Bosnian Serbs Started Paving the Way for their Own Army TodayDiplomacy | December 10, 2021, Friday // 11:02| views
The Republika Srpska parliament, a Bosnian Serb-dominated part of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is preparing to discuss a declaration that has exacerbated tensions in the country and heightened fears of disintegration and has brought back memories of ethnic violence a quarter of a century ago.
Behind the crisis are the actions of Bosnian Serb presidency member Milorad Dodik. Following a dispute over the extraordinary powers of the international community's High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republika Srpska (of which Dodik was president until three years ago) has threatened to withdraw from national institutions and regain power in several areas, from collecting taxes, through justice, to the armed forces.
The creation of a parallel Bosnian Serb army is of particular concern in Bosnian public space because of memories of the 1990s. In recent days, Dodik has softened his tone by setting an alternative condition for the federal authorities to make a concession and either agree to the demilitarization of Bosnia and Herzegovina or to halve the army.
The problem with the armed forces
On Tuesday, Dodik announced that a separate bill for the future Bosnian Serb army has already been drafted and will be implemented if Sarajevo does not comply with his demands. One of his arguments is that the military budget is a huge burden and an unnecessary waste, since the serbs do not enlist in the army and Bosniak Muslims "fill the quotas".
The unbundling of Bosnia's own Serb institutions as a break with national ones has already begun, after the Republika Srpska parliament passed a law on October 20th to create its own drug regulator.
With today's vote, the Republika Srpska parliament is expected to call on the Sarajevo government (the national one, not the Republika Srpska one in Banja Luka) to draft a new constitution with the possibility of transferring some competencies from the state to the Serb-majority constituent.
Dodik argues that such a change is in line with the Dayton Accords, which ended the war in 1995. Critics - including the international community - warn that the approach looks like a de facto secession of Republika Srpska, even if it is not called that.
Indeed, the creation of a national army was not enshrined in the Bosnian constitution from the outset, but on the basis of an annex allowing specific national institutions to be formed by agreement between the various constituent parts. None of the components has the right to regain the competencies given at the national level.
The initial reason was a law introduced by the High Representative, criminalizing the denial of genocide. Subsequently, Dodik's insistence and the tensions it inflamed and attracted the attention of the West raised the question of whether Bosnia could function.
The document, which will be discussed tomorrow, describes all decisions by the High Representative (whom Dodik does not recognize) as "unconstitutional".
Sanctions will not help
Diplomats from the European Union and the United States have tried to dissuade Dodik, including under threat of Western sanctions, in the past month. However, in an interview with the Guardian last week, he said that if any restrictions were imposed, he could count on Russia and China to come to his aid.
US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar, who is also an envoy to the Western Balkans, expressed hope that Dodik could withdraw his decisions after their meeting in November. However, the Bosnian member of the presidency used other, obscene words to describe his version of the meeting. A few days later, he left for Russia, and then, last Saturday, said the process of "restoring jurisdiction" had continued. Consequently, the national Prime Minister Zoran Tegeltia told Escobar that sanctions would not solve the problems.
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