Reading about the struggle in Bosnia to form a government, Inzko's predictable but unhelpful New Year's speech and the latest spat between Inzko and Dodik I will once again try to explain how the Netherlands evolved.
A century ago the Netherlands was strongly divided. You had fire and brimstone protestant preachers for whom the Pope was the devil himself. You had the Catholics who lived completely in their own world, showed slavish obeyance to the local priest and saw the outer world with fear. And you had the Socialists with their atheism and revolutionary zeal who looked down on those superstituous believers who were not capable of thinking on their own. Of course not everyone was a fanatic - just as in Bosnia not everyone is a nationalist - but when threatened the ranks tended to close.
We did not solve this by having some foreigner tell our preachers and priests that they should stop their inflamatory speaches. On the contrary, we adopted a system that we called "autonomy in the own sphere". And so - while the government provided neutral schools - every religion was allowed to establish its own schools and use its own educational methods. There were separate protestant, catholic and socialist trade unions, savings banks, sport clubs and many other organizations.
Did this strengthen the conflicts? No! On the contrary, by giving everybody what he wanted we more or less neutralized the conflicts. Nowadays religion hardly plays a role in the Netherlands. We still have many organisations and institutions that are in name Protestant or Catholic but often it is nearly meaningless and many of its customers don't share that religion.
The secret? The problem is not those extremist politicians and preachers. You have extremists and crazy people in every society. They only become a problem when the rest of their group starts to believe that they have a point.
The worldwide standard solution for minorities is remarkable similar to the solution we used in the Netherlands, but for some mysterious reason the West has decided that it should not be applied in the case of Bosnia.
In my opinion there is only one workable solution for Bosnia: a separate Croat entity. That way religion can stop to be a major theme and be replaced by more mundane things like corruption and the economy.
Might this lead to the breakup of Bosnia? Yes, it could. But in the long term Bosnia can only stay together when all its inhabitants want it. And the longer we wait with self determination and keep the conflict up the greater the risk that Bosnia actually will fall apart.
I can understand that some people still are nostalgic for Tito's solution of totally ignoring ethnic conflicts. But that won't work in an open democratic society.
It should also be noted that there is a big difference between autonomy on basis of religion and one on basis of language. The latter can lead to groups growing apart because they no longer understand each other's language.
Finally one note on language. All Bosnians speak more or less the same language but details do matter. Bosnia has now standardized as "Bosnian" a dialect that tries to distinguish Bosnia as much as possible from its neighbors. This is discriminating towards it Serbs and Croats. I believe it would be much better to chose something in between, like good old Serbo-Croatian, as a standard. That would also make it much more attractive to have mized schools. It would be a good start when it would become possible to start such schools.