Europe, spring of 2014: While eastern Ukraine simmered on the brink of civil war, heavy rains in Bosnia and Hercegovina caused massive flooding. On the face of it, these two news items are utterly unrelated; but if we look closer, we find a lot of connections. Because the vast volume of water in the Balkans swept along not only trees and cars – it also carried a terrible legacy from the war in Bosnia.
The Bosnian center for mine clearance estimates that some 120,000 landmines are still buried in the region, 19 years after the end of the fighting. Or rather: they were buried, for due to the rains not all of them remain underground. Instead, they are being swept down rivers like the Neretva into the Adriatic, or via the Bosna, Una, Drina and Sawe into the Danube, and from there, they may reach the Black Sea. The floods distribute the deadly legacy of war far beyond the theater of war and across the countries of south-eastern Europe.
Mines are not the only long-term problem the war bequeathed. More than 100,000 people died in the nearly four years of fighting; their loss is still sorely felt in Bosnia. More than 60 percent of all buildings in this country of 3.8 million inhabitants were damaged – many remain so to this day.
The state created by the Dayton Accords is an enforced compromise between parties with diametrically opposed goals – and its operation has been so bad for nearly two decades that no flood warning was issued, even after it became clear how heavy the rain was going to be.
The flood has also washed bodies out of as yet unopened war graves, some of them mass graves. Along with hundreds of thousands of animal corpses, they are adding to the threat of disease in the flooded areas. The Bosnian state is taking no action here, either.
What has all this to do with Ukraine? If the conflict there continues, soldiers might lay explosives there too, which will remain fully active under the soil decades after the fighting is over – until a flood comes, an excavator digs foundations for a new building, or a child at play sets them off. That happens every week in Bosnia.
The state structures that already work only poorly now would be fully destroyed in a war. And there would be no hope of a functioning disaster control authority.
As far as war damage goes, for instance to buildings, the average combat unit today has many times the firepower of an ex-Yugoslavian one in the 1990s. In the state of Ukraine, with 45.6 million inhabitants, a further escalation of the conflict would see more people and more buildings destroyed than in Bosnia.
Only those who want to see Ukraine in a similar situation to that of today’s Bosnia should back an armed solution to the conflict. Anyone who gets to thinking about the disastrous state of Bosnia two decades after the end of the fighting should reject any military option in Ukraine. Because any victor in such a war would not conquer a land of bounty – only ruins and a wreck of a society on scorched and mined earth.