In The Bridge on the Drina (1945), which tells Bosnia’s history through 500 years of anecdotes centered on an Ottoman bridge in the town of Višegrad (Basil Davidson called the novel ‘Bosnia’s Waverley’), Ivo Andrić wrote of the persecution of ethnic Serbs by Austrio-Hungarian authorities and their Muslim backers after Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914: As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief. Saturday, 11 July was the 20th anniversary of the start of the slaughter of 8000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, ninety kilometres north of Višegrad.
I had coffee with Sudbin, a human rights activist, in northern Bosnia last month. We met at a roadside bar called Sidro ('anchor') in the village of Carakovo, and talked about the difficulties facing Bosniaks who returned to Republika Srpska after the war. Heavy rain was falling. The River Sana was seeping over its banks. Dark brown water swirled around the wooden stilts that supported a two-storey house beside the river. 'I've never seen it like this,' Sudbin said. 'Nobody, not the government, has done anything to stop it, to make defences.'
Bosnian politics since the 1995 peace accords have been locked in stalemate. The armistice took bureaucracy to another level. The country is divided into two ‘entities’, one Serb, one Bosniak/Croat; before the war no such distinction would have been possible, but atrocities homogenised formerly mixed areas. There are three presidents, one from each of the three ‘constitutional’ ethnicities, and countless ministries, cantons, sub-ministries. Laws are incredibly difficult to pass. This suits nationalist Serb politicians, who argue that the state is chronically dysfunctional, beyond repair and therefore should be split in two: they’ll veto any law that implies a common, contiguous polity. The situation suits Bosniak leaders, too, as it means they can blame everything on the filibustering Serbs.