Tony Barber Crisis is never far round the corner in Bosnia

Miroslav Lajcak of Slovakia is an amiable, gifted diplomat with the hardest job in town. As the international community’s high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, he is tasked with turning this most unhappy and dysfunctional of states into a viable long-term entity. He is also supposed somehow to put Bosnia on an irreversible path to European Union membership. Neither goal looks remotely in sight.

When Lajcak met some reporters in Brussels this week, he was pressed to say what impact the Kosovo crisis would have on Bosnia. After all, the declaration of independence by Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority in the teeth of opposition from Serbia would seem to provide the perfect justification for the ever restive Bosnian Serbs to announce that they want to secede from the state that boxes them together with Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats.

Lajcak’s answer was rather disappointing. “Bosnia-Herzegovina is no hostage to Kosovo. It’s a country that knows exactly what are the tasks ahead and what it has to do to get on the European path… Kosovo does have an impact in terms of affecting the atmosphere in the region, but people shouldn’t use Kosovo as an excuse.”

The point is, of course, that “people” – that is, the Bosnian Serbs – do use Kosovo as an excuse. They refuse to accept the EU’s argument that Kosovo is a ‘sui generis’ case that sets absolutely no precedent for other parts of the Balkans or the rest of the world. And in refusing to accept this argument, they are doing no more than the government of Lajcak’s own country, Slovakia, is doing when it refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence. For Slovakia fears that independence for Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians sets a precedent for Slovakia’s ethnic Hungarian minority.

As it happens, the present Bosnian Serb leadership under Milorad Dodik seems disinclined to exploit the Kosovo crisis to cause trouble for Lajcak and cook up reckless secessionist plots. But neither he nor the majority of Bosnian Serbs feel any affection for the bizarre and unwieldy construction that is the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A crisis is never far round the corner in Bosnia.

Lajcak is the sixth high representative appointed to supervise Bosnia since the Dayton accords that ended the 1992-95 civil war. Kosovo’s declaration of independence, and the recognition of Kosovo by various western governments, have made it likely that even another six high representatives won’t make a success of Bosnia.