The assembly of the Bosnian Serb entity voted in favor of a set of provisions that would allow the regional government to exclude itself from national institutions despite the threat of new sanctions.
The all-day session was marked by lengthy speeches by Bosnian Serb member of the state-level tripartite presidency Milorad Dodik and the entity of the President of the Republika Srpska, Željka Cvijanović, while a heated discussion led the opposition to leave the process in protest.
Despite this, Dodik’s SNSD-led ruling coalition had enough votes to pass the proposals which included drafting new entity-level laws that would allow the Bosnian Serb region to withdraw from the army, security services , the tax system and the judiciary of Bosnia.
The proposed measures come with a six-month period needed to draft new laws, including changes to the entity’s constitution.
Dodik has previously made repeated threats to secede from what amounts to nearly half the country.
In his speech during the session, he quoted former British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, comparing himself to Cameron before the Brexit vote.
But opposition leaders in the entity’s assembly harshly criticized Dodik’s policies, with mutual accusations leading to shouting matches and interruptions of the long session.
One of the opposition leaders, Mirko Šarović of SDS, said that the initiative is “a direct threat to peace”, which “would lead the RS to spiral into war”.
“As a party, we will support any reasonable proposal, but that has to happen by agreement. It is our responsibility and our duty to tell people where we are leading them,” concluded Šarović.
MP Branislav Borenović, the leader of another opposition party, the PDP, said it was “hypocritical” of Dodik to do this in the run-up to the general elections, scheduled for October 2022.
Borenović, who participated in the 1992-1995 war in the country as a soldier in the Republika Srpska Army, said he knows what separate armies would mean for Bosnia’s future.
“It means conflict, war and death,” he exclaimed.
“Tell us about your projections, Mr. Dodik: what does the RS army represent? Do we have money for tanks, planes? The conditions to install checkpoints on the entity’s line? Give your answers to the citizens,” he insisted. Borenović.
The international community is asked to react
Other officials in the country, including Bosnian and Croatian members of the presidency, Šefik Džaferović and Željko Komšić, have called on the United States and the European Union to crack down on Dodik and his associates.
The international community reacted after the session, with Western government representatives expressing concern over the move that could potentially weaken Bosnia’s central authority.
However, a system of checks and balances will likely see proposed laws rejected, either by the state’s upper house of parliament or by the state’s Constitutional Court.
The United States has already imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Dodik, while US and German officials have recently threatened more sanctions if Bosnian Serbs further weaken Bosnian central institutions.
The measure, if approved unilaterally, would go against the peace agreement that established the current political system in the country, considered one of the most complicated in the world.
Drafted to end the Bosnian war in 1995, the United States-sponsored Dayton Peace Agreement created two administrative units in the country: the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian-Croatian Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The two regions were granted some autonomy, with a general government at the state level that oversees the country’s main institutions, including the military, the higher judiciary, and the tax administration.
The Bosnian Serb leader has recently stepped up his decade-long separatist campaign, pledging in September to create the Republika Srpska’s own army, fiscal authority and judiciary.
The United States has sent several diplomats to Bosnia in recent weeks to reiterate its support for the country’s territorial integrity and core institutions.
Dodik has repeatedly said that he does not care about the new sanctions, adding that this would bring Serbs even closer to their “true friends,” a reference to their close ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
He has also denied that the withdrawal of the central institutions would lead to rapid secession or a new war, stating that “the Republika Srpska would not defend itself even if attacked.”
The 1992-1995 war was the worst bloodshed seen in Europe since World War II, with more than 100,000 casualties, while also leaving millions as refugees or internally displaced persons.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism