OPINION

Power games in the Balkans as Bosnia-Herzegovina teeters

Power games in the Balkans as Bosnia-Herzegovina teeters

With his recent trip to Albania and his reception in Ankara of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and his cabinet, Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been very much in the news in the Balkans in recent days.

And if in Tirana the Turkish president delivered hundreds of houses built for earthquake victims and hailed Albania and Kosovo as being “in his heart,” his discussions with Vucic were centered mainly on the big issue looming over the Balkans right now: a shake-up of borders stemming from developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

This cobbled-together state is teetering on the brink of collapse, threatening the territorial equilibrium in the Balkans, and the only ones who can avert its dissolution are, for the time being at least, Ankara and Belgrade. They have both the mechanisms and the influence over their ethnic and religious affiliates, who represent the two cornerstones of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and are in the position to have an instrumental role in developments.

Vucic, for his part, could prevent the populist-nationalist Bosnian-Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, from making good on threats to pull the semi-autonomous Republika Srpska out of Bosnia. Erdogan, in turn, could convince the country’s Muslims to stop insisting on a more statist model that would strip the Bosnian Serbs of their privileges. Whether they do these things or not will depend on what they view as being in their interests and on broader geopolitical considerations.

But as things stand, Bosnia-Herzegovina holds the key to peace in the Balkans, and developments there are the most dangerous in the region right now. It’s widely known that its dissolution will spark a new Balkan crisis, and I’m not sure to what extent the big players are prepared to deal with such an eventuality.

For the time being, Erdogan and Vucic are playing the role of regulator in Bosnia and also in Kosovo. Diplomat Alexandros Mallias’ “The Borders – Revisionism” (Sideris Publications) is, though available only in Greek, an excellent book explaining the current conundrum. A former ambassador to Tirana, Skopje and Washington, and head of Balkan affairs at the Greek Foreign Ministry, Mallias is in an excellent position to know how power games are played in the Balkans, who the different protagonists are and what dangers lurk in the background, while he also explains why we here in Greece need to worry about any new changes in the borders and territorial exchanges between Serbia and Kosovo. He also analyzes the interests of the United States, Russia and the European Union in the area, while stressing the need for the Greeks to gauge their own interests as well.