Ahmed Hrustanovic, an imam and teacher from the city of Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, fears for him and his family as the country faces its worst political and security crisis since the war of the nineties.
In July 1995, Serbian forces killed the 35-year-old’s father, both grandparents, four uncles and other relatives during the Srebrenica genocide, which had been declared a United Nations “safe zone”.
From 1992 to 1995, Bosnia was attacked by Serb and Croat forces with the aim of dividing the country into a Greater Serbia and a Greater Croatia, respectively. Some 100,000 people died and nearly two million people fled.
The conflict ended in December 1995, with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement, negotiated by the United States, which established Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state composed of two entities: a Federation entity dominated by Bosnian-Croats and an entity of the Serb-led Republika Srpska.
Milorad Dodik, a Bosnia and Herzegovina Serb member of the tripartite presidency, which rotates every eight months between a Bosnian, a Serb and a Croatian member, has been threatening secession from the Republika Srpska for 15 years.
But in the past month, he has taken significant steps toward such a move, announcing that the Republika Srpska will withdraw from key state institutions to achieve full autonomy within the country, in violation of the 1995 peace accords.
The crisis began in July when Valentin Inzko, then a senior representative overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement, outlawed the denial of genocide and established war crimes, as well as the glorification of war criminals.
Serbian representatives responded by boycotting the central institutions of the state.
The Republika Srpska, along with all of China and Russia, does not recognize the Office of the High Representative and has long called for its closure.
Last week, Dodik announced that the Republika Srpska would move towards forming its own Bosnian Serb army, after withdrawing from the Bosnian Joint Armed Forces. The announcement has alarmed many Bosnians, like Hrustanovic, who fear a return to the violence of the 1990s.
“I cannot say that I am not afraid and I cannot believe that after so many years and after surviving the genocide, you are still afraid for yourself, your family, your life,” Hrustanovic told Al Jazeera.
“People [in Srebrenica] they are afraid. Today I met one of the Mothers of Srebrenica (an activist group representing the families of the victims of the genocide) and she asked me: ‘My son, what is happening? Will we have to run again? ‘”
It was the Bosnian Serb army, along with Serbian police, intelligence and security, who carried out acts of systematic violence against non-Serbs in the previous war.
The International Court of Justice in 2007 determined that the Bosnian Serb army was responsible for the genocide in Srebrenica, located in the Republika Srpska entity near the border with Serbia.
Hrustanovic returned to Srebrenica in 2014, two years after he and his family buried the incomplete skeletal remains of his father and two of his uncles.
Hrustanovic, a father of four, said he hoped his family would not have to flee, but did not rule it out.
“The political situation has never been so bad [since the war], to the point where they are openly heading towards the formation of the Republika Srpska army, which committed genocide, ”Hrustanovic said. “What a defeat for humanity it is to allow someone to re-form an army that committed genocide.”
In Zepa, located in the Republika Srpska, near Srebrenica, the families of the Bosnian returnees were also concerned.
“They are survivors of the genocide, mothers or elderly living alone,” Munira Subasic, president of the Mothers of Srebrenica association, who visited the community on Thursday, told Al Jazeera. “They called me to meet with them and talk, but I have no words of comfort because I myself cannot handle what is happening in Bosnia,” Subasic said.
“This is a difficult situation. There is a lot of talk, whispering and stories circulating, like in the 1990s before the war broke out. Dodik is doing his job, he is not coming back, but the international community that betrayed us in 1995 He’s trying to betray us again
“They should have done something a long time ago … They all say, ‘We are watching, we are watching, we are following’ … but in reality, they have divided Bosnia,” Subasic continued, adding that mothers have to use their passports to visit the graves of loved ones buried in the Republika Srpska if the entity separates.
On Wednesday, current High Representative Christian Schmidt presented a report on foreign missions to the United Nations, warning that the peace agreement risks falling apart and that “the prospects for further division and conflict are very real” if Dodik were to create an army. Serbian separated.
Dodik’s actions are “tantamount to secession without proclaiming it,” he said, adding that Bosnia faces its greatest existential threat since the end of the war if the international community does not intervene to curb secessionist threats.
For their part, the European Union and the United States have issued statements calling on “all political actors” and “all parties” to abandon divisive and secessionist rhetoric and respect state institutions, enraging critics who insist that only one party has violated the agreements.
However, the commander of the EU peacekeeping force (EUFOR) in Bosnia, Aleksander Placer said He saw no military threat behind Dodik’s moves to create a Serbian army, adding that Bosnia’s joint armed forces are not anchored in the Dayton peace accord.
“The security situation in Bosnia is stable,” he said in comments published Wednesday in the Austrian daily Standard, puzzling many Bosnians.
When asked about the Bosnian Serbs’ threat to recreate their own army, the Austrian commander of @euforbih He says @derStandardat “The army union is not anchored in the Dayton peace accord.” I suppose this is to reassure nervous Bosnians.https://t.co/mDMatIM685
– Toby Vogel (@tobyvogel) November 4, 2021
Kurt Bassuener, a senior associate at the Democratization Policy Council, a Berlin-based think tank, told Al Jazeera that the crisis would worsen if the international community continued to address it only diplomatically.
Schmidt in his report made it clear that this is a security crisis, not just a political one, he noted.
“It requires a security response,” Bassuener said, such as the reinforcement of EUFOR, which is implemented to ensure a secure environment but has been reduced and below deterrent capacity for more than a decade.
“There is more than enough weaponry and more than enough vulnerable people to allow something very bad to happen,” Bassuener said.
“The potential for miscalculation among actors with enforcement power in Bosnia is very, very high.
“I think it is a very legitimate fear that unless this is seriously addressed with security tools in the immediate term, in days, weeks, not months, something bad is more and more likely to happen that could not have been planned but that it will lead to something that will develop a dynamic of its own, ”Bassuener said.
Meanwhile, in the central Bosnian city of Jajce, Samir Beharic said he was feeling nervous about the future for the first time in his life.
The 30-year-old said he was disappointed in the international community and did not expect “incompetent foreign diplomats” to secure peace, as his “quick fixes” don’t work.
Recently, he said, his mother had asked him if they would have to flee Jajce again, just as they had done in 1992 after the Republika Srpska army took over the city.
“She said that she would rather die than live a war again and she is not the only one,” he said.