The 1,200-km entity boundary line dividing the Federation of BiH (FBiH) from Republika Srpska (RS) was drawn up at the Dayton peace conference, which ended the 1992-1995 war, but it was never officially implemented or verified by Bosnian institutions.
While local politicians lack consensus on the issue, thousands of people living on entity lines find life complicated on a number of levels. A farmer may find his house in one entity and his barn in another.
Some find that their properties belong to both entities, or neither, making ownership rights ambiguous at best and utility payments complicated. They face dueling taxes, laws and regulations.
The most notorious example of boundary line ambiguity is in the Sarajevo suburb of Dobrinja, where the invisible line runs through buildings and dissects units. Following the war, one part of Dobrinja was shared by both entities. It was not uncommon for bathrooms to be in RS and living rooms in FBiH.
This absurdity was somewhat corrected through international arbitration in 2001, when about 800 of these apartments were officially awarded to FBiH and about 300 to RS. But difficulties remain.
Following the arbitration, one resident, Kenan Fejzic, says even though his apartment is now clearly in the Federation entity, the actually building still straddles the entity line and has two different names.
“Some bills, such as electricity and telephone, we pay to the Federation, but the water supply comes from Republika Srpska so we pay for that there,” Fejzic told SETimes. He also says his building was a prime venue for break-ins and theft because it is right on the entity line. Thieves, he says, can break in and immediately cross over to another jurisdiction without the police co-operating.
Regulation of the inter-entity line is a politically sensitive issue. In the first couple of years after the war, a Bosnian parliamentary commission regulated about 3% of the line, but since then the issue has been placed on the back burner.
Political leaders have also been unable to agree on a label for this “line”. While politicians in FBiH would choose to call it a “boundary”, RS officials frequently refer to it as the “border”, which has a stronger national tone.
RS officials are pushing hard to finalise the inter-entity demarcation, recalling the country’s legal obligation to do so in accordance with the Dayton Peace Agreement. However, political parties from the FBiH show no indication of moving on the issue. Party of Democratic Action (SDA) spokesman Eldar Selmanovic told SETimes that demarcating the line is not a priority and does not represent a border of any kind.
“We have said before that we are going to work in the parliamentary commission tasked with drawing the country’s state border lines, which is more important to us. It is very easy to establish entity boundaries; but it seems that some officials from Republika Srpska are trying to present entities lines as the country’s borders,” Selmanovic said.
Rajko Vasic, secretary general of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), RS’s main party, denies that. He told SETimes that establishing the entity boundary line is a practical matter, designed to make life easier for residents.
It is not a singular motive, however. “More importantly, Republika Srpska has approximately 1% less territory than was planned by the original line of demarcation, and we have to remedy that,” Vasic told SETimes.
Once again, the standoff will be resolved by the international community, which has called on officials from both entities to appoint members to the commission and begin the process. RS offered to unilaterally demarcate the entity line, but the Dayton Agreement clearly stipulates that both entities must participate in the process.The entities boundary line runs through 42 municipalities and cuts across about 520km of private property. Officials from both entities estimate that approximately 14,000 people are affected by the lack of demarcation.
Though the maps would have to be redrawn, experts say the issue could be resolved in a matter of days.
Vedran Zubic, a geography professor from Sarajevo, told SETimes that the map on which the entity lines were drawn was not the work of a professional cartographer. “On the map of Bosnia drawn up at Dayton, one millimeter of line represents 50 meters of width in reality. This boundary is too wide even for the countries’ borders and especially for urban areas,” Zubic said.
He and others believe that the maps should be redrawn by experts once politicians from both entities reach a consensus. “The boundaries shouldn’t cut through properties, houses and apartments but flow between them. All they have to do this time is to use proper maps or perhaps a thinner marker,” Zubic said.
This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.