It was in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, that a young Serbian nationalist started World War I by assassinating an Austrian archduke in June 1914, and where the seemingly disturbed rants of a Serbian psychiatrist, Radovan Karadzic, foreshadowed a three-year series of bloodshed in the 1990s. These Balkan wars claimed an estimated 140,000 lives, attracted warplanes and NATO troops, and created a wedge between Russia and the West that continues today.
Today, the United States and the European Union, which Bosnia aspires to join, are desperate to prevent the new crisis from escalating into conflict or creating the kind of political instability that Russia could exploit. Russia, which wants to prevent Bosnia from joining the bloc or NATO, is already siding with Mr. Dodik.
Frictions in Bosnia are rooted in the 1995 Dayton peace accord negotiated by the United States. The agreement ended the fighting but created an elaborate and highly dysfunctional political system, with a weak central authority in which different ethnic groups share power. The trio of elected presidents are made up of Mr. Dodik, who represents Serbs, Mr. Dzaferovic, who represents Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, and Zeljko Komsic, an ethnic Croat.
Mr Dodik has been making noise about Serbian secession for over a decade, but never before has caused such a volatile crisis. A report in October by senior United Nations official in Bosnia, Christian Schmidt of Germany, described the situation as “the greatest existential threat” to the country’s survival since the early 1990s.
Mr Schmidt, in a recent interview, downplayed the risk of a return to bloodshed and said he expected Mr Dodik to drop his threat to form a separate ethnic Serbian army.
Among many Bosnians, however, fear is on the rise again.
When Mr Schmidt met students at a vocational school in Tuzla, a town where different ethnic groups in Bosnia tend to live in rare harmony in mid-December, he was repeatedly asked what he was doing. was doing to prevent a return to war.