ON APRIL 1st the world and European football associations suspended Bosnia, apparently killing whatever hope the country had of qualifying for the Euro 2012 championships. FIFA and UEFA had asked Bosnias football federation to replace its three-man (Serb, Croat and Bosniak-Muslim) presidency with one person, but the Serbs refused. This week FIFA revived Bosnians dreams by imposing a normalisation committee on their football federation. But saving the country will be harder. Local politicians say it is going through its worst crisis since the war ended in 1995. Progress on much-needed economic reforms, or towards European Union membership, has ground to a halt.
Bosnia has been virtually ungovernable since a set of modest constitutional changes failed to pass in 2006. Milorad Dodik, president of the Serb-dominated bit, the Republika Srpska, openly calls for Bosnias dissolution. A Serbian Orthodox church is being erected, illegally, near a memorial to 8,000 Bosniaks murdered by Serb forces in Srebrenica in 1995. Bosniaks will make their annual pilgrimage there in July; some fear anger over the church could lead to violence.
Even more worrying is the troubled Bosniak-Croat federation. The multiethnic, though mainly Bosniak, Social Democrats won last Octobers election. But the two main Croat parties refused to join them in government. Following a series of manoeuvres, the Social Democrats leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija, scratched a government together, which was challenged in court. The challenge was withdrawn, but the Croat parties still do not recognise the government.
Martin Raguz, a Croat leader, says that the constitution agreed in 1995 to end Bosnias war has hit a brick wall. He wants a new election. No way, retorts Mr Lagumdzija. He has formed a government, he says, and politicians like Mr Raguz cannot stomach the fact that he is trying to end Bosnias ethnic segregation.
Mirsad Kebo, a Bosniak and one of two federation vice-presidents, hopes wisdom will prevail. He would prefer Croats like Mr Raguz to join the federation government, but says they have asked for too much. Mr Raguz replies that, since 1995, Bosnian-Croat influence has been steadily whittled away by the Bosniaks. As for Mr Dodik, he has now formed an unlikely alliance with the main Bosnian Croat leaders. They have even signed an agreement to form a state-level government together. But they cannot do this without Bosniaks.
The ongoing gridlock means one must prepare for the worst, says one diplomat. Could that mean a return to war? Probably not. Srecko Latal, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, says there is no intent or preparedness for violence. Mr Kebo, likewise, does not fear war. One reason for this, he says with a hint of steel, is that nobody (ie, neither Serbs nor Croats) has any chance of destroying the state of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Yet outside help may be needed. The EU has agreed in theory to impose a travel ban on anyone deemed a threat to the country. That may not be enough. Writing in The Times this week, Paddy Ashdown, a former pro-consul, urged the West to become engaged again. Otherwise, he warned, Bosnia risked break-up, and even fresh conflict.