Bosnia Hopes Obama Renews US Balkan Role

Bosnians tuned in en masse to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States, with politicians and analysts saying they hoped for renewed US engagement in the Balkans after eight years of Washington paying very little attention.

Like in many other countries which are dependent on even the slightest shift in the US foreign policy, the inauguration ceremony of the new US president was broadcast live in Bosnia by several local TV and radio stations.

Preoccupied with Afghanistan and Iraq and wanting the European Union to pick up the slack in its own back yard, the previous US administration under George W. Bush significantly reduced its political, military and financial presence in the Balkans. The shift coincided with deepening political deadlock in Bosnia and new tensions in Kosovo, Serbia and Macedonia, leading local and international analysts to warn that the situation requires renewed international attention and a new strategic approach from the West.

Commentator Vlastimir Mijovic told state television that because of his culturally and ethnically mixed background, the new US President may have a better perspective on what is going on, and what is needed, in the Balkans.

Kemal Kurspahic, a leading Bosnian journalist, thought the same, and reporting live from the US where he works, said Obama will bring “a new tone.”

“This new tone is the first step towards a new foreign policy,” he said. “There will be no instant changes. This is something that will evolve.”

Kurspahic said he expected that American administration will still expect from EU officials and local leaders themselves to take over the bulk of responsibility for the fate of the region. Changes in the US’s approach to the Balkans will be gauged from the foreign policy advisors and envoys that Obama and his team are expected to appoint.

“Expectations from the new US administration and the new president are indeed huge. So huge that sometimes I think that he will have to be better than the best ones,” the Bosnian Croat member of country’s tripartite presidency, Zeljko Komsic, told media. He said he expected the new US administration to renew US engagement in Bosnia and the rest of Balkans.

Yet the leader of the ruling Croat Democratic Union, Dragan Covic, said that the new US administration will change nothing in Bosnia unless Bosnians themselves do not want to change.

And analyst Saida Mustajbegovic told Balkan Insight “it is clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot be a priority as long as fires are burning elsewhere.”

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