[Opinion] : Breaking up is not the thing to do


“It would be hypocritical for the democratic world to insist on defending all democratic ideals under attack in Ukraine, while permitting the break-up of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

By Ismet Fatih Čančar , @IFCBiH ,

Washington, 05 October 2023, / – On August 30, The Spectator published an article by Swansea law professor Andrew Tettenborn in which the author exults at what he hopes will be the break up of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He thinks this a natural course of events, the inevitable ending of “the pantomime horse democracy.”

He is wrong. The break up of Bosnia is not a safe roadmap to sustainable peace in the Balkans. His argument places puts him in league with nationalist Serb and Croat actors who claim Bosnia is an aberration with no future, due to its ethnic differences and diversity.

The professor ignores the law…

The complexities of the constitutional and political system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the power-sharing structure under the Dayton Agreement, and the division of the society along ethno-national groups are well-known. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against this system August 29 in Kovačević vs Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Court identified a series of systemic, institutional discriminations that need to be amended if Bosnia wants to progress on the Euro-Atlantic path.

Critics were fast to oppose the implementation of this verdict, stating that any implementation, or even the mere thought of reforming or upgrading the Dayton Agreement, will lead to conflict and Bosnia’s break up.

The argument that Bosnia cannot exist if it is not strictly an ethnic electoral system is a lazy, watered down excuse of anti-Bosnian actors. Many receive support from Moscow and wish to keep the country trapped in the chains of ethno-national politics.

The alternative, a citizen-based civic model for Bosnia and Herzegovina, requires more political will and resources, but it is the correct path towards a functional constitutional democracy like those other European citizens enjoy across the continent.

…and the facts

In an attempt to make the idea of Bosnian break up more digestible, domestic actors and international observers often display ignorance towards basic historical facts. Bosnia and Herzegovina did not originate at Dayton. The Republic was accepted into the United Nations three years earlier, in 1992. And before that it was for centuries a stable European political entity with borders defined by natural geographical features and state structures. Its was the Bosnian Kingdom in the Middle Ages, Bosnia during Ottoman rule, a Corpus separatum during the Austro-Hungarian Monarcy, and one of six republics within Socialist Yugoslavia.

The claim that Bosnia’s diversity has produced animosity of “historical memories” lacks substance. Diverse religions and beliefs have coexisted in Bosnia and Herzegovina for centuries in peace and harmony.

The problems come from Serbia and Croatia, not Bosnia

The effort to break Bosnia up comes mainly from Serbia and Croatia, which have throughout history sought to annex parts of its territory. The source of the problem in the Balkans is not the allegedly irreconcilable religious, ethnic and national differences among people, but rather the “Greater-state” ambitions of Serbia and Croatia.

series of judgments of international courts have unequivocally established the fact that the war pillage and destruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina resulted from the political projects of Belgrade and Zagreb to ethnically clean territories. They used both ethnic and religious factors to inflame interethnic hatred, mistrust, and instability, culminating in mass war crimes, ethnic cleansing and genocide.

These ambitions continue to serve as the political focus of Serb and Croat nationalist and secessionist actors, thus slowing down or completely eliminating nationbuilding in Bosnia. They deny genocide and glorify war crimes and their perpetrators.

Bosnia and Ukraine

The main reasons for rejecting the break-up of Bosnia are not historical but moral and political. Its break-up would legitimize genocide and ethnic cleansing, posing a dangerous precedent for similar campaigns of killing and persecution. The logic of blood and soil would return Europe to the 1930s. It would be hypocritical for the democratic world to insist on defending all democratic ideals under attack in Ukraine, while permitting the break up of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Ukrainian struggle is also the Bosnian struggle. The secessionist leader of the Bosnian Serbs has openly praised and publicly awarded Putin for all the atrocities he has committed against the Ukrainians.

The recent visit of the members of Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Kiev conveyed the right message. The campaign of Russian “denazification” of Ukraine is a campaign that Bosnia and Herzegovina also went through in its struggle towards freedom and international affirmation.

Principles of justice and legality, inviolability of sovereignty and territorial integrity, respect for human rights, and the promotion of peace and security are of crucial importance for the European continent. They need to be defended in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


Ismet Fatih Čančar is an independent researcher, a former Partnership for Peace (PfP) Fellow at NATO Defence College, and a former advisor to the Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This opinion was first published at website.      

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of  .

scroll to top