Tag Archives: Bosnia-Herzegovina

Islamic extremism in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Terrorist attack on a police station in Zvornik

Tensions are high in Bosnia and Herzegovina this week following an attack on a police station in Zvornik, the Serbian-dominated Bosnian entity of Republika Srpska, last week. The attack, which is being referred to as a terrorist attack, carried out on April 27, left one policeman dead and two injured. The attacker, who has been identified as Nerdin Ibric, a Bosniak man (Muslim Bosnian), was killed in the shootout with police officers at the station. The effects from the attack have had a ripple effect across Bosnia, reopening wounds and creating unease far from the town where the actual shooting took place.

According to Republika Srpska officials, the local man from Sapna, near Zvornik, parked his car in front of the police station, armed with a rifle and other weapons, got out of his vehicle and immediately started shooting at policemen, while shouting “Allahu Akbar”, Arabic for “God is Great”. Police have subsequently arrested two suspects in connection with the terrorist attack, whilst several locations in the Zvornik area were raided by teams from the State Investigation and Protection Agency, SIPA, as well as local and entity police. However, the ramifications of this attack spread far wider than the small northeastern border town of Zvornik.

Before the war broke out in Bosnia in 1992, an estimated 60 percent of Zvornik’s population was Bosniak. However, following years of ethnic cleansing and expulsion in the region, as well as a massacre of the town’s non-Serbian citizens by Serb paramilitary groups at the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992, the ethnic demographic of the town is very different today. After the war, in 1995, Bosnia was divided into two politically autonomous regions: Republika Srpska (the Serbian dominated entity) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (primarily inhabited by Bosniaks, Bosnian Croatians, and Serbians). With both entity governments linked by a central government in the capital, Sarajevo.

Tensions between the two political entities have already been strained of late, as after six months of political wrangling, Bosnia and Herzegovina only just secured its State-level and Federation entity governments. In April, the leaders of Bosnia’s ruling parties finally approved new State and Federation entity governments, after months of political infighting, administrative problems, and procedural shortcomings had blocked the formation of new governments on multiple levels. Whilst the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have been politically strained, so have the populations, and a terrorist attack like the one in Zvornik has only served to cause greater concern over the threat of Islamic extremism emanating from the region. As such, the attack has reopened unhealed wounds of ethnic violence across the country and raised security concerns among Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs alike.

Roughly 40 percent of Bosnia’s population is Muslim and although Bosnia’s Muslim population is known to practice a moderate form of Islam, an influx in Bosnians traveling to Syria and Iraq to join “Islamic State” in recent years has raised concerns about Islamist extremists carrying out terrorist attacks on home soil. Unfortunately, the attack in Zvornik is not Bosnia’s first taste of Islamic extremism this year. Among other smaller incidents, Bosnia’s northern village of Gornja Maoca, in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is home to followers of the “radical Wahabbi” branch of Islam, recently made headlines and heightened fears of Islamic radicalization of Bosnia’s citizens. Earlier this year, images of the village displaying Islamic State (IS) flags and symbols caused national and regional unrest. Therefore, last week’s terrorist attack in Zvornik coupled with alarming possibilities of Islamic extremism in the country has strained relations between Bosnia’s entities. Moreover, it has not only heightened tensions in the country, but Bosnia and Herzegovina’s regional neighbors are well aware that it has dangerous potential to threaten ethnic relations in the region and indeed, the stability of the Western Balkans.

A week on from the terrorist attack in Zvornik, the ethnic and political tensions that were exasperated by the attack are beginning to give way to major security concerns. As the local, entity, and state police, institutions, and international experts consider ways to improve Bosnia and Herzegovina’s current security situation.

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Cooperation and Connectivity in the Western Balkans

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The ministers from six Balkan states recently met in Kosovo’s capital, Pristina, for a regional ministerial conference. The meeting of the “Western Balkans 6” begun with a summit in Kosovo that brought together the Foreign and Infrastructure ministers of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and for the first time, Serbia. The regional decision makers met alongside senior representatives from the international community, including Johannes Han, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement, and the European Commissioner for Transport, Violeta Bulc, who addressed the conference by video call.

The joint meeting of the Balkan ministers and European Union officials was organized in the same format as all European Union meetings and was chaired by Kosovo’s Deputy PM, Hashim Thaçi. The meeting in Kosovo had been preceded by a series of conferences held in Belgrade, Berlin, and Budva, as well as by a number of informal ministerial meetings. The meetings that created a pathway to this most recent Conference were used to emphasize the need to define common infrastructural and energy projects. At these precursor meetings the Western Balkan countries committed to annually prepare and submit national programs of economic reform to the European Commission.

During the conference in Pristina, discussions for the establishment of a Central Region Transport Network took place. If implemented, this network would ensure a better connection between all the Western Balkans and the European Union, with developments in connections between major cities, economic centers, and the most important seaports. Not only this, but it would also guarantee progression towards a more transparent decision-making process and coordinated approach to economics and infrastructure for the six participating countries. In so far as to say, the meeting emphasized the importance of regional infrastructural connectivity for the implementation of major regional projects in transport and energy.

The plans for such developments are to be presented to the European Commission and European Union countries at a Western Balkans conference, scheduled for late summer in Vienna. If successful, the plans made at this most recent Balkan ministerial meeting will be followed up in Vienna to enable significant connectivity improvements in the region, which will boost overall competitiveness, raise job growth, enable further job creation, and make a real improvement to the lives of Balkan inhabitants.

Whilst the joint meeting itself represented a significant step towards creating a Western Balkans transport network, the meeting also reflected the combination of modest steps and giant leaps the Balkans have taken in cooperation and tolerance since the Balkan conflicts of the 1990’s. Notably, the developments have taken place in the midst of the continued ethnic division and political instability that has become the reoccurring theme since the breakup of Yugoslavia. The modest steps manifest in the sheer participation in the joint meeting, held in Kosovo, as this is the first time Serbia has attended, which serves to illustrate the inclusive nature of the meeting’s cooperation.

On the other hand, the giant leaps in development in cooperation and tolerance between Western Balkan states are characterized by their will to reignite past connections, albeit in a very different way to their former Yugoslav ties, to intensify economic cooperation between them. The intensification of economic cooperation will require EU-compatible reforms in order to ensure the best regulatory environment to implement and operate the planned projects. Moreover, it also means the Balkan states must establish core investment priorities, credible planning, and funding mechanisms, as well as ensuring that their individual countries have the fiscal space to take up the necessary loan-financing to get all the projects implemented on time. From this meeting, it is clear that the path of development for the Balkans is inherently tied to their cooperation, connectivity, and importantly, their economic governance.

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