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Border modification and territory exchange between Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the name of peace
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Határmódosítás és területcsere / border modification and territory exchange
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After a lengthy negotiation break, border modification and territory exchange between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina may take place. This comes after the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency accepted the proposal of a joint technical committee to consider changing the shared border with Serbia. The initiative aims to facilitate easier crossing of the border for Bosnia and the cancellation of Serbia’s substantial debts to Bosnian settlements along the Drina river.

It has been almost thirty years in the making

All three members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency approved the final report of the technical committee for border modification, which was appointed eight years ago.

The decision passed by the presidency will now go to the Council of Ministers (Vijeće Ministara), which represents the Bosnian government, to start the negotiation process with the appropriate Serbian authorities regarding the actual land exchange.

Határmódosítás és területcsere

A Miniszterek Tanácsának épülete Szarajevóban (Forrás: Savamedia)

The technical committee, which belongs to the Bosnian Ministry of Civil Affairs (Ministarstvo Civilnih Poslova), has faced difficulties in the past decades due to the dynamic and often tense bilateral relationship between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. As a result, the committee was last able to hold a meeting in the presence of Serbian representatives in 2010.

The first significant moment in the over two-decade-long history of territory exchange between the two countries was reaching the agreement in 2002 between the political leaders of Belgrade and Sarajevo. The agreement laid the groundwork for later negotiations, following the principle of “kilometer for kilometer.”

Then there was a negotiating break that lasted for over a decade and a half, which Aleksandar Vucic broke in 2017 when he once again supported the modification of the border along the Drina river and advocated for the “meter for meter” principle, which would have allowed for smaller border corrections for a faster agreement.

Serbia would save through territory exchange

The Bosnian public is deeply divided even over the transfer of a small portion of their territory, especially considering that it was Serbia, their former enemy in the war, that initiated the transfer of certain areas along the Drina river.

The decision made by the Bosnia and Herzegovina presidency regarding territory exchange emphasizes the promotion of regional peace and stability. Another factor to consider is to align the border with the needs of the local population’s way of life.

Határmódosítás és területcsere

The Serbian government has been trying to convince its Bosnian partner for over a decade to exchange certain areas in four districts along the Drina river. The areas of the hydroelectric plants near Zvornik and Bajina Basta, as well as the 12-kilometer section of the railway connecting Belgrade and Bar in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are the most important for Belgrade.

The areas concerned together amount to 45 square kilometers, in exchange for which, according to international legal practice, an area of equivalent size and extent is usually offered.

Accepting the proposal of the Serbian government would represent a real novelty in Bosnian public life, as since the formation of the Western Balkan state in 1995, no territorial correction agreement has been concluded with any of its neighbors.

The Belgrade leadership is also guided by the need to operate the affected transportation and industrial facilities, as well as by the objective of saving money.

In the areas affected by the land swap, industrial facilities and transportation infrastructure were built during the Yugoslav period that partly fell into Bosnian territory following the demarcation of the border at the end of the Bosnian War, but they have since been operated by Serbian companies.

The essential element of the story is the “utilization,” or rather the monetary benefit, for which Serbia should pay an annual usage fee under the agreement in force between the two states. Currently, the Serbian state pays the annual land use fee to Bratunac, Rogatica, Višegrad, and Zvornik on the Bosnian side of the border.

In the mentioned cities, the Serbian Power Industry (Elektroprivreda Srbije) operates hydropower plants and related systems, but Serbia regularly fails to fulfill its payment obligations.

As a result, the Serbian side has now accumulated debts of more than one million euros with Zvornik and half a million euros with Višegrad. The goal of the Belgrade government is no secret – to avoid the payment of substantial debts and late interest payments to Bosnia and Herzegovina through the land swap.

However, the Bosnian professional press has called on its readers in a sufficiently malicious tone to refrain from speculative purchases of land along the Drina River for the time being, as it took twelve years to obtain a proposal from a committee supporting the presidency, and due to the highly sensitive political nature of the issue, the relevant state leaders of the two affected countries have not discussed this subject for two parliamentary terms.

They would also simplify the border crossing

Along with the land swap promoted by the Serbian government, the speeding up of border traffic between the two countries has also been on the bilateral negotiation agenda of the competent ministries for over ten years.

As a result of the expert committee’s approved opinion, Denis Bečirović, a Bosnian Presidency member, proposed simplifying the border crossing between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Határmódosítás és területcsere

Belépés Szerbiába Bosznia- Hercegovina felől (Forrás: YouTube)

To the surprise of the Bosnian public, Željka Cvijanović, who represents the Serbian nation, unreservedly accepted Bečirović’s proposal alongside Željko Komšić, who holds the position of a Croatian Presidency member.

As a result, in accordance with the presidency decision, the Bosnian Council of Ministers must begin drafting the relevant legislation and consult with the relevant Serbian state actors.

However, the future possibility of easier passage across the Drina River must still be treated with caution, as legislative procedures have become stuck in both the Council of Ministers and the Bosnian parliamentary horseshoe for many years.

In the extremely divided Bosnian political course, tensions can easily arise that could turn the issue of territorial exchange or facilitated border crossing into a political tool, and despite the encouragingly dynamic initial steps, it could be removed from the agenda.

Regarding border crossings and territorial exchanges, the open stance represented by Serbian Željka Cvijanović was surprising to non- Bosnian Serbian political actors, because in previous years, there was a unified position in the Bosnian Serb Republic on the issue that there can be no renegotiation of the rules of border crossing between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as the two states concerned would have to reach an agreement without the involvement of the Serbian entity’s leadership.

Furthermore, Bosnian Serbs considered the territorial exchange between the two countries unacceptable because the issue would be negotiated by the Bosnian state authorities with the Belgrade government.

In addition, changing the territory of the Serbian entity without the approval of local leaders would be a clear indication that the Bosnian Serb Republic is not an independent international legal entity in the confused system of the Dayton Agreement, even if its leaders try to act that way.

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