Monday, 16 November 2009

In the News

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.


Sarah said...

Boo, re "By the way, if you'd ever like to contribute to the expat mums blog then do let me know!"

Love to, I have no RL expat community here so anything to build some links in the greater on-line version would be great.

TheMadHouse said...

I do love reading your posts they help to put things intp perspective

Pippa said...

I suddenly feel more intelligent after having read this post, I know about some current events!!!

nappy valley girl said...

Interesting post. It sounds as if it's a good thing it's back on the news agenda, though hopefully not in a too negative light. And good old Midweek, eh - love Libby Purves.

Toni in Ithaca said...

Thanks for the "on the ground" insight to us former American-Tuzlans. Would like to hear what Holbrooke has to say about all this effort.

Michelloui said...

Wow. I had no idea about some of this. Always very interesting to see how the media is used by government spin doctors and plotters.

WeDoAdventure said...

I hadn't thought that the sudden reporting on Bosnian current affairs could have been orchestrated as a signal to the countries leaders to 'play nicely'. I agree the attention is a good thing, although it is concerning (if at times understandable) that so few representatives of the international community seem to carry any real weight here.

Emily O said...

The media annoy me in the way they grab hold of a story one week and then drop it the next. I'm often left wondering what's happened to the story so this is where your update has been very useful. I didn't realise the Karadzic (sp?) trial had been postponed. Maybe he's hoping he'll die of a heart attack halfway through? And on a different note: love the new header!

Tattie Weasle said...

Caught the Paddy Ashdown one and thought he talked a lot of sense - thought of you!

angelsandurchinsblog said...

Looking forward to the ambassador and the potty, obviously, but thank you for this post. I've been listening agog to all the Bosnia stuff the UK media is generating at the moment, and it's good to know where to find someone on the ground to explain it all. Hadn't even considered the 'under the radar' thing - interesting how sometimes you start to see a pattern?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Sarah - I know how you feel with the expat community thing!

MH - thanks.

Pippa - you probably know more about Bosnia than half the politicians in the UK.

NVG - Love Midweek. And Desert Island Discs. And Radio 4.

Toni - me too!

Michelloui - media is such a powerful tool.

WDA - I think so few of the representatives really understand the country or the region. Did you see that David Milliband was here last week?

Emily O - Karadzic trial will run and run. I'll keep you updated with any important bits.

TW - I like Paddy Ashdown but he isn't all that popular here.

A&U - Adam peeing in the Ambassador's flower pots as we were being introduced to the man is one of those memories that will be bought up again at his 18th, 21st, wedding, 30th, 40th, any big occasion we can think of!

Richard said...

A lot of whether a particular issue gets covered depends on the interests of the journalist/producer involved. Sky News has been to Bosnia surprisingly often since 1995, but that's entirely down to the personal interest the Foreign Affairs editor has in the area (he's even written a book). It's probably nothing more sinister than a BBC editor with a similar interest pushing for stories about Bosnia and finally getting some on the air.

The only thing is - next time something interesting happens in Bosnia and someone in the BBC newsroom suggests covering it, someone else will say "nah we did loads on it last week/month/year" and that'll be that.

Dancing to Lambada said...

Thanks for this. Living overseas it's sometimes hard to judge which news pieces about Bosnia are based more on sensationalism and which ones are a bit more accurate. I was there last year and although the country is still divided, it definately did not seem like it was 'on the brink of civil war.' I would love to see the silly divisions of "republika srpska" and "federazija" diminished, but I think too many people might be unhappy about it :(

Lately I've also been reading about the concerns of the growing presence of wahhabis in Bosnia. Living there you would know best, do you think its just sensationalism or a legitimate cause of concern?

Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Richard - I guess human nature will always dominate. I guess the next media flurry will be if Mladic gets caught/killed or if there is an outbreak of violence somewhere. The problem with Bosnia is that it is too complicated to summarise easily into a brief news story. Perhaps the next big news story will be a nice fluffy piece on how Bosnian Football is bringing the country together as they make their first appearance in a major football tournament. They play Portugal tonight, so fingers crossed for them.

Lambada - personally I think it is sensationalism. It is very rare that you see a wahhabi, although they are definitely here. The Bosnians that I have talked to about them mistrust them, feel that they don't understand the Bosnian version of Islam which is their cultural history. I read an article somewhere saying that there were about 4,000 Wahhabi inthe country in total, and whom people are keeping a close eye upon.