs who have, in their enhanced state of victimology, decided that it's only Russia that can defend them. You see posters for the "Istočna Alternativa" (Eastern alternative), bearing photos of Putin, in eastern Bosnia along the Drina, in places like Bratunac and Srebrenica. Then, confused Western journalists endlessly repeat the construct that "Russia and Serbia are traditional friends." They apparently never heard what I heard when I was living in Serbia in the early 1980s, 25 years after Hungary and 13 years after Czechoslovakia: "We fear the Russians most," said every Serb I ever talked to.

But for some Serbs, times have changed. Y
es, Russia is involved with Serbia and the RS, encouraging them to stay out of NATO, for example, and a Russian presence makes some Serbs feel they have a powerful friend at their back. Russian backing has gotten through to Čović, as well. Seeing that Čović shares Dodik's goals, what destabilizes Bosnia-Herzegovina pleases Putin.

There's talk from Western journalists that "Putin is building a paramilitary force" in the RS. It's hard to tell how much of this kind of talk is hysteria in reaction to the nuttiness of the election year, and how much is real. After all, "just because you're paranoid..."

And it doesn't help that the EU is in a state of lethargy and perennial confusion about the Western Balkans, quite different from their expansive position a decade or more ago. And as for the US, since Bush II came into power, and moreso since Obama, Bosnia has been the zadnja rupa na sviralji, the "last hole in the flute," as they say. Into the vacuum comes Russia (and Turkey).

Speaking of Croat separatism,
it's also notable that Čović has established a "representative office" in Brussels on behalf of Croat-majority cantons. One critic feared that this was a step in the Dodik- Čović partnership's destabilization of Bosnia. He called the office a Croat nationalist "lobbying center," saying that it was not representative of the cantons, but rather, "Čović's private embassy." Dodik has had a lobbying center in Brussels—and in seven other countries—for more than a decade.

The elections

Milorad Dodik, having been prime minister of the RS and then president for the last 12 years, is running for Serb member of the three-part presidency at the state level. That presidency meets in Sarajevo, which Dodik calls "Tehran," and he vows that after he's elected, the meetings will be held in Eastern Sarajevo, in the RS. Dodik faces respectable, if not formidable, opposition from current Serb member of the presidency Mladen Ivanić
and from conglomerated parties dominated by the SDS, once Radovan Karadžić's party.  The opposition defeated Dodik at the state level four years ago; it's hard to predict whether they will do so again, but they are enough of a threat that Dodik has accused the both the UK and the US—and the Federation too—of supporting the opposition by meddling in the RS elections. Dodik has also vowed to investigate all moneys coming to RS NGOs, to see who is getting funding from where. This is another way of scaring the opposition and herding the local voting populace into line by pretending that Dodik is the only one who can protect the RS from all kinds of enemies.

Backing up a little: there's the usual confusing array of political parties that rather defy analysis by virtue of their uselessness. I won't bother to name them all, but several were formed by politicians who were cast off from the main Bosniak nationalist party, the SDA, over the last several years. The SDA has shed a number of its prominent figures in that period, paradoxically looking like it's falling apart, while at the same time remaining the strongest Bosniak party. The party is experiencing what the SDP (Social Democrat Party) experienced a few years earlier, with people such as Emir Suljagi
ć and then Željko Komšić evacuating and embarking on re-crafted political careers under other auspices.

It's pretty accurate to say that all the various parties stem from the big four that existed after the war: SDS (Serb nationalist/separatist); HDZ (Croat nationalist/separatist); SDA; and SDP. Dissenters from the SDS formed Dodik's party, the SNSD, now the strongest Serb nationalist party. Komšić formed DF, the Democratic Front. Suljagić ran with Komšić for a while, and then split off and formed the Građanski Savez, the Citizens' Alliance. And so on...ad boredum. The only exception to this model of party gestation is Naša Stranka, a left-liberal, civic (non-nationalist) party based in Sarajevo.

Now to engage in a little prognostication by way of evaluating the parties. Spoiler alert: If you're not following the Bosnian elections, this will be the most boring part of this report.

--SDA is weakened but still the strongest Bosniak party. If it doesn't win outright, it may form a coalition at various levels with some of its split-offs.

--SDP has discredited itself in various ways: through corruption, autocracy (never having quite grown out of the old Communist Party model) and, although it professes to be multi-ethnic, it is primarily a Bosniak party.

--DF, like most of the other parties, in fact, still adheres to the old CP model by virtue of being essentially a one-man party. This will anger some adherents, but Komšić, like his mentor Zlatko Lagumdžija, has the reputation of being an autocrat. He is said to be uncorrupted, but that's not enough. He was charismatic for a while, but many are the politicians about whom you can say "opalo mu lišće" (his leaves have fallen off, i.e., the wind is out of his sails). Everyone has had their 15 minutes: Haris Silajdžić is gone, Lagumdžija is history, Radončić is yesterday, Komšić is no longer everyone's wonderboy, and so on. See, I haven't even mentioned Radončić.

--The HDZ is Čović and the Croats are too few to put their eggs in another basket. There was a splitoff group, the HDZ-1990, but there's not much left of them.

Here's what my friend Darjan said about all this: "
See, all the existing parties, except for Naša Stranka, stem from SDA and SDP. A little piece falls off and creates a new party, starting with SBiH. Haris [Silajdžić] was the main bull of Bosniak politics. Then another piece falls off, and you have A-SDA. Now there's Narod i Pravda. From the SDP comes DF. Then Građanski Savjet. And the Narodni blok is more like a coalition of the independent mayors. So that's a collection of politicians who are always negotiating about money, about benefits, and about concessions. And the SDP has always voted for these things, participated in privatization, always [rather than advocating for citizens' rights]."

And about Naša Stranka, Darjan says, "They need to do things differently. We live in a country of peasants. This country is 70% rural, and 70% of it is dedicated to agricultural production. But no one ever offered agrarian policies. No one ever went to the villages. Politics needs to change, because here, it's politics for the politicians, not for people. They need to take off their ties and talk with people."

Peđa, a Sarajevo journalist, says about the SDP: "
When they talk about social-democracy, that doesn't exist. They (SDP) have no connection with modern social democracy. And the SDP will never win in western Herzegovina. People there know that their HDZ are thieves. They don't like them. But they will vote for them. Because they are their thieves. And the SDP, to them, are equivalent to the Communist Party. So people are equating the SDP with communism, but there's no connection."

There's more: for quite some months there's been talk about electoral reform. There is basically an ongoing contest between ethnic representation and the civic principle of one person, one vote. Neither side in the issue is completely right. Because of the history of ethnic conflict—or better put, ethnicized conflict—people are afraid of being oppressed by another ethnicity. Like a poisonous fuel equivalent to hydrocarbons, this fear runs the engine that is Bosnian politics, and the politicians—pretty much all of them—benefit from it. However, ethnic groups need collective rights. Someone will disagree with me, but you can't just throw that all away. It's simplistic, given the overwhelmingly ethnicized politics at present, to say that the one person-one vote system will solve everything. Some years ago Ivan Lovrenović promoted a plan called "consociation." The concept was a compromise that protected individual and collective rights simultaneously, but it wasn't terribly well articulated and it never went anywhere.

Really, why not have one person-one vote? It's democracy, and for the most part it's the right idea. But people have been trained to think in ethnic herds, and that kind of alignment made the presidential elections that took place
in 2010 and 2014 a bitter disappointment for most of the Bosnian Croats. In those elections, Željko Komšić ran for Croat member of the state-level presidency on the SDP ticket and won. Mostly elected by Bosniak votes, he took the presidency away from the HDZ candidate. This was legal, but in the eyes of the Croat nationalists, it was not legitimate.

The Croat nationalists were unhappy about the election of a Croat president by Bosniak votes, and they took their point to the Constitutional Court, under the rubric of the "Ljubić case." They argued that existing electoral laws created a disadvantage for Croats because it prevented them from having a majority say in electing their representative to the state-level presidency. In late 2016, the Constitutional Court decided partially in favor of Ljubić, annulling part of the electoral statute. They also found that there must be
changes in the law governing the way that the upper house of the Federation entity parliament was elected. But these moves created holes in an already messy electoral system that the Court failed to patch.

In the ensuing year the Croat nationalist HDZ put forth a proposal that would give extra weight to the votes of Croats living in four cantons centered around Mostar in western Herzegovina, at the expense of the Croats in the other six cantons of the Federation. Under this scheme, Croat representatives to the Federation parliament would be elected from those four cantons, and no Croat from Sarajevo or Tuzla, for example, would be elected. This would constitute a covert step towards the territorialization of the Croat community in BiH, that is, a back door to a third entity.

I'm not going to annoy everyone by trying to explain the arcane and confounding legal conflicts being tossed about by the politicians,
but the legal situation leading up to the October 7 elections is such that there has been no resolution and there might not be enough mutual trust or cooperation between the Muslims and Croats in the Federation for the upper house (Dom Naroda—House of the Peoples) of the Federation Parliament to convene. In that case, the Federation would be left without a president. Furthermore, without a functioning House of the Peoples, which sends delegates to the upper house of the state-level parliament, there will be no such upper house, and therefore, only half a parliament at the state level. This is what's called a constitutional crisis, and it could happen next month.

I asked Mirsad Duratović
what happens if there's a stalemate in the government after the elections. He brushed off this scenario, saying that there would be an "acting government" that would continue to operate, with the officials elected in 2014. This is the Mostar scenario that has been in effect since 2008. Yes, there have been no municipal elections in Mostar since that year, and Mayor Ljubo Bešlić, a Croat, has remained in power since then. The HDZ and the SDA have effectively cooperated in dividing power in the divided city. There are even people who say that this works, that more maintenance and development of infrastructure have been undertaken in Mostar since 2008 than before. Tammany Hall got things done too.

What's been going on in Mostar is a scandal, and if something like this takes place at the Federation and state levels of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it will probably result in a much less stable situation than the one in Mostar. This mess points to the urgent need for massive constitutional reform, but that's unlikely at any time in the next few years. Meanwhile, besides the possibility of a standstill in national governance, or the establishment of a long-term caretaker government, there is the alternative of finagling by interested parties. That is, as in Mostar, the most powerful nationalist parties could bring their cooperation to another level by brokering a back-room deal to share power.

*

Let's take a short look at the candidates for the state-level presidency:
Dragan Čović (Croat); Željko Komšić (Croat); Šefik Džaferović (Bosniak, SDA); Denis Bećirović (Bosniak, SDP), (Fahrudin Radončić (Bosniak, SBB). Those are the main ones. The contest for Croat member will be between Čović and Komšić, and it's quite possible that Komšić will not have the votes that he garnered in his first and second contests. Briefly, for the rest, Džaferović is considered uninspiring, and not a good pick by the SDA. Bećirović is a bit more popular.

Of these two candidates, Peđa says, "
It will be close for the Bosniaks because it's a struggle among Bosniaks. Bećirović is formally SDP but, by his image, he's closer to the Islamic community. The SDA has a pretty bad candidate, not popular. Džaferović has plenty of problems, some known, some not known. He was a policeman before the war. He was UDBA [state security]. Then he became a lawyer, and then a judge. He was a judge during the war, and then involved in intelligence. Then he went into politics, in Parliament. He has the problem that he's pretty old, about 60, 61, but looks older, thin, feeble. And the SDA voters don't think of him as a real Muslim; Bećirović goes to mosque more. Džaferović has that image, not a populist, speaks precisely, doesn't have energy. So this will be close."

Vying for the seat of Serb member of the presidency are Milorad Dodik and Mladen Ivanić, the encumbent. If Dodik is elected, he will have the chance to practice the slow dismantling of the state from a higher position. Ivanić is loyal to the RS and susceptible to being towed towards extremism in a de facto manner, by virtue of the draw of Dodik's shenanigans. But he has essentially been a much more moderate politician—if "moderate" means what it usually means in mainstream discourse: willing to cooperate with the West. In that sense, Ivanić is more supportive by far than Dodik of Bosnia-Herzegovina remaining one country. And unlike Dodik, he opposes the establishment of a third entity for the Croat separatists.

Interesting things might happen in the next few weeks, in accord with the curse, "May you have an interesting life." President Dodik has warned that a
"certain group of foreigners," together with members of the opposition parties in the RS, and "some intelligence services" in Sarajevo, are planning "staged chaos" throughout the RS in the run-up to the elections. The reason, he presumes, is that it is "clear that, according to surveys of public opinion," his party is set to be the "absolute winner" in the coming elections. So Dodik says that he has found out from "serious people" that there's a complete scenario for destabilization of the RS. This plan, he says, includes an attempt to halt the trucks carrying election ballots to Banja Luka. And if this doesn't succeed, then there will be a rally in the center of Banja Luka the night before the election, violating the law against campaigning at that time, upon which foreign officials will call a halt to the elections.

At the same time, Dragan Mekti
ć, state-level Minister of Security and member of the RS opposition SDS party, warns that Dodik is preparing "serious incidents before the elections." One of these, in fact, took place at the end of August, when a couple of thugs vamped on an independent journalist and beat him with iron bars, putting him in the hospital. The journalist was just coming home from covering one of the demonstrations protesting the murder of David Dragičević.

Mektić says he has "reliable information...that the government will further prepare an atmosphere of lynching...because the people of Banja Luka have turned their back on the government that has deceived them a hundred times."

All this is part pre-election harangue, but it is based on the reality of violence that lurks in Banja Luka.


Finally, there's the question, what happens if Dodik loses the election and, for the first time in 12 years, loses power? Some analysts, and some foreign journalists, fear that the situation could devolve into war. Members of Emir Suljagić's Civic Alliance are inclined towards the most dire predictions of violence, based on the paramilitary preparations and arming of the police that have been taking place in the RS for some years. There are the Russians, too, lurking not so far in the background. In response to the dangerous scenario of Dodik and Čović inhabiting the presidency, Suljagić asserts that the election of Komšić is urgent.

On the other hand, it's clear that the balance of political and military forces, if it comes to that, are not what they were in 1992. Serbia—theoretically—wants to "go to Europe" more than it wants to support the disintegration of BiH. Russia is not so serious as to support a Ukrainian scenario in Bosnia. Mirsad Duratović tells me that the military forces are too equal for there to be a war; the Federation has military garrisons in Sanski Most and Bihać, both near enough to Banja Luka to pose a threat. Another activist seriously doubts that Dodik has the wherewithal to create a major disturbance if he loses the elections; he'll simply pack up and go to Serbia, where he has a mansion in a posh neighborhood and where some of his wealth is parked. He adds that "ordinary Serbs are fed up" with Dodik.

And there's the
international community, that is, Western factors including the EU and the US, which will oppose any breakup. The question is whether Western officials will do this only rhetorically, as they did in the early 1990s, or will exercise actual leverage to prevent instability.

Partitions: Kosovo and Bosnia.

Down the road in Kosovo, an initiative is brewing that could have dangerous implications for Bosnia. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia ten years ago, and it has been recognized as a sovereign state by over a hundred nations—but, critically, not by Russia, nor by five EU members. There have been sporadic negotiations over the past five years to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia but, for the most part, they have foundered. Progress in the negotiations would be helpful to both countries: to Serbia, because normalization is a prerequisite for its entrance to the EU; and to Kosovo, because recognition of its independence by Serbia and Russia is necessary for membership in the United Nations.

Things were basically moving nowhere until just the last month or so, when Serbian President Vu
čić began to talk about a partition of Kosovo that would return several northern municipalities to Serbia, in exchange for an as yet undefined normalization of relations between the two countries. This is not a new idea; it has been proposed by people all the way from Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dačić to Noam Chomsky. And Kosovo's President Hashim Thaçi has, with necessary political tact and vagueness, rejected territorial exchange but discussed a "border correction." (No one has ventured to explain the difference between "territorial exchange" and "border correction.")

Such a
"correction" would presumably involve the handover to Kosovo of the Preševo Valley, an area in southern Serbia that includes Albanian-majority municipalities, hard by the Kosovo border. And Dačić's "border demarcation" would cede four municipalities in the northern part of Kosovo, above the Ibar River, to Serbia.

What could be more natural and healthy than to establish a state where no more than an insignificant ethnic minority were present, with ethnic Serbs becoming part of (returning to) Serbia, and ethnic Albanians from Serbia becoming part of Kosovo? Nothing—if fascism is natural and healthy. After all, ethnic homogenization was the fuel that energized the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and, for that matter, the motivating ideology of Nazism as well. It's an intuitively attractive idea that always ends in murder, and the scenario for rearranging Kosovo is not an exception.

There are problems on many levels: for one, the fact that extremely valuable resources including the Trep
ča mining complex and the Gazivoda lake and hydro-electric dam are located in the part of Kosovo that would be ceded to Serbia. For another, in fact the majority of Kosovo Serbs would remain in Kosovo, as many Serb communities are located south of the suggested demarcation line. And as concerns Bosnia-Herzegovina, any partition of Kosovo will provide ammunition for Dodik's argument in favor of RS secession: "If Kosovo can break away from Serbia and be recognized, well, RS can do the same" (my paraphrase). There is no doubt that Dačić and Vučić are including this in their calculation. One breakup leads to another. Think-tank members and international politicians far and wide have opposed partition, speaking of a "Pandora's box" and saying, "There's no such thing as just changing two countries' borders." Without a war, that is. Kosovo became de facto independent only through war.

On this subject, Emir Suljagić says, "One must keep in mind that the discussion of partition...of Kosovo is not just about the partition of Kosovo, but of Bosnia-Herzegovina."

In a useful article in late August, Marcus Tanner wrote, "Were Europe and the US to throw away the rulebook and allow a border 'correction' on ethnic lines between Serbia and Kosovo, the dreaded 'precedent' would, obviously, have been set...After all, if a few tens of thousands of Serbs and Albanians on either sides of the current border can change their frontiers, what is to stop about a million Serbs in Bosnia?" (See "‘Correcting’ Kosovo’s Border Would Shake Postwar Europe’s Foundations," Balkan Insight,
here.

And Lord Paddy Ashdown, former High Representative to Bosnia-Herzegovina, wrote, "Are you going to redraw the Macedonian borders to combine the Albanian population in western Macedonia with Kosovo as well? Are you going to redraw the Hungarian-Serbian borders to cope with...[ethnic Hungarian] Vojvodina? Are you going to let [the ethnically Muslim] Sandžak [region split between Serbia and Montenegro] to move into Bosnia as well?...The one person who would be rubbing his hands with approval if this were to happen is President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, because this is exactly what he would like to see happen in the Ukraine: solve the Ukrainian problem by handing over a chunk of the Ukraine to Russia, and here's a precedent established that [would help] him do that."

Over the past few weeks it has been interesting to see how foreign officials have lined up on either side of the partition question. Most prominently, in mid-August Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, declared, "There will be no change in borders in the Western Balkans." Her words carry weight. On the other side, head of EU foreign policy Federica Mogherini said, "Whatever outcome is mutually agreed will get our support provided it is in line with international law." Pressed on this, she hedged, saying that she would "support land swaps as long as they avoided any attempt to create ethnically homogenous states." Which is precisely the goal of land swaps. And it is Mogherini who has been coordinating the turbulent negotiations between
Vučić and Thaçi.

As for the United States, there are clear indications that Trump and his administration are, at the very least, unconcerned about the partition idea. Ivica Dačić and Jared Kushner discussed partition when they met this summer. And John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor, announced in August, "The US policy is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments." In 2008, Bolton had opposed Kosovo's declaration of independence.

Daniel Serwer, tank-thinker, some-time envoy and full-time pundit on things Balkan, condemned this stance, saying, "This is a change from previous policy, which unequivocally supported Kosovo's sovereignty and territorial integrity...The ethnic nationalists [who are] getting a hearing at the Trump administration would never have gotten it in the previous administrations...none of them would have given these ideas the time of day...Someone in Washington needs to wake up. Havoc impends."

And on the Kosovo Albanian side, there's much opposition to border change. President Thaçi supports it for reasons that can only be guessed. Maybe he thinks he can score a victory for Kosovo. His Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj, opposes border change. So does the nationalist party Vetëvendosje, which has distinguished itself, among other ways, by throwing tear gas in parliament when it disagreed with what was going on. Vetëvendosje and civic organizations have called for protests. And for that matter, the Serbian Orthodox Church within and outside of Kosovo has come out strongly against partition, not only because it leaves the Serbs remaining in Kosovo high and dry, but also because it considers that all of Kosovo is still Serb territory.

Some commentators say that much of what has been spread around about partition and border correction is just "gossip," and that
Vučić and Thaçi are too far apart to come to any resolution. For the time being, it's an intractable problem. The dominant trends of nationalism and corruption on both sides of the Serbia-Kosovo divide militate against any reasonable solution.

*

Post-script: a friend wrote this about the current electoral campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina:

"I can't believe that anyone alive believes in these pre-election promises, in these grade-school performances, in the carnival actors in penguin suits, who wink at each other, who waddle in their pointed shoes, with their bulging stomachs, with their uncalloused fists, with their pickpocket's smiles with freshly installed crowns on their teeth. Their dull slogans, their low-grade jokes, their balloons that, they, like pedophiles, hand out to the children, I do not believe that anyone can believe them, these perversions, bloated ticks, mutated parasites, these psychopathic swine who do not hide their filthy snouts nor their true intentions, so there's nothing there to figure out, to analyze. Everything is clear as an open septic tank that stinks to the heavens.

"I just do not believe it. This must be some kind of prearranged performance, because no one can be so stupid as to believe in it. It's all clear to me."

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