Bosnian Elections Reinforce Longstanding Ethnic Divisions

Bosnian Elections Reinforce Longstanding Ethnic Divisions

The stranglehold of parties representing narrow ethnic interests in Bosnia and Herzegovina was set to continue after elections over the weekend, analysts said Tuesday, reinforcing long-simmering divisions in the country and slowing its progress nearly 20 years after a brutal war.

The war ended with the Dayton peace accords of 1995, which the United States helped broker. But the pact divided Bosnia into a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian Republic, entrenching a decentralized political system that has helped reinforce ethnic tensions. Today, Bosnia is grappling with political paralysis, a faltering economy, and the lack of political will necessary to make the political and economic changes required to join the European Union.

With most of the votes counted from the elections held Sunday for national and regional assemblies, parties with deeply divergent views of the country’s future appeared set to continue to hold sway.

With 85 percent of ballots counted, Milorad Dodik, a Bosnian Serb nationalist who advocates secession from Bosnia, led the race for president of the Serbian Republic of Bosnia. Mr. Dodik, who has the backing of the Kremlin, has faced criticism from Western officials for effectively promoting the disintegration of Bosnia and for forging closer ties with Moscow.

The divisions hampering the country were also on display in parliamentary and regional elections: Bosnian Serb leaders pushed for independence, Bosnian Croat leaders pressed for more autonomy and Bosnian Muslim leaders favored more centralized power.

Srecko Latal, an analyst with Social Overview Service, a research organization in Sarajevo, said elections had entrenched longstanding nationalist divisions, leaving Bosnia “stuck” with its byzantine institutional structures and a weak economy. He said the situation was exacerbated by the fact that other countries, distracted by crises in the Middle East and elsewhere, had stopped applying concerted pressure for change in Bosnia.

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