by Chris Jackson
Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Željko Komšić addressed dual subjects in his remarks at the University of Illinois on October 1, 2013: the country’s hopes for accession to the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the positive experience of Bosnian immigrants in the United States.
Komšić began by recognizing western states for their intervention in the Yugoslav Civil War in the 1990s. This was an appropriate place to begin, as the two main topics of the talk were both rooted in the conflict.
Firstly Komšić addressed two political aspirations paramount to the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which he described as being the only viable road for the nation. These are membership in the European Union and NATO. As those familiar with the history of the former Yugoslavia could have expected the ‘ethnic’ divide is the primary reason Bosnia and Herzegovina has not yet attained membership.
Historically the friction between Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks has been bitter and the source of considerable violence, first in the Second World War and then again in the 1990s. Bosnia itself is an embodiment of this divide, officially divided into Serb, Croat, and Bosniak populations, each with its own region and its own president. President Komšić, chairman of the three presidents, regards the tearing down of this divide as the route to membership in both the EU and NATO. He further addressed the issue of religion, upon which the ethnic divide is founded, identifying it as important to one’s identity, but not one’s basic human rights.
The focus then turned across the Atlantic to the US, where President Komšić addressed the progress of the immigrant Bosnian population. He believes that in the US where the Bosnian community seems to span the social classes, the children of immigrants – Croat, Serb, and Bosniak – are tearin
g down the divide between the three religion-based ‘ethnicities’. Perhaps it takes immersion in another different culture for the three to recognize that they in fact more similar than different.
Ultimately what President Komšić regards as the key to the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a civil rights movement comparable to the one in the United States in the middle part of the twentieth century. However, any comparison between racial segregation and the ethnic dissonance in Bosnia is a strained one. While, yes, segregation in the US was characterized by some degree of violence, it is not entirely rooted in hatred and genocide. With such indescribable violence as that at the Jasenovac extermination camp in the Second World War and the more recent atrocities of the Yugoslav Civil War so recently in memory, a wedge still exists, driven between the victimized ethnic groups. Ultimately the regime of Tito is to blame for this, having virtually swept the ethnic cleansing masked by the Second World War under the rug, rather than reconcile it, in hopes of unifying the communist Yugoslavia. Furthermore, in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, there exists the outside influence of nationalism. No doubt the extreme xenophobia characteristic of neighboring Croatia and Serbia feeds that of the respective communities within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In conclusion it is hard to imagine President Komšić’s dream coming to fruition. In a country officially divided along ‘ethnic’ lines and in which the Ekavian and Jekavian dialects of Serbo-Croat are claimed as entirely different languages by the ethnic groups they are endemic of, it is hard to imagine complete reconciliation and cooperation.
Chris Jackson is a first-year MA student in European Union studies at the University of Illinois and a graduate assistant in the European Union Center. His research interests include nationalism, European Security and Defense Policy, and the EU in Southern and Eastern Europe. Chris graduated from Centre College (KY) in 2012 with a BA in History.