By E. Izmirli, I. Jovanovic, A. Prlenda | 30 April 2010
A new page was turned in relations between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) last week as leaders agreed to mend strained ties. Serbian President Boris Tadic and BiH Presidency Chairman Haris Silajdzic’s meeting in Istanbul yielded a joint declaration underlining “a joint vision for the future”.
The agreement was brokered by Turkey with President Abdullah Gul at the helm.
“To create an environment of lasting peace, stability and good neighbourly relations, a joint vision has to be developed in which our nations can live in peaceful co-existence and harmony,” the declaration said.
For months, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has been shuttling between the two counties. “This meeting is a first of its kind since the Bosnian [conflict],” Davutoglu told the Turkish daily Sabah on April 24th.
The declaration promotes “security for all, high level political dialogue, economic interdependence and preservation of multiethnic, multi-cultural and multi-religious social fabric of the region”.
Serbian international affairs expert Dusan Reljic told SETimes “If Bosnian politicians become part of a new, positive trend in the region, the entire region’s path towards normalisation and stabilisation will be facilitated.”
Belgrade Centre for Security Studies head Aleksandar Fatic said the meeting opens the way for Belgrade to communicate directly with Sarajevo authorities, rather than through Republika Srpska (RS), as has been the case.
“I believe that good relations between Belgrade and Sarajevo are the best guarantee for preserving RS’s status in line with the Dayton Peace Accords — a potential conflict between the RS political elite and the Bosniak leaders in the Federation of BiH could only lead to the annulment of RS by the international community,” Fatic told SETimes.
“Serbia will never … upset the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Tadic said at the weekend meeting. He underlined that this new beginning could mark a new era for boosting regional co-operation.
Replied Silajdzic, “it is very important for the Bosnian people to hear this.”
Both countries are aspiring to join the EU, with hopes that this reconciliation process will help further their bids.
Analysts say that Turkey has also strengthened its position regarding EU accession by organising the meeting.
“In tune with its growing foreign policy ambitions, Turkey is aiming to be among the leading foreign factors in Southeast Europe,” Reljic said. “Turkey is relying on mediation diplomacy, economic and financial projects and its traditional ties in the region that are not limited to countries with a predominantly Islamic tradition.”
“It was, no doubt, not an easy thing to come to this point,” Sami Kohen, a foreign policy columnist for the Turkish daily Milliyet wrote on Tuesday (April 27th). “It can be said that the architect of this meeting was Davutoglu.”
Banja Luka analyst Tanja Topic welcomed the declaration as a strong step towards normalising regional relations. Further political initiatives in this direction, she added, could lead to a weakening of nationalistic hard line politics in RS.
“If recent political steps forward in the whole region would be continued by Croatia and particularly by Serbia, then such negative reactions will soon be marginalised, and the hard line RS politicians can only become political losers,” Topic told SETimes.
The agreement was not without controversy. Nebojsa Radmanovic, the BiH presidency’s Serb member, termed the declaration a violation of the constitution because Silajdzic signed it without the consent of the other two presidency members.
“Silajdzic and Foreign Minister Sven Alkalaj were on an unofficial visit to Istanbul, and therefore could not accept any document on behalf of BiH,” Radmanovic said.
That reaction, Topic said, “shows that RS leaders feel they are losing some kind of exclusivity in the relations with Serbia”.
During the meeting, Gul touched on the importance of establishing and sustaining regional relationships.
“The Balkans has always been at peace and stability under a huge roof — and this time the roof will be the EU and NATO structures, to which we attach great importance,” he said. “The normalization of the relations between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina is vital.”
Milan, 71, a pensioner from Belgrade, said it’s not easy for Serbs to sort out their feelings towards Turkey.
“You know what the first association with the Turks in Serbia is — we were under their occupation for 500 years,” he said. “But a lot has changed. If they have a euro or two to invest in Serbia now, they’re welcome.”