With its qualification for the 2014 World Cup, Bosnia-Herzegovina reminded the world that it still exists. Football used to divide the Balkans, but perhaps it will now be able to unite at least one of the region's countries.

The capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sarajevo, enthusiastically greeted its national team's the historic qualification of the national team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The football team's success eclipsed the political crisis, the conflict with Brussels and the economic problems.

But Sarajevo is not representative of all of Bosnia. The national team's game was not broadcast in the Republika Srpska, the part of the country inhabited by Serbs. Its president, Milorad Dodik, congratulated the team on its performance, but only grudgingly and unenthusiastically. As did the Bosnian Croats, who do not hide their support for the Croats of Zagreb in their bid to qualify.

The famous game between the Yugoslav clubs Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star of Belgrade on May 13, 1990, in Zagreb is considered as the symbolic beginning of the Balkan War

In the past, football has weighed on the fate of the Balkans. The famous game between the Yugoslav clubs Dinamo Zagreb and Red Star of Belgrade on May 13, 1990, in Zagreb is considered as the symbolic beginning of the Balkan War. About 3,000 Red Star supporters came from Belgrade under the leadership of Željko Ražnatović-Arkan [later the head of a Serbian militia, he was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity but was assassinated in 2000 before he could stand trial]. The stakes were not sports-related but political: ‘Zagreb is Serbia’, read a banner in the stadium. Shortly after, these same supporters became enemy soldiers killing each other.

A careful mix

Today's Bosnia-Herzegovina is the product of the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended the Balkan War, and of a constitution hastily conceived by the United States military.

It is a republic formed by the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which accounts for 51 percent of the territory, and is inhabited by Muslims and Croats, combined with the Serbian Republic of Bosnia, Republika Srpska, which accounts for 49 percent of the territory. The two sides have their own constitutions, governments, public administrations as well as legislative and judicial institutions. The national institutions, such as the Parliament or the Collegial Presidency (three members that rotate every eight months), are composed of representatives of the three main nationalities present in the country.

Failure of a multi-ethnic state

In practice the multi-cultural society and state do not function. The Serbs, who represent 37 percent of the population, do not identify with the country. The same is true of the Croats (11 percent of the population), who believe that the Dayton Accords were beneficial mostly to the Muslims (48 percent of the population). This explains why a fear of division and failure hovers over the politics of this artificially created country.

Currently, as stipulated by the Dayton Accords, the Collegial Presidency can only be held by a Serb, a Croat and a Muslim. This principal was successfully attacked in two suits before the European Court of Human Rights; one by a Roma citizen, Dervo Sejdić, and another by a Jewish citizen, Jacob Finci. The problem is that five years after the rulings, no one in Bosnia knows how to implement them.

The lack of a settlement in the Sejdić-Finci affair is blocking Bosnia-Herzegovina's entry [into the EU], the European Commission recently said, while slashing its financial aid to Sarajevo by €47m, nearly half of its funding.

Mighty football

Today, the national football federation is the only national institution that functions properly

After the war, Bosnia had three football associations and three leagues. It is only since 2000 that the Croats and the Muslims teamed up. They were then joined, two years later, by the Serbs. At first, the national federation was led by three presidents and rotted by corruption. FIFA finally laid down the law and demanded the appointment of a single president. When Sarajevo tried to oppose the move, FIFA suspended the national team and excluded the clubs from European competitions. The result was immediate: the statutes were revised and Elmedin Begić was elected president. Today, the national football federation is the only national institution that functions properly, even if its success is a cause of joy in only half of the country and if its supporters still fight each other during games.

Following the qualification for the Brazil World Cup, one can finally speak of success. Bosnian journalist Ahmed Burić considers that the current golden generation of players is the result of a true gift from the Balkans to football and solid, western training. "Our players are in large part the children of war migrants," says Burić. "These citizens of the world, who had the choice between the easy option, to play for their adopted country, or for the Bosnian national team, which they know from the tales of their parents, chose the latter".

The national team is mostly Muslim. Yet, as Burić points out, while the team's coach, Safet Sušić, is Muslim, his right-hand man is a Serb. "His presence on the team clearly demonstrates that all citizens have the same importance for the team," he says. If the players manage to get a medal in Brazil or a place close to the podium, all of Bosnia would be proud and the Serbs and the Croats might change their view of the country.