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Paddy Ashdown: if we want return to war in the Balkans we are going about it exactly the right way

As the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early 2000s, Paddy Ashdown was the nation’s de facto leader, helping the country on the path to peace. Now, he fears a return to war
September 21, 2018

How did we get here?

If you’re going to build peace after conflict you need strategic patience, which the west hasn’t got. They also thought “good old Paddy has done it all, let’s not bother about Bosnia any longer.” Bosnia has got worse and worse and the EU has shrugged its shoulders. We have lost will-power. The disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq have robbed the west of its omnipotence and self-confidence to stop bad things happening. So we leave a space inside the borders of Europe into which Putin and Erdogan can play mischief as much as they like. If we wanted to return to war in the Balkans we are going about it in exactly the right way.

It was the poster boy for post-conflict reconstruction. We moved the country towards sustainable peace. Since then the whole thing has gone into reverse. Nobody is worried. They sort of shrug their shoulders and say it will be OK in the end. It won’t be OK in the end. I can think of no set of circumstances best calculated to return Bosnia to conflict. If anyone believes you can have peace in Europe if you have war in the Balkans, you need to learn from history.

How is immigration affecting the situation?

The refugee flows going into Hungary and Poland were thrown out and pushed across the border into Serbia. Now the Serbs are pushing them out into Bosnia where they’re all ending up. Many of them are from Syria and Pakistan—most of them are Muslim.

Bosnian Muslims are profoundly European—many of them drink, there’s a culture of tolerance and respect. If you now have the Muslim part of Bosnia filling up with a huge influx of Middle Eastern Muslims, it also reinforces the narrative of the Serb and Croat nationalists that this is a mass of Muslim extremists in the middle of Europe. It’s an absolute time bomb.

What should happen?

We need to create the same kind of Atlantic alliance we had in the past—Washington and Europe working together. A single plan, focused on increasing the functionality of the state. Do not give them a single penny if they don’t. Use what sanctions you can against those who stand in the way. We’ve got more instruments of leverage in Bosnia than in any other country on earth.

Now read: Bosnia on the brink—could violence return to the Balkans?