Brcko was home to some of the first war crimes in the 1990s and a recent announcement to secede is a warning shot that things could go south again.

Brcko is a port-town in northern Bosnia and Herzegovina located along the Sava River. Positioned right across Croatia and with access to the Sava and the Danube river for transport and trade, it was a vital strategic town throughout history. 

Brcko was the site of fierce battles between the Bosnian Government Army and the Bosnian Serb Army separatists during the 1992-1995 war. The so-called corridor was vital for the Bosnian Serbs in north-western Bosnia and Herzegovina since it was the only ground route for them to connect with Eastern Bosnia and Serbia proper. 

In the Dayton Peace Accords, this territory – which no side wanted to give up – was converted into a separate district autonomous from the Federation (predominantly Bosniak-Bosnian Croat populated) and the Bosnian Serb Republic (predominantly Bosnian Serb populated). 

Brcko was one of the first sites of war crimes. Hundreds of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb police and military. Pictures of bodies being dumped in mass graves circled the globe. However, the southern rural parts of Brcko were strongly defended by the Bosnian Army. The crimes committed in Brcko were so brutal that several perpetrators were immediately arrested and extradited to the Hague Tribunal to be tried for war crimes. 

In March 1999, an arbitration agreement was finalised bringing Brcko District under the  administration of an American International Supervisor. With no entity-level interference and discriminatory legislation, life in Brcko flourished. It became one of those rare places in the country where citizens lived equally and peacefully. 

Recently however, Bosnian Serb authorities threatened secession. This time, more seriously than ever before. With support and blessings from Serbia and Russia, the Bosnian Serb leadership is counting on heightening tensions in order to finish off what they started thirty years ago - to establish a separate Serb state free of any minorities. 

In the last decade, several red flags appeared, out of which the recent announcement of the  re-establishment of the Bosnian Serb Army as being the most obvious. The Bosnian Serb Army which perpetrated mass atrocities and genocide is the only armed force in recent history where its entire leadership was accused and convicted of persecution, atrocities, establishing detention camps, concealing victim bodies in mass graves and similar criminal activities. 

The success of Brcko is one of the positive examples of international community efforts, primarily the US administration, and is a key segment in understanding the issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The future of Bosnia and Herzegovina lies in Brcko. Thus a larger permanent NATO presence is needed in the district. 

Although we citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina are constantly being told we hold the future of our country in our hands, the reality is different – we inherited a complex, incapable, and dysfunctional structure from the international community. If anything, the last thirty years have shown that this structure only enables corruption, ethnic division and most importantly is a regional security threat.

Those who monitor the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina know one thing for certain: whatever the outcome of this crisis will be, it will not stop until the constitutional structure inside the country is resolved. And if things go south, Brcko will be the first hit.

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