More than 25 years since the end of the war, the stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and peace itself could be threatened again after recent controversial moves and announcements made by the Bosnian Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik. Dodik is currently the Serbian member of the tripartite Presidency of the Balkan country.
The crisis started in the summer, when the outgoing High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR), Valentin Inzko, decided to introduce amendments to the Bosnian criminal law and make punishable the acts of publicly denying or justifying the genocide in Srebrenica and other war crimes committed in Bosnia. The long-awaited decision of Inzko was welcomed by the survivors of the war and by politicians in Sarajevo but triggered outrage among Bosnian Serbs, with Dodik itself accusing the OHR and the international community of wanting to mark the entire Serbian people as “genocidal.” Dodik repeatedly said he does not recognize the authority of the High Representative.
As first retaliation against the law, the leadership of Republika Srpska (RS), the Bosnian Serb political entity in Bosnia, announced a boycott of the central institutions by Bosnian Serbs representatives. RS leadership also warned that the police of Republika Srpska will protect those who are eventually indicted for denying the genocide in Srebrenica.
The situation escalated further in October, with Dodik announcing that Republika Srpska will introduce new laws that will pave the way for the withdrawal of the Bosnian Serbs representatives from the joint Indirect Tax Administration (ITA), the central High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJCP) and even from the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina (OSBiH) in the coming months. The Bosnian army was officially formed in 2005 by merging the Bosniak-Croat Army of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Bosnian Serbs’ Army of Republika Srpska.
The RS has already formed several expert teams that will deal with issues of defence, law, the new Constitution of the RS,” said Milorad Dodik. The announcement of withdrawing from the Armed Force is particularly sensitive in the country. It suggests that the Bosnian Serb leadership could push for the creation of its own armed forces. Dodik did not deny that Republika Srpska could follow that path by saying that a new separate RS army could be set up “within a few months.” Dodik already evoked the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina in the past, and labelled it as “an imposed country.” According to Zeljko Komsic, the Croat member of the Presidency, Dodik should be incriminated for “a criminal act of rebellion.” Komsic claimed that a plan exists to defend Bosnia if Dodik forms a Republika Srpska’s army. “If passed in the Republika Srpska (RS) Parliament, or implemented without formal legislative approval, Dodik’s moves would amount to secession, even if no declaration of independence is issued,” the political commentator Daniel Serwer said.
Controversial actions followed Dodik’s announcement. On October 20, the Parliament of Republika Srpska passed a law that paves the way for the creation of an autonomous Bosnian Serb medicine procurement agency, taking over the powers of the centralised Bosnian Agency for Medical Equipment and Drugs, launched in 2009. The Constitution of Bosnia explicitly prohibits the two political entities that form the country to create an agency, which would overtake the duties and powers of a federal agency. According to experts and analysts, the creation of the Agency could be interpreted as a prodding gesture before going towards the realisation of separate tax, judicial and security Bosnian Serb institutions. Just two days after, the Bosnian Serb police organised an “anti-terrorist” drill on the mountains overlooking Sarajevo, with special forces equipped with assault rifles, helicopters and armed vehicles. In Sarajevo, politicians read the drills as an anticipation of creating separate armed forces and Bosniak and Croat leaders spoke openly of a “provocation.”
The situation in Bosnia has sparked fears that the country could be heading towards a period of severe destabilisation. While Dodik’s moves could have the tacit approval of Russia, according to Dodik itself, the EU and the US stated that they have “serious concerns about increasingly divisive rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” “We call on all parties to respect and protect state institutions, resume constructive dialogue, and take steps to advance progress on the EU integration path – including on relevant reforms,” a joint statement of the US government and the EU read. Western powers are “united in their firm support for the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.” they noted. It is not clear at this stage if lukewarm external pressures would force Dodik to back down.
Journalist based in the Balkans since 2005, he covers Central- and Eastern Europe for a wide range of media outlets, including the Italian national news agency ANSA, and the dailies La Stampa and Il Piccolo.