The Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), a substate of Bosnia-Herzegovina, conducted a referendum over the weekend on whether to continue observing Statehood Day on January 9. The public holiday recognises the day Bosnian Serbs declared their own state. An overwhelming 99.8% of voters chose to retain the holiday, yet the decision to hold the referendum highlights tensions in the Balkans.
The region is one of Europe’s poorest and most diverse. At the end of the 20th century, powers from within and outside Europe intervened militarily to stop the strategic mountainous area from exploding into widespread violence. Since then, dozens of countries have emerged as a patchwork, not all of which are recognised by the international community or their neighbours.
Another micronation, the Free Republic of Liberland, occupying a 7 sq km plot between Croatia and Serbia (neither seem to want the land) is also relevant. The question of statehood for Balkan groups is still largely undecided, and a tenuous lid sits on territorial tensions. More than anywhere, though, history suggests it is not a good idea to move borders around in Europe which is why the referendum and micronation matters.
In South Asia, the disputed Kashmir territory is once again the reason India and Pakistan are threatening to launch a hot war. In July, Indian troops killed a highly popular militant leader, spawning dozens of Kashmir citizen protests against India over the intervening months. More than 80 people were killed by Indian security forces during the demonstrations.
Then last week, a raid by Kashmir militants on an Indian army outpost resulted in the deaths of 18 Indian soldiers. New Delhi angrily blames Pakistan for supporting the militants, but whether Islamabad directed the raid is as yet uncertain. Military forces of both nations were repositioned to a war footing as the week progressed, while Pakistan closed its airspace to commercial traffic.
The Kashmir problem this time appears to stem from a domestic political struggle. In the past, India and Pakistan have used Kashmir for their own political purposes, often to the point of limited warfare. But neither country desires stoking what could be a nuclear exchange. India both needs to attract more foreign investment but also respond to its soldier’s killings in a way that shows strength. The balance will be tough, but war is unlikely.