Europe Must Not Let Bosnia Drown

05/29/2014 10:38 am ET | Updated Jul 29, 2014
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A single sentence.

A simple one of no apparent import.

A sentence hardly noticed by the media.

But one of the most obscene that I have heard in recent memory.

Spoken by one Stefan Füle, commissioner for enlargement of a Europe that is in the process of reelecting its parliament and thus renewing its institutions.

He was reacting to the torrential rains, mudslides, flooded villages -- in short, to the unprecedented natural disaster that just struck Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with the rest of the former Yugoslavia.

He was reflecting on the best way of releasing and allocating the billion-euro aid fund created by the European Union after the floods of summer 2002, a fund designed to be used in situations like the one faced today by the people of Sarajevo and their government.

Here is the sentence: "Access to the funds will be more difficult for Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose candidate status has not been recognized." Croatia will have access, because it is a member of the EU. Serbia will have access, because it is a candidate for membership. But for Bosnia, which is neither member nor candidate, access will be "more difficult."

Everyone in Brussels knows that Bosnia's "candidate status has not been recognized" primarily because of the existence of the Republika Srpska, the "Serb entity" created 20 years ago by the Dayton Accords, which were foisted on Bosnia by the international community and, consequently, by Europe.

Everyone knows that Bosnia is still not in the EU, and does not appear likely to be admitted anytime soon, primarily because of the flaws of a constitution that, in addition to giving the scions of the ethnic cleansers a veto over the government's decisions, corsets the country in absurd rules that are contrary to the European spirit. For example, they do not ensure the representation of minorities, as noted in the Sejdic and Finci ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009. But everyone also knows that this flawed constitution, this unsound and unjust constitution, was prescribed for Bosnia by the godfathers of the time, the European Union among them, via the Dayton Accords.

The upshot is that we find ourselves in a situation that Kafka might have imagined, one in which the European Union cites rules that it designed to explain why Bosnia can neither enter the Union nor benefit from aid mechanisms designed for members and candidates, while Croatia (a member since July 2013) and Serbia (whose application is pending) benefit from the aid. (Who cares if this implies that yesterday's hangmen gain the right to aid denied their victims and the children of those victims?)

This is the height of cynicism.

This is a fresh affront, terrible because symbolic, to a people scapegoated once more by a Europe that sacrificed it 20 years ago and seems intent on repeating the offense.

This is akin to a second death for a little country that has suffered mightily from the inconsistency, not to mention the cowardice, of a Europe that, even when the war was raging, was already the prisoner of a tangled web of preposterous rules that seemed designed to keep making the same errors.

This is a betrayal renewed and redoubled of a people who paid dearly -- 100,000 dead, 2 million refugees -- for their determination to be European in defiance of the headwinds blowing their way. That identity is being denied once again in today's tempests.

Faced with the perversity of an argument that closes the Europe's door on a people who, in their multiethnic and multifaith composition, in culture and spirit, are the most European in the region, the only solution is a double imperative: first, in the current emergency, to exhort the member states of the Union to humanize the rules governing humanitarian assistance, the strict application of which, in their present form, would be a signal cruelty; second, in the longer term -- that is, once the parliamentary elections are concluded -- to demand that the Commission rethink, redefine, and reset the sequence of steps for Bosnia's eventual adhesion to the EU, which, at the moment, is trapped in a vicious circle.

Neither of these imperatives need be difficult to accomplish.

It would suffice to include in the discussion questions the answers to which are presently cited as prerequisites for the discussion to occur in the first place.

It would suffice to begin the discussion immediately and to place at the top of the agenda the constitutional reform called for by the Sejdic and Finci decision on minority rights, which presently acts as a bottleneck.

The essential thing, however, is to realize that Bosnia is Europe.

The essential thing is to acknowledge and never to forget that Bosnia better represents the heroism of Husserlian reason than Serbia, which too often seems nostalgic for Milosevic, and whose emissaries are received with great ceremony by Stefan Füle and his ilk.

May this disaster -- in which the fury of the gods seems to have taken up where human fury left off -- at least serve to cast Bosnia's plight in sharp relief.

May it remind each and every one of us of the duty to remember and repair that is our most fitting response to the outrage of 20 years ago.

Translated by Steven B. Kennedy