Having spent most of the last year saying 'I can't believe Bosnia isn't in the news more! Look at what is going on here people, it is serious stuff!', I now find that I can't escape it.
Last week Radio 4 went Bosnia mad, sending its presenter Ed Stourton out to Sarajevo and Banja Luka. He did a couple of reports, including one from the annual British Embassy Guy Fawkes fireworks party in Sarajevo*. Interested parties can listen to them here: Wednesdays report was at 7.20 from Banja Luka, Thursday's reports were at 7:32 (on ethnic tensions and violence) and 8:33 (interview with the former High Representative here, Paddy Ashdown) and Friday's was at 8:45 (main topic, Tito).
Then, as I tapped away at my keyboard, Midweek ambushed me with a piece featuring Jayne Torvill talking about that Olympic Gold win in Sarajevo in 1984 and her subsequent trip back there to stand on the spot where she and Christopher Dean had started their Bolero routine after the war.
I suppose this new attention isn't surprising. There is an awful lot going on at the moment. There are the shenanigans of Karadzic's trial (latest, he has been told he cannot represent himself, has been given some lawyers, has refused to pay them, trial has been postponed to March 2010: This one will run and run). Then Karadzic's deputy during the war, Biljana Plavsic, who voluntarily surrendered herself to the War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague, pleaded guilty to several lesser charges (the more serious charge of genocide being dropped) and was released after serving only seven years. The Bosnian Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, firmly nailed his colours to the mast (again) by flying out the Republika Srpska jet to pick her up and fly her back to Belgrade. Not often you get political leaders going out of their way to associate themselves with those convicted of crimes against humanity.
The real issue at the moment though is not the war crimes tribunals but the talks in Butmir designed to bring about some form of constitional reform and pave the way for the strong international community presence that still overseas the Bosnian political scene to finally leave the country.
In 1995, when the conflict was still raging, the only way that anyone could see to stop the violence was to split the country into two, and to install an all powerful High Representative to ensure that the peace was kept. It did the trick, the violence stopped. By now, 14 years after the war came to a halt, many people feel that these two things keep Bosnia in a permanent state of perilous peace and are preventing the country from moving forward to develop into a stable, prosperous, potential candidate for the EU.
These talks, at Butmir, are trying to gain some form of agreement on constitional reform and then the closure of OHR (the Office of the High Representative), but there doesn't seem to be any agreement in sight. The politicians are posturing, rattling sabres and the international community is wagging its finger but nothing much seems to be actually happening. For a far better summary of what is actually going on it is worth looking at the International Crisis Groups report 'Bosnia's Dual Crisis' published last Thursday.
But why then sudden attention by the Western media? I don't think anything in particular has changed. Instead, I suspect the Western politicos are playing a canny game. By raising the possibility of a return to conflict in Bosnia, the so-called 'Heart of Europe', those involved in handling the negotiations are hauling Bosnia back up the international agenda. Headlines from the Daily Telegraph saying that Bosnia is on the brink of civil war are forcing Europe to look again at Bosnia and sending a strong signal to the Bosnian politicians: 'You may think that we are preoccupied with Afganistan and Iraq but you will not be able to skate under the radar. We are watching you carefully.' With the next set of elections in BiH approaching, this is indeed a welcome thing.
* Yes this is the same Guy Fawkes party that we couldn't go to because the car was still lost in the red tape of the police department and trapped in Tuzla. Yes, this is also the same Guy Fawkes Fireworks party that we didn't think we'd ever be invited back to following the now infamous incident from last years party concerning the Ambassador, the flower pot and the just potty trained small boy.