By DS/KONTRAFOTO. Milorad Dodik addresses the XIV Electoral Assembly of the Democratic Party in Belgrade on December 18, 2010. CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Bosnian Serb politician Milorad Dodik is threatening to break up Bosnia and Herzegovina, causing the most serious crisis since the end of the Balkan war.

Cristina Maza, the author of our weekly reading list, recently spoke to Jasmin Mujanović, the author of Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans. She kindly shared the interview with the Cosmopolitan Globalist.

Cristina: I understand that Bosnian Serb politician Milorad Dodik has put forward proposals that would essentially separate the Serbian entity Republika Srpska (RS) from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina.[1]Bosnia and Herzegovina is comprised of two entities: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. An “entity” here is roughly analogous to an American state; Bosnia and … Continue reading But he’s made threats like this before. Why is he being taken more seriously now?

Jasmin: The reason it’s being taken more seriously is because he laid out very concrete steps that he wants to take, and he’s actually begun taking these steps.

Bosnian media published a memorandum that his party submitted to the Republika Srpska Assembly. It outlines in detail, over the course of some 100 pages, all of the so-called competencies they believe have been unduly transferred from the entity level to the Bosnian state.

He’s really driving toward a de facto secession by proposing such a profound degree of separation from the state institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the creation of parallel institutions. That’s secession in all but name.

Indeed, he’s explicitly threatened that not only would he recreate the VRS—the former Bosnian Serb army[2]The Army of Republika Srpska, or Војска Републике Српске (Vojska Republike Srpske), perpetrated the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.—but use the Republika Srpska’s security services to expel government officials from the territory of RS. He’s taking a very alarming set of escalating steps.

He has refrained from saying explicitly that this is secession. He’s framed it as going for what he calls “the original Dayton [accord],” which is a completely spurious concept that he’s invented, or has had lobbyists concoct for him.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) and other foreign observers see it as the most serious crisis since the end of the war.

Cristina: Is the alarm primarily because of Dodik’s actions, or are other factors weakening the state?

Jasmin: Dodik’s efforts are the centerpiece, and I can’t remember if we’ve ever had such an explicit report from the High Representative. It makes very clear that this is the most serious political and perhaps security crisis since the end of the war.

Then there is the surreal aspect that, as we are reading this report, for the first time, a High Representative has been prevented from addressing the UN Security Council because of the growing clout and interference and involvement of the Russian Federation on behalf of Dodik. That’s where we get the sinister geopolitics that are very alarming to a lot of ordinary Bosnians.

But Dodik is not alone, in this sense. Aside from the support that he gets from Russia and from Belgrade, without which he couldn’t do any of what he is doing, the reality is he has a tremendous amount of support from the Croat nationalist establishment, and from the HDZ (the right-nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, or Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica), in particular.

Cristina: What’s the legal basis for the proposals Dodik is putting forward? Has anyone made a legal argument that his proposals should be permitted under the Dayton Agreement?

Jasmin: No, there isn’t any legal basis. Dodik’s argument is that there has been an illegal transfer of authority from the entity level to the state level. He accuses the High Representative of having done a great deal of this.

But he neglects to mention that most of the competencies, including the formation of the Bosnian armed forces, were created through acts of the Bosnian Parliament. They are legal by every definition of the term.

Specifically, the way he’s proposing to address all of these presumed illegalities is to have the Republika Srpska National Assembly simply pass resolutions and laws that he claims will somehow magically overrule the Bosnian Constitutional Court, the OHR, and the Bosnian parliament.

You can either overturn a law through an act of parliament, or you can go to the courts and the courts may strike down a law—and that’s kind of it.

Technically, in Bosnia, you can appeal to the OHR, and the OHR can then issue a new law that would overturn the existing law. There are avenues to address his grievances.

But what he’s saying is that a subnational unit, an administrative region of the Bosnian state, has the authority and competence to overrule state authorities, the state judiciary, and the state executive—which again, is not true.

That’s why this is secession in all but name, because he’s assuming powers for the Republika Srpska that he can only assume by going outside of the established legal order of the country.

He’s by definition undermining the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina` and the country’s rule of law.

Cristina: How have people in Republika Srpska responded to this? Is this a politically popular move?

Jasmin: It’s a little bit hard to tell. The RS opposition parties have been extremely critical of Dodik’s push. They’ve characterized this as his own personal gambit and one that’s very much imperiling the entity’s existence.

They think that in the event of a serious crisis in Bosnia, it’s possible it will go very badly for supporters of the RS.

What the attitude of the public at large is, though, it’s tough to tell. Keep in mind that Dodik has created a quasi-police state in the entity, a quasi-autocracy.

We’ve seen the weakening of the regime take place over the last few years. In particular, we saw it on display during the recent local elections in Bosnia, when it lost the mayoral race in a number of key cities, including the capital of the region, Banja Luka.

I think that gives us a bit of a sense of why he’s doing this. He understands that despite all of his efforts to turn the RS into a private fiefdom, there are residual quasi-democratic avenues, largely thanks to the entity’s embeddedness in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole. He’s concerned that there’s a scenario in which he could lose power through elections.

The problem for Milorad Dodik is that he knows that when that happens, or if that happens, he has really only two options. He’s going to end up like Nikola Gruevski, and he’ll be in exile in someplace like Budapest, or Moscow, or Belgrade. Or he’s going to be in prison.

There is no option in which Milorad Dodik retires and hangs out, or becomes a ho-hum opposition leader. That is not the way this thing is going to go.

He knows that. So he’s painted himself into a corner such that he has to create a very dramatic situation, one where he can preserve his own political and personal freedom.

That is, fundamentally, what’s animating a lot of this. This is not to discount that he’s a true believer in the ideological project of Serb nationalism in Bosnia.

Cristina Maza is a foreign policy and defense correspondent based in Washington, D.C. Read more of her work here.


1 Bosnia and Herzegovina is comprised of two entities: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. An “entity” here is roughly analogous to an American state; Bosnia and Herzegovina is the larger federal structure. The vast majority of Croats and Bosniaks were expelled from what is now the Republika Srpska during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.
2 The Army of Republika Srpska, or Војска Републике Српске (Vojska Republike Srpske), perpetrated the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre.


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