Almost a quarter century after the Dayton Accords signed in 1995 ended the horrific war between Muslim Bosniaks, Roman Catholic Croats, and Orthodox Christian Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this fragile entity remains a state held together by “Scotch-tape” – the European Union and NATO.
At the summit of this ramshackle country stands the presidency, controlled by three elected presidents, one each for the three ethnic groups.
Since they agree on virtually nothing, it is governed, in reality, by a so-called High Representative. The current incumbent is the Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko.
He has the power to adopt binding decisions when local parties seem unable or unwilling to act, and he can remove from office public officials who violate legal commitments or, in general, the Dayton Accords.
A cumbersome state apparatus with 14 levels of government and no clear reconciliation strategy opened the door to continued ethno-nationalist brinkmanship and endemic corruption.
Also, half the country has been turned into a de facto Serb statelet, the Republika Srpska, the other half given over to the Croat and Bosnian Muslim population.
If the external forces keeping the peace ever stopped, war would resume almost immediately. In a sense, it has never really ended.
The former Yugoslav republic had a multiethnic population of Bosniaks,Croats and Serbs. The latter two groups wanted to join their ethnic kin in Croatia and Serbia when Yugoslavia disintegrated. War followed.
With at least 130,000 people dead and some 2.2 million turned into refugees and internally displaced persons by ethnic cleansing between 1992 and 1995, no one was left untouched by the conflict.
Sarajevo was besieged and indiscriminately shelled by Bosnian Serb snipers. Banja Luka, the country’s second largest city, was systematically cleansed of non-Serbs and all its mosques demolished. The city of Mostar, a UNESCO world heritage site, would find itself similarly encircled.
Divided cities are places of extreme exclusion and polarization, and Mostar has been divided since 1992. Though in 2004 the city was reunified by an interim city statute, it remains highly contested.
Mostar is located in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the confusingly-named part of the country outside the Republika Srpska that is mainly Bosniak and Croat.
Throughout 1992, tensions between Croats and Bosniaks increased in Mostar and by April 1993 Mostar had become a divided city with the western part dominated by Croats and the eastern part controlled by the Bosniaks.
Its famous 16th-century stone bridge was destroyed during the fighting but has since been rebuilt. The Croat–Bosniak conflict ended in 1994; by then some 2,000 people had been killed.
Today, the city’s population of 105,00 is divided between Croats, at 48.4 per cent and Bosniaks at 44.1 per cent. There is a very small Serb population. The city of Mostar has the largest population of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It is a city that, while officially reunited, remains associated with the seeming impossibility of eradicating the ethnic divisions that paralyse it.
Power is divided between the Croatian Democratic Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina (HDZ BiH) and the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA), the same parties that reduced the center of the city to a wasteland.
There are two separate fire brigades, two garbage collection companies, two hospitals, two electricity companies, two bus stations, two popular nightclubs, and two soccer teams.
Of course, schools are also either Croat or Bosniak. They all attest to the continued division.
Mostar, and all of Bosnia-Herzegovina, is not so much at peace as in a state of non-war.