Bosnian Serbs vs Inzko

In the latest scene of Bosnia’s political farce, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko uses his powers to abolish a Bosnian Serb declaration and the curtains begin to draw on the country’s EU aspirations, Anes Alic writes for ISN Security Watch.

has adopted a tough stance against Bosnian nationalist leaders by using its sweeping powers to intervene and overrule a Bosnian Serb parliamentary declaration that challenged its authority.

The 14 May declaration adopted by the national assembly of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska calls for the return of entity jurisdiction over competencies transferred to the state level by order of the international community’s Office of the High Representative (OHR) in Bosnia.

The necessity of decision on Saturday by High Representative Valentin Inzko to overrule the Bosnian Serb Assembly declaration also demonstrates to Bosnian citizens what would happen should the international community close its doors here, handing over power to local, ethnically driven politicians.

While everyone expected that Inzko, an Austrian diplomat newly appointed as high representative, would continue the status quo of his two most recent predecessors who attempted to loosen the reins and allow Bosnian politicians to demonstrate good political will and responsibility, he has not. While his recent predecessors became bogged down in the never-ending nationalist rhetoric that characterizes Bosnian politics, Inzko has taken a tough stance, ostensibly with the support of the international community. He surprised not only Bosnian officials but some western diplomats as well.

Just days before Inzko abolished the Republika Srpska assembly declaration on 20 June, Bosnian Serb officials in the entity had ignored the high representative’s calls to withdraw it on the basis that it violated the country’s constitution, or face the consequences.

Entity vs state

For years, Bosnian Serb officials have claimed that the international community, with the backing of Bosniak (Bosnian Muslims) and Bosnian Croat officials, is trying to undermine the influence of the entities by transferring powers to the state level. Republika Srpska officials believe that it is the first step toward suspending the entities – a move that is unacceptable to Bosnian Serbs.

The newest development emerged in May, when Republika Srpska leaders made a list of 68 powers that had been transferred from Republika Srpska to the state since the end of the 1992-1995 war. The jurisdiction includes control over the judiciary system, collecting customs duties, unifying the military, managing foreign trade and police reform.

These transfers of power were not done with the involvement of local politicians; rather, they were all initiated, passed and implemented by the OHR. Authorities in the Federation entity (dominated by Bosniak and Bosnian Croats) silently supported the move, while Republika Srpska officials strongly objected, but refrained from making too much noise over the issue for fear that they would be suspended by the influential OHR for political obstruction.

Newly confident after a couple of changes of crown within the OHR, the Republika Sprksa Assembly approved the declaration against these previous orders by the international community on 14 May, with some opposition from Bosniak and Croat representatives in the Assembly, and turned a deaf ear to Inzko’s call to withdraw the resolution.

After the Assembly’s approval, the list was published in the official gazette, effectively making it, and its implicit demands, law.

However, after the calls from the international community to withdraw the Assembly’s decision, Republika Srpska leaders, by now used to the OHR’s indecisiveness over the past three years, said they were ready to negotiate with the international body, and that some powers from the list could be revised.

But this was not enough for Inzko, and the OHR reacted by invoking its so-called Bonn Powers, which enable it to effectively nullify the Assembly’s actions. Since the end of the war, high representatives have invoked their sweeping Bonn Powers more than 800 times to remove officials and annul or impose laws.

In his decision, Inzko said that the resolutions passed by the Assembly would give the body veto rights at a state level and undermine final and binding decisions of the Constitutional Court.

“I am giving the political leaders in BiH an opportunity to focus on the priorities of this country’s European future […] successful politics is about creating a situation that benefits everyone. This cannot be achieved through exclusive demands and a zero-sum game where someone always has to lose […]. Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to keep up with the rest of the region, where countries progress on the basis of their own merits,” Inzko said.

The attention of the Bosnian public was now focused on the Bosnian Serb leaders, particularly the entity’s prime minister, Milorad Dodik, to see whether he would further challenge the international community. One expected move would be to hold a public referendum asking Bosnian Serbs whether they wished to secede from Bosnia and Herzegovina – a threat that has been dangled before the international community many times.

But Bosnian Serb officials remained silent for a couple of days, during which time Dodik met with Serbian President Boris Tadic: It seemed that Republika Srpska was prepared to soften its stance somewhat.

Bosnian Serb officials claimed that Inzko’s use of the Bonn Powers was unnecessary since the Assembly declaration challenging the OHR’s authority was meant to be symbolic, not binding. They said it had been their desire to voice discontent over the state’s use of power at the expense of the entities’ elected assemblies.

“Inzko’s decision is contrary to modern democratic practices and is designed to suspend basic human and democratic freedoms. But Republika Srpska will behave rationally and is in favor of assuring the stability of Bosnia,” Dodik’s office said in a statement.

Inzko received support from the US as well as from the EU in his 20 June decision to abolish the Bosnian Serb Assembly declaration, despite the fact that some European countries are opposed to the use of the Bonn Powers.

On other side of the political spectrum, Bosniak and Croat Federation officials welcomed the OHR’s decision, suggesting instead that Inzko did not go far enough, failing to sanction those responsible for activities in violation of the Dayton Peace Accord.

OHR schizophrenia

This is the first major action on the part of the OHR since British diplomat Paddy Ashdown, who was often referred to as the “Bosnian Maharaja,” left the post of high representative in early 2006. Ashdown’s frequent use of his sweeping powers was often criticized by local and international officials.

But the reality is that since Ashdown left, there has been absolutely no progress in the country’s economic, political and security situation. After much arm-twisting and the sacking of obstructive politicians, Ashdown succeeded in abolishing the two entities’ ethnically separate armies and police, creating unified, state-level forces.

Ashdown was criticized for wielding too much power, while his successors – Christian Schwarz-Schilling and Miroslav Lajcak – were criticized for wielding too little. But for his part, Lajcak, now Slovakian foreign minister, said he did not have enough support from the EU states for tougher action against Dodik’s separatist policies.

What Schwarz-Schilling and Lajcak did, in essence, was to hand over major decision-making powers to Bosnian citizens and politicians, giving the country a chance to run its own government. It was a strategy that, sadly, failed – miserably.

The latest developments attest to that. Should the OHR close its doors, it is clear that local politicians would annul all the reforms made in the past 13 years and further divide the country.

And, indeed, the Republika Srpska officials are demanding the closure of the OHR, saying that the office is no longer necessary. The OHR was due to be phased out in 2007, but its mandate was extended because of political instability and the failure of local politicians to pass reforms.


Tadic’s sudden visit to Banja Luka, the seat of government for Republika Srpska, where he held a press conference and offered his support to the Bosnian Serb Assembly, will only benefit Dodik in his quest to preserve support from his constituents as he argues that the western world stands against Serbs.

Though the international community, hoping that Tadic would prove to be a moderating force among the Bosnian Serbs rather than arriving in Banja Luka as if the entity were a colony of Serbia, was disappointed in the Serbian president’s clear support for Bosnian Serb moves against the OHR, this will not influence Inzko’s decision, nor is it likely to sway his future actions.

For now, it’s a stalemate, especially in terms of Bosnia’s bid to join the EU. It is clear that Bosnia cannot hope to join the EU with the OHR running the all major reforms in the country.

But the sad fact is, without the international community’s arm twisting, and decisions like Inzko’s, local politicians would lead the country into further regress and the EU would remain a very distant goal.


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