On the night of Joe Biden’s presidential success in the United States, Bosniaks drove through Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, honking horns and waving intertwined US and Bosnian flags through car windows. In the background, a picture of a young Biden engaging in conversation with Bosnia’s first president, Alija Izetbegović in 1993 reflected off the face of the Vijećnica; the momentous city hall that had been heavily bombed a year prior.
Biden’s victory over the incumbent Trump has sparked hope for Muslims within Bosnia and Herzegovina, who remember Biden’s involvement in stirring American politicians from their slumber in response to the war that took place in the country from 1992 to 1995. Throughout this time, Biden as a U.S. senator had advocated the bombing of Belgrade and the lifting of the embargo that had been introduced before the war on the whole of Yugoslavia, which was perceived by Bosniaks as a hindrance to their advancement a few years later.
During Biden’s election campaign this year, he vowed to help Bosnia and Herzegovina enter NATO, and do something to resolve the issue of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbia’s (Republika Srpska) refusal to comply with policies emerging from the political capital, Sarajevo. These potential developments are not regarded favourably by most Bosnian Serbs however, who argue that they received the tail end of Biden’s benevolence towards Bosnia and Herzegovina in its war years. Due to Biden’s opposition to Serbia’s government in the past and to the activities of current anti-state representatives like Milorad Dodik who sit on the United States’ blacklist, this may cause extra tensions to mount between the two largest ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their constituent territories. Both sides had rooted for opposing candidates in the run up to the elections; namely Muslims for Biden and Serbians for Trump. However, irrespective of the differences, the unifying factor at play for both ethnicities is the decisive role that the U.S. holds in ensuring a stable, functioning democracy in the country, since the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords in 1995.
With every new U.S. presidential term that comes, the question arises as to how much effort the U.S. administration will invest to save the country whose constitution they once drafted for peace, but that has in the post-war years caused more division than unity. Biden’s inauguration in January will provide a change to Trump’s inattentiveness towards the delicate situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Balkans on a whole. To what extent? This remains largely unknown, but it is acknowledged that in many respects, the fate of this country 25 years ago and today is still very much reliant on the involvement of the international community. We can only hope that the United States – irrespective of its own domestic issues – will be inclined, if only for the sake of its own reputation, to act to help resolve this issue in the foreseeable future.