Last month's threat by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik is “fading into the holiday mist” but no one who watches Bosnian politics should relax, said international relations expert Daniel Serwer in his latest commentary on the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He stressed that Dodik's goal is “de facto secession of Republika Srpska,” Bosnia's Serb-dominated region and that he is moving to there “small step by small step.”
Serwer reminded of the recent session of Republika Srpska entity parliament, which started the process of the entity's withdrawal from the security, judicial and tax institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were established following the Bosnian 1992-95 war.
According to him, Dodik is unlikely to declare independence but he wants Republika Srpska to withdraw from Sarajevo's vital institutions “under a veil of legislative approval.”
Russia will support Dodik’s moves and try to protect him, deems Serwer.
“Moscow is already denying the authority of the High Representative in Bosnia, who is responsible for civilian implementation of the Dayton agreements. Serbian President (Aleksandar) Vucic will be more circumspect, as he fears EU and US disapproval. But his minions, including Interior Minister (Aleksandar) Vulin, cheer more openly. The RS is an important component of what they call the ‘Serbian world.’ That would be a Greater Serbian state incorporating neighboring Serb populations,” he explained in the article titled ‘Want to make an impression? Send the airborne’.
Serwer described Dodik as the “embodiment of the ethnic authoritarian ideal,” who started the political life as a relative moderate in the Bosnian context but has become a denier of crimes and genocide.
“He is now a champion of Serb exceptionalism, a subservient puppet of Moscow, and a deeply corrupted pocketer of ill-gotten gains,” he added.
According to the expert, most people in Washington and Brussels understand that Dodik is irredeemable.
“Like his genocidaire predecessor Radovan Karadzic, Dodik regards himself as a political competitor to Vucic in Belgrade, not just a provincial party chief in Banja Luka. The time is coming for a showdown between these Serb paladins,” he noted.
Serwer emphasised that Vucic is unquestionably more powerful but that Dodik is more useful to the Russians, who would regard de facto secession of the Serb entity as a “useful precedent and bargaining chip for breakaway provinces in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
“Moscow would also enjoy derailing a Western triumph of the 1990s unipolar moment: the negotiated end of the Bosnian war,” he concluded.
The US and EU will need to act
The expert further noted that Dodik is making it impossible for the US and EU to continue ignoring his moves towards de facto independence but that the question is what can they do about it.
As one of the options he suggests that the EU and US nullify any decisions in the entity parliament that contradict the Dayton Peace Accords (the peace deal which ended the Bosnian war and established the country's constitutional setup) and subsequent decisions of the High Representative (an UN envoy who oversees the peace process implementation).
“Once upon a time, the HiRep would not have hesitated to remove Dodik from office. But is that any longer feasible? Another possibility is his arrest for insurrection against the Bosnian state, of which he is blatantly guilty. But Bosnia’s prosecutors seem unwilling and likely incapable of doing that,” he said.
If nothing can be done inside Bosnia, according to Serwer, then burden falls on Washington, Brussels, and European capitals.
“They will need to levy punishing sanctions on Dodik personally, all members of the RS Assembly who vote for withdrawal from Bosnian institutions, and the RS institutionally, including an end to all World Bank and IMF as well as bilateral assistance and access to international financial markets. If the RS has de facto seceded from Bosnia, it shoud not benefit from grants or loans available to its sovereign. It would be rank hypocrisy to allow any international financing or official development assistance to reach the RS,” he said, adding that there are other possible moves to be taken.
Deployment of international troops to the vital spots is one of them.
“Brussels and Washington could shut down RS representational offices. The international military presence, EUFOR, could move troops to the vital northeast town of Brcko while the UK and US deploy NATO troops there, to prevent any effort by either Sarajevo or Banja Luka to seize it. Want to make an impression? The British and Americans could arrive in the hundreds by parachute outside Banja Luka, in a NATO training exercise,” said Serwer in the commentary titled ‘Want to make an impression? Send the airborne’.
He also suggested that Dodik and any other politicians supporting de facto secession could be barred from Sarajevo and any requirements for Serb approval of Bosnian government actions there could be abrogated
“Any funding for the RS from Sarajevo could stop. Bosnia could revert to its pre-war constitution, or devise a new one that erases the RS as well as the Federation and its cantons, relying on municipalities for local governance.”
Dodik should not be ignored
Serwer concludes by saying that this is an illustrative, not an exhaustive, list of options, not recommendations.
“The main point is that Brussels and Washington should no longer downplay or ignore Dodik’s moves. If they do, patriotic Bosnians, who were the main victims of the 1992-95 war, will take matters into their own hands, seizing Brcko before Dodik does.”
That too, would mark a failure of Dayton, but one that would preserve the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as its multi-ethnicity, he added.