For a long time, Bosnia was held up as the poster child of how to end a conflict. For a start the violence was more or less stopped, and given the extreme levels of violence, particularly against civilians, this was a significant acheivement.
The first time we went to Bosnia was in 2003. Dave and I lived there for a year and it was a time of real hope for Bosnia. People who had been displaced during the war were returning to their original homes and this was happening in significant numbers*. Significant enough to make the politicians responsible for them to be concious that the returnees were not to be ignored.The economy was improving. The political situation was complex and murky but by Bosnian standards was fairly healthy. There was at least a funcioning administration and a real sense that the war was being put behind them.
Now we are in 2011. Since the most recent elections a year ago there has been a political stalemate and there has not been a functioning government since then. Nationalist politicians who play on peoples fear of a return to conflict to stay in power are dominant - and causing trouble. The economy has suffered greatly in the global economic crisis. Compeition for jobs is great and, as is normal in these situations, the ethnicity of the people applying for them is starting to really matter, with resentment building against those who have jobs.
There are rumours of links between the Bosnia Croat and the Bosnian Serb politicians (both sides were hoping to cede from Bosnia during the conflict, although they also managed to fight each other for much of it) which suggests that there may be moves afoot to start talks of 'independence' again - a move that the Bosnian Muslims will not tolerate for they fought to keep the country whole.
In short the whole area is a mess. For a few years now it has been looking increasingly strained but with the international community focussed elsewhere, there has been little progress in hauling the country off the path to further violence. The very well respected International Crisis Group commented that "violence is probably not imminent but is a near prospect if this [attack on state institutions from all sides] continues".
It is the inexorable march towards the increasing possibility of conflict that is the most striking.In 2003 a return to violence seemed unthinkable. Ridiculous. By 2008 when we returned to Bosnia it wasn't a ridiculous thought any more but most unlikely. When we left in 2010 it was clearly more likely than before. Now in 2011 it is a step closer still. Whilst Europe watches Afganistan and the Arab Spring countries it would also do well to pay attention closer to home. A return to war on European soil is no longer unlikely.
*the issue of whether they wanted to return back to their pre-war homes or not is a topic for another post. Some European countries withdrew permission for Bosnian refugees to remain forcing them to leave their lives of over a decade to go back to Bosnia. Some people wanted to return, some, particularly young people who had grown up abroad and didn't really consider Bosnia to be home, did not. Others wanted to be in Bosnia but didn't want to be governed by those of a different ethnicity. It's complicated. Suffice to say that it is always worth thinking about what 'home' means after 10 years away.