How unstable is Bosnia

Republic of SrpskaEthnic tensions and economic problems

Well-kept, three-story buildings line the main street of the small town. The cafes are full, and even in the morning guests are spooning ice cream with their espresso. At the fork where it goes into the pedestrian zone, there is a clock on which it is always ten past nine. It stopped at this time, almost 50 years ago. On the night of October 26th to 27th, 1969 during an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.4 on the Richter scale. The earth broke right in front of the grandfather clock, the asphalt stood vertically, many houses were destroyed and around 20 residents were killed.

Landmark: watch destroyed by the earthquake. There is no memorial against the war. (Sabine Adler)

Harassment, expulsion or flight

While the clock with its zigzag kinked stand reminds of this natural disaster, nothing is reminiscent of a completely different, man-made catastrophe: May 7, 1993. Banja Luka was spared the fighting of the Bosnian War, but the non-Serbian residents were harassed, Locked up in camps and displaced or they fled themselves. Up to that day exactly 25 years ago, all 16 mosques in the city were destroyed, the last three in one night.

"For me it was like the end of the world," says Beharic Mirsad. The mechanical engineer had lived his life in Banja Luka until then, after that night he knew that he was no longer wanted in the city.

"That was on May 7, 1993 at two o'clock in the night. And they simultaneously brought explosives into this mosque, into the Ferhadija mosque, and into one up there, a hundred meters further, into the Arnaudija, and another above River Vrbas. That was a total of six tons of TNT. That was at two o'clock, a huge explosion. Parts of the mosque were all over town. "

A mosque disappears

That Beharic Mirsad would have waited again for the service in Banja Luka in the courtyard of a mosque, like now, he would not have thought possible at the time. Because not only the mosques should disappear, according to the will of the Serbs, also what was left of them: all the rubble.

"And then they took all the material from all three of them with trucks and excavators and threw them into the lake and river so that no one could find it, you know."

Midday prayer in the Ferhadija Mosque (Sabine Adler)

It was difficult for Beharic Mirsad to return after the Bosnian War, but he just had to come because he had a job to do in Banja Luka.

"The Ferhadija Mosque was Unesco heritage. Cultural heritage. And Unesco said it should find at least 60 percent of the original material and we looked all over Bosnia and we found 60 percent. In the Sava River, that's on the border with Croatia. And we found a part of the city of Jelena, which is 300 kilometers away from here. "

Provocations around the Ferhadija Mosque

The reconstruction took 15 years. The fact that the Ferhadija Mosque is once again the landmark of Banja Luka is also thanks to a war disabled who waits on a bench for the midday prayer. He doesn't want to give his name, but says that he helped out as best he could with his hand prosthesis. He came back to his hometown a year before reopening.

"As a Muslim, I had to leave Banja Luka during the war, joined the army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and was wounded."

When the foundation stone was laid, there had been such massive protests that the celebration had to be broken off, and when the Ferhadija Mosque was rededicated on May 7, 2001, the hostilities between the Muslim Bosnians, Serbs and Croats in Banja Luka had still not been resolved . The Muslims, their international guests and diplomats were attacked. It's quieter now, but only a little.

"There are always people who hit bottles, who come to pray, who provoke."

Republic of Srpska as a Failed State

Gordana Sobrenic and Natasa Petcovic, both in their early 40s, one in business administration and the other as a bank employee, sound similarly skeptical. Both understand Europe's fear of the instability of the Balkans. War raged in all the countries of the former Yugoslavia, ethnic tensions are more or less visible, but women are seeing progress. In the past people would have shot each other, now they would have coffee together.

"We are not responsible for the war. Everyone - Serbs, Croats and Bosnians - have their wounds."

"We don't talk about the war, there is nothing we can do about it."

Chess player in the center of Banja Luka (Sabine Adler)

Banja Luka is the capital of the Republic of Srpska, a Serbian enclave that belongs to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Political scientist Milos Solaja is convinced that the economic problems are far greater than the ethnic tensions. The professor teaches at the University in Banja Luka. In his eyes, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the associated Republic of Srpska are on the verge of failure.

"That is so. That is why there will be a very long period of instability. Nobody admits that we are dealing with a failed state. But above all we have to analyze what the reason for this state failure is In my opinion it is due to the lack of a constitution, which was never worked out between the three peoples. "

"Independence or connection to Serbia"

The constitution was laid down in the Dayton Agreement in 1995 and was part of the peace treaty that the EU and the US had proposed to the warring parties. If you were to ask people today, most of them would speak out in favor of a separation of nationalities and would agree with those who have always pleaded for it and therefore waged war.

"The majority in the Republic of Srpska would probably be in favor of secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina and independence or annexation to Serbia, but more in favor of independence. The Bosnians would like the Bosnian central state and the Croatians dream of independence or the union with Croatia Without an agreement between the three peoples on how they want to live together, there will be constant instability - social, political and economic instability. "

The international community would be well advised to help Bosnia-Herzegovina revise the constitution before the new tensions erupt again violently.