Bosnia and Herzegovina: The spirits of Zaev and Macedonia are spreading through BiH and the region

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has analysed the official visit of Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 23 July 2017 and its implications for BiH and the region. The most relevant and interesting sections from the analysis entitled “Bosnia and Herzegovina: The spirits of Zaev and Macedonia are spreading through BiH and the regionare published below.

Bosnia and Herzegovina:

The spirits of Zaev and Macedonia are spreading through BiH and the region


Prime Minister of the Republic of Macedonia Zoran Zaev and his delegation of several ministers from his government visited Bosnia and Herzegovina on 23 July 2017. They were hosted by the Chairman of BiH Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdić.


Analysts believe that it was not a coincidence that Zaev decided to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina as the first destination in the region after he took over the Prime Minister office. The visit has sent a series of geopolitical messages and signs of positive future political processes in the region, which will give Macedonia and BiH a new impetus and support from the international community on their way to accelerated NATO and EU membership.


While Macedonian Prime Minister visited and talked to the representatives of all government authorities in BiH, it is especially noticeable that he has very friendly and sincere relations with the Chairman of BiH Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdić and that for some time their meetings have been taking place under the stern eye of the international community.


The so called “3–6–9” reform programme which is already being implemented by the new Macedonian Government is the first serious step to full membership in Euro-Atlantic integration after a ten-year deadlock period.


Analysts believe that BiH and Macedonia will receive the same accelerated treatment in their preparations to join NATO and the EU. In his function as the Chairman of BiH Council of Ministers Denis Zvizdić has shown that the international community can rely on him, not only based on his sincere support to Euro-Atlantic integration but also because he is one of the future regional leaders. Zaev and Zvizdić will be joined by a pleiad of competent and brave leaders from the region such as the informal leader of the Kosovo Self-Determination movement (Lëvizja Vetëvendosje!) Albin Kurti who is distinctly social-democratic oriented and represents a new wave in Kosovo's politics.


Who can be the Bosnian Zaev?


Analysts have noted that it is paradoxical that Zaev as the regional leader and the leader of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia (SDSM)  still has no counterpart among the current political opposition in BiH (SDP BiH and other opposition parties), which further strengthens Zvizdić's political rating not only in BiH but also at the regional and international levels.


The situation regarding leadership differentiates also in other countries in the region. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who has already achieved his political maximum, are undisputed leaders in their respective countries. Plenković, who still hasn't managed to stabilise his government, is leading the country under very tense regional and neighbourly relations, including with Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina where he is trying to introduce the so called third Croatian entity. It should be noted that during the 1990s war Croatia sacrificed the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats in order to establish sovereignty in the whole territory of the Republic of Croatia through the military operations called “Flash” and “Storm”. That was the price for solving the so called Serbian issue in Croatia by actually reducing the number of Serbs in Croatia to a merely “decorative” number. It was a part of the wider international consensus according to which the then President of the Republic of Croatia Franjo Tuđman sacrificed Bosnian-Herzegovinian Croats and sealed their fate so that they have to live in Bosnia and Herzegovina without the possibility to create any kind of ethnic-based entity (reservation) for Croats within BiH.


Vučić now has a historical opportunity to transform Serbia into a democratic state which would no longer be regarded as a factor of political instability in the region and beyond, including in BiH, Macedonia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Surely Vučić has not forgotten the very sensitive issues of Serbian provinces of Vojvodina, Sandžak, Preševsko Valley, eastern Serbia and the territory on the border with Bulgaria, nor has he forgotten that Serbia will very soon be surrounded with NATO states. Vučić is in a more difficult position since his regime carries the heavy burdens from the recent past under Vojislav Šešelj and Slobodan  Milošević. The West has learnt a lot from the Yugoslavian crisis – especially that the political leaders say one thing and do another thing. Milošević was an illustrative example of that practice, and Vučić is one of his students so he is under close surveillance of the West which is more and more reluctant to believe his political rhetoric.     


Due to its involvement in the war in BiH and the processes before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, the Republic of Croatia is currently using all its forces to complicate the relations with BiH as well as with Slovenia following the judgement of the international tribunal court on the border dispute between Slovenia and Croatia. By rejecting the decision of the international tribunal court and thus opposing the international norms and the international law it has called into question its borders and its potential issues related to Istria, which has already been questioned in the European Parliament (EP) by Italian right-wing parties. Plenković could play a very important role in supporting Zaev and the Republic of Macedonia on its way to NATO and the EU, and he could contribute to releasing the tense relations with BiH. The West still believes that Croatian Prime Minister Plenković and President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović provide strong support to the leader of HDZBiH and the Croatian member of the BiH Presidency Dragan Čović (HDZBiH), who closely cooperates with the promoters of the Greater Serbian and Russian politics in BiH and believes that the so called Croatian issue in BiH can be resolved without  the “third nation”, i.e. the Bosniaks who represent the largest nationality. This close cooperation and the model used by Čović point to the well-known (Greater)Serbian matrix which has been used in Kosovo where it provided the solutions for all the issues without the involvement of the majority Albanian nation. At the same time, Čović is a hostage to the so called lobby of generals in the Croatian Defence Council  (HV), which is burdened with crime and corruption, and some of them also with war crimes.


Analysts believe that by further (re)defining his relations with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, Plenković could get rid of the negative effects from the war-remnants in HDZ and thus become one of the European leaders. The main test in achieving this will be HDZBiH leader and member of the BiH Presidency Dragan Čović, who  is constantly trying to destabilise the situation and undermine the state of BiH while presenting himself as the promotor of the European values.


However, there are some facts pointing to his insincere political rhetoric: the ministers from HDZBiH together with the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats  (SNSD) led by Milorad Dodik blocked the accession of BiH to the Transport Community and deprived BiH of about EUR 500 million infrastructure funds. Čović should be aware that nationalism, chauvinism and fascism along with crime, corruption and even war crimes are not the European values. In his latest political actions Plenković has shown that he possesses the self-confidence and political capacity to oppose the negative effects in his political and ideological surroundings.


The support to Zoran Zaev and the Republic of Macedonia will represent a test for all the leaders in the region, including Vučić in Serbia and  Edi Rama in Albania, while Greece as the EU and NATO member will soon find the long-awaited compromise with the Republic of Macedonia regarding its name and its full membership in NATO.


A warning to Vučić!


Analysts have noted that Prime Minister Zaev's visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina may be the last signal and signpost for Aleksandar Vučić to joint and support Macedonia and BiH on their way to EU and NATO full membershp. In certain international political circles it is believed that according to the new USA-Russia strategic agreement Serbia could become a part of the interest sphere of the Russian Federation through the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), whose members are Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, while Serbia and Afghanistan are the observer states. According to reliable information sources in Brussels and Washington certain decisions are already under preparation with the aim to modify the Dayton Agreement, especially in terms of the parallel special ties concluded by the states signatories to the Dayton Agreement and their withdrawal from those parallel ties. Those decisions deal with Serbia's divergence from NATO and its political ties with Russia.


A worrying fact is that Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian authorities again this year refused to allow the highest representatives of the Republic of Macedonia to mark the Republic Day on 2 August in St. Prohor Pčinjski monastery which is located in Serbia's territory and where the First Assembly of Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) was held on 2 August 1944, which laid the foundation of the modern Macedonian Republic as a member of the Federal Yugoslavia. Serbian authorities have thus indirectly sent the message that they still call into question the statehood of Macedonia and the identity of Macedonians as a nation.


Zaev, the citizens of Macedonia and SDSM as the triggers of changes in the region


For some years now, Zoran Zaev with his SDSM and the citizens of Macedonia have been fighting a heroic fight against crime, corruption, nationalism, chauvinism and fascism. “United in Diversity” and “The Truth for Macedonia ”were some of their slogans used for mobilising Macedonian citizens of  different nationalities to oppose one of the most rigid and hated regimes in Europe.


The priority of all states in the region is to reform and stabilise the basic pillars of their democratic systems, with an emphasis on a strong, independent and professional judicial system. Analysts have noted that Zaev's visit to BiH has opened once more the “cancerous wounds” of the Balkan states: the corrupt and (in)dependent justice systems, which represents a priority task for the Republic of Macedonia.


If Zaev with the support from the USA and the EU manages to achieve an independent justice system and state administration, the same should happen in judicial systems of other states, especially in BiH. Unfortunately the justice system in BiH is in the hands of a few nationalistic groups in the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) which serves the interests of the local politicians, headed by HJPC president Milan Tegeltija and the newly elected president of BiH Court Ranko Debevec, who are Dodik's staff, and the acting Chief  Prosecutor of BiH Gordana Tadić, who is Čović's person. This further encourages Dodik and Čović to continue with their politics and mutual agreements.


Analysts have noted that Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina will soon have to embark on their reform agendas, since the international community is fully aware that these countries as well as the Republic of Serbia are trying to establish judicial systems that resemble the former rigid communist system that was centrally administered.


Macedonia and BiH are clearly expected to carry out joint action in the future. Zoran Zaev represents a chance not only for the benevolent but also for those who want to change their politics or harmonise it with the general civilizational norms and those who strive for the prosperity of their states and citizens regardless of their nationality. As was recently written in a newspaper article in BiH “Zoran Zaev is the light at the end of the tunnel”.


Ljubljana, 8 August 2017                                                                                                     

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