[EURACTIVE] THE WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST: A NEW CHALLENGE FOR THE STABILITY OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: Croats and Serbs support Israel, whereas Bosniaks focus on Palestinians
EURACTIVE, 11 October 2023
THE WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST: A NEW CHALLENGE FOR THE STABILITY OF BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA: Croats and Serbs support Israel, whereas Bosniaks focus on Palestinians
The war between Israel and Hamas is a new, perhaps the most difficult test so far for Bosnia and Herzegovina, the country that hopes to open negotiations on joining the European Union soon.
Namely, the attack by Hamas from the Gaza Strip on Israel on Saturday and Israel’s response that followed, which has so far, among other things, been reduced to fierce bombing of Gaza, divided the politicians and the public in Bosnia and Herzegovina, unfortunately, mostly along the ethnic lines.
The war in the Middle East divides Mostar again
The flag of Palestine was displayed on the Old Bridge in Mostar on Tuesday, as reported by the media.
The Old Bridge and the whole Old Town of Mostar are located in Mostar East, with dominant Bosniak population. This part of the city supports Palestine strongly.
On the other hand, in Mostar West, with dominant Croat population, support for Israel in the new conflict in the Middle East has been expressed.
It is worth reminding that during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s, Mostar was divided into the Western (Croat), and the Eastern (Bosniak) part of the city. There are no physical divisions between the two parts of the city anymore, but they remained in people’s minds.
Divisions visible on the political scene as well
The war between Israel and Hamas is also reflected in the political scene of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Croat politicians in the country supported Israel in the new war in the Middle East, and Serbian politicians took the same position.
On the other hand, Bosniak politicians are much more neutral in their public statements, and their reactions are mainly reduced to a general condemnation of war and violence and to emphasizing the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to their own state.
The mayor of Sarajevo says that ‘it is hypocritical to accuse only Hamas’
The Mayor of Sarajevo, Benjamina Karić, said, for example, that “it is hypocritical to blame only Hamas for the situation” in the Middle East.
“For me, it is hypocritical to condemn only the attack by Hamas on Israel, without condemning everything that happened before and after it. I condemn every attack, every act of terrorism, every killing of the innocent. I condemn the killing of innocent civilians, among them children, women, helpless, elderly…” Karić wrote on the social network X (formerly Twitter) on Tuesday.
She added that she was “emotionally shaken” by the information that Gaza was without water and electricity, and drew a parallel with Sarajevo, which was under siege during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.
“We must be human and equally condemn every innocent victim, both in Israel and in Palestine,” concluded Karić in her status on X.
The Chair of the BiH Council of Ministers condemned the attack by Hamas on Israel
However, it was already seen a few days earlier that the new war in the Middle East would not pass without a reflection on the political scene in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus, on Saturday, the day of the Hamas attack on Israel, the Chair of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Borjana Krišto, strongly condemned the Hamas attack on Israel in an English-language post on X.
“I unequivocally condemn the unjust and brutal attack by Hamas on Israel and its citizens. We stand firmly by Israel in these difficult times,” Krišto wrote on that social network on the day when Hamas bombarded Israeli cities with rockets and when its soldiers, tearing down the border fence between Israel and Gaza, entered Israeli territory and committed numerous crimes against Israeli civilians.”
Komšić vs. Krišto, says that everything should be “observed within a context”
The Croat Member of the BiH Presidency and currently the Chair of the three-partite body, which is the collective head of state, Željko Komšić, who is considered by the Croat politicians in BiH, as well as by the political Zagreb, to be close to Bosniak politicians and to not be a real Croat representative in the Presidency because he was elected mainly by the votes of Bosniaks reacted to this as well.
In an interview to BHT 1 on Monday, Komšić assessed that Krišto came forward “carelessly and selfishly” because she did not refer to, as he said, the suffering of the Palestinian people.
“That is the position of her party’s policy and they are clearly going in that direction,” Komšić said, as reported by BiH and Croatian media.
He assessed that the actions of Hamas are “a gesture of desperate people who see terrorizing civilians as a way out”, adding that everything should be “observed within a context”, the media reported.
The Israeli Ambassador told Komšić that Hamas was killing Israeli civilians
Israel’s Ambassador to BiH, Galit Peleg, reacted to Komšić’s words, and told that Hamas attacked Israel and that the victims of this terrorist attack were mostly Israeli civilians.
“A lovely grandmother was shot in the head. A six-month-old baby with a three-year-old child and two 85-year-old grandmothers were brutally taken as hostages to Gaza. Small children were locked in cages, while barbaric terrorists laughed hysterically. Mr. Komšić believes that all this is necessary. to be observed within a context’. In what context, Mr. Komšić? In the context of ISIL? Auschwitz? What context gives legitimacy to the torture of small children? Kidnapping of grandmothers? Killing babies in their beds?”, she said, as reported by BiH media Peleg.
She added that she had no intention of “putting herself at the centre of political disputes in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, but that she believes that “in this case, the Chairwoman Krišto did not choose the side of Israel, but the side of human beings”.
However, with her reaction, the new dispute within Bosnia and Herzegovina about taking sides in the war in the Middle East gained an international dimension.
Komšić called the Israeli Ambassador a ‘manipulated fool’
This was followed by Komšić’s reply, who, according to media reports, called the Israeli Ambassador a “manipulated fool”.
“What you said, and it concerns my statement regarding Borjana Krišto’s position and everything that is happening these days in Israel and Gaza, I can only say that something like that you said is not true… but such a thing can only be said by either a malicious lying fool or a manipulated, also malicious fool,” Komšić said, and was reported by Hina, as well as other media in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He added that he classified Ambassador Peleg “in this second category”.
Zovko replied to Komšić that ‘the instrument was in the hands of terrorists’
Komšić’s statements were commented on by Željana Zovko, a Croatian Member of the European Parliament from HDZ and a former Bosnian-Herzegovinian Ambassador to France, Spain and Italy, as well as to a number of international institutions.
In a statement to Euractiv, Zovko said that she was appalled by the undiplomatic way Komšić communicated with the Israeli Ambassador and by his putting the Palestinian people and Hamas in the same basket.
“This is not Israel’s fight against the Palestinians, but against Hamas, the terrorist group that attacked Israel and is committing massacres against Israeli civilians. It is a fight against terrorism in which Israel protects itself and the entire free world. And this statement by Komšić shows that he is an instrument in the hands of terrorists,” Zovko told to Euractiv.
‘Croats in central Bosnia have experience with radical Islamists’
She added that “Croats in central Bosnia have experience with ritual killings such as those carried out by Hamas in Israel”.
She reminded that during the war in the first half of the 1990s, a lot of radicalized fighters from Islamic countries came to Bosnia and Herzegovina, many of whom remained in that country, even though, according to the agreements and obligations assumed by Sarajevo, they had to leave the country a long time ago. Radicals, as Zovko warns, can also be found among today’s illegal migrants who try to enter the EU through Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The international community did not devote enough time to solving that problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the problem of Željko Komšić,” said Zovko.
No reaction from Komšić
Our interlocutor reminds us that the EU strongly and unequivocally condemned the attack by Hamas on Israel.
Euractiv also sought a reaction from Komšić’s office in the BiH Presidency, but we have not received it by the time of writing this article.
“The conflict from the Middle East spills over into BiH”
Politician and sociologist Anđelko Milardović says that the new war in the Middle East has triggered a new round of divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The old conflict in the Middle East has been revitalized and now it is spilling over into Bosnia and Herzegovina. This does not mean that it will not be reflected in other parts of Europe and the world,” warns Milardović for Euractiv.
He assesses that this is dangerous, especially because the conflict between Israel and Hamas in BiH is taking on the characteristics of division along ethnic and religious lines, that is, along identity lines.
War in Ukraine divided Bosnian society too
Something similar happened when the war in Ukraine started in February last year. Namely, it also reflected on BiH in the form of division along the ethnic lines. The only difference is that in the war in Ukraine, the majority of Bosniaks and Croats supported the Ukrainians, while the majority of Serbs sided with Russia.
At the same time, both in the case of the war in Ukraine and in the case of the war in Israel, one warring party is perceived as “Western” (in these specific cases, it is Ukrainians and Israelis), and the other (Russians and Hamas in Gaza) as “Eastern”.
“Such divisions in Bosnia and Herzegovina are dangerous, they happen on the basis of civilization. They existed even before all this, but the wars in Ukraine, and especially in Israel, deepen and intensify them,” concludes Milardović.’
Sensitive moment for Bosnia and Herzegovina
In any case, the new war in one of the world’s crisis hotspots divides the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Unfortunately, again along ethnic and religious lines.
The luck in the misfortune is that its destructive potential for the BiH society is probably not great. However, it cannot be completely ignored, especially since the wounds from the war from 1992 to 1995 have not yet healed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After all, this was also seen after the war broke out in Ukraine, which had a negative impact on the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on the functioning of the state.
All this is happening at a very sensitive moment for BiH, which at the end of last year finally received the long-awaited status of a candidate for EU membership. In Sarajevo, they expect accession negotiations to begin by the end of this year.