Page last updated at 07:49 GMT, Wednesday, 30 July 2008 08:49 UK

Karadzic casts shadow over Bosnia's fate

By Nick Thorpe
BBC Balkans correspondent

Bosnian Serbs rally in support of Radovan Karadzic in Banja Luka, 26/07/08
Some Bosnian Serbs still long for separation from Bosniaks

"The arrest of Karadzic has put him back on the political stage," says Aleksandar Trifunovic, editor of the web portal Buka in Banja Luka, Bosnia's second city.

"He has re-emerged from the shadows and no-one can be quite sure what effect that will have."

Radovan Karadzic appears to have some views of his own about that.

"My arrest will mean the end of the Bosnian Serb Republic [Republika Srpska]," he has been quoted as saying, by his brother Luka, who visited him in his cell in Belgrade's special war crimes court.

That is the rallying cry which some in Mr Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party wanted to hear.

They have in recent years been outflanked on the nationalist front by the number one Bosnian Serb politician today, Milorad Dodik.

Ironically, the moment they dreaded for so long - the arrest of their first and foremost leader - has given them back their voice. That is a welcome boost for them ahead of local elections in the autumn.

"The division of Bosnia that was [Mr Karadzic's] dream is now more likely than at any time since he became a fugitive," Paddy Ashdown, the British statesman and former High Representative in Bosnia wrote in the UK's Observer newspaper.

Bosnia today is in its worst situation since the war, because of the strength of nationalist rhetoric at every level of life
Aleksandar Trifunovic

Those comments have been interpreted by some in Bosnia-Hercegovina as less a prediction than an appeal to Bosnia's warring politicians to stop squabbling.

The arrest of Mr Karadzic has added fuel to the fire of an already emotional debate about the future of Bosnia - and whether there is one.

Serb nationalists want to take advantage of the separation of Kosovo and Montenegro from Serbia, to push for the Serb Republic in Bosnia to break away from mother Bosnia.

Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) politicians say that Mr Karadzic's arrest should be a new opportunity to abolish his creation: the Serb mini-state in Bosnia - which Serbs cling to like a raft in a stormy sea.

Returning home

Cooler heads on all sides are calling for calm.

"There is no question that Bosnia will survive," says Mirsad Tokaca, head of the Bosnian Research and Documentation Centre in Sarajevo.

Bosnia map

"If it couldn't be destroyed in 1992 when the Serbs attacked, or in 1993 when the Croats joined with the Serbs to attack it, it won't collapse now."

One of the great successes of international peacekeeping efforts since the war has been to create enough security for hundreds of thousands of those who fled to return home.

A multi-ethnic Bosnia was re-created by the stubbornness and determination of people with such a strong tie to the land, and their ancestral homes, that they went back, even if that meant living as a minority, and as neighbours to those who killed their relatives.

What Bosnia still grapples with today is its own constitutional shape, and the poverty of its people.

Mr Trifunovic, the editor, cites the case of a Bosniak who returned to the north-western town of Prijedor, scene of some of the worst atrocities against Bosniaks in the war, to rebuild his home.

The arrest of Karadzic is a good sign that Bosnia and the whole region is strong enough to continue political and economic reforms, that will finally lead to reconciliation
Mirsad Tokaca
Bosnian Research and Documentation Centre

But he recently left to work in Austria, because he could not earn enough to support his family.

While the country's three-and-a-half million people worry about work, most political debate about the future of Bosnia focuses on the constitutional set-up.

The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe advised that its current, dysfunctional division into two republics would prevent it ever entering the European Union - the goal which almost all in Bosnia say they support.

Just as 17 years ago, on the eve of the war, Bosniaks and most Croats insist on a unified state.

Serbs insist on their own space, and warn darkly today, as they did then, of how dreadful it might be to live in a country where Muslims are in the majority.

Mixed outlook

Both Aleksandar Trifunovic in Republika Srpska, and Mirsad Tokaca in the Bosniak-Croat Federation see the solution in a break with the past, and the building of a strong civil society.

But Mr Trifunovic is gloomier about that possibility.

"Bosnia today is in its worst situation since the war, because of the strength of nationalist rhetoric at every level of life," he laments.

Mr Tokaca is more upbeat.

"The arrest of Karadzic is a good sign that Bosnia and the whole region is strong enough to continue political and economic reforms, that will finally lead to reconciliation," he says.

Even more important, he believes, is the coming to power of a pro-EU government in Belgrade, which made the arrest possible.

"The former states of Yugoslavia are interconnected. What happens in one strongly influences the others," he says.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific