The parliament of Bosnia’s Serb dominated entity, Republika Srpska, will hold a special session on Tuesday to discuss a draft law on referendum in defiance of repeated calls by the international community against the move.
The draft law which is to be discussed was submitted to the parliament in January by the government of Republika Srpska and it only regulates technical issues, such as the manner in which a referendum can be called and voting procedures.
However, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik said on a number of occasions recently that a referendum would be organised to ask the citizens of Republika Srpska whether they support the Dayton peace agreement which ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war.
In the past, Dodik has threatened to hold a referendum on Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia, but he now insists that he has no intention to break the country apart.
The international community has repeatedly warned Bosnian Serbs against taking steps to organise a referendum, saying that it would fall outside Republika Srpska’s constitutional competency and prompt a strong reaction from the international actors present in the country.
The latest warning was delivered last week by the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Stuart Jones.
According to a statement issued by the Bosnian Serb parliament, during a meeting in Washington Jones informed Igor Radojicic, the speaker of the Republika Srpska parliament, that the United States was “seriously concerned“ with the possibility that a law on referendum would be passed.
It remains unclear if the draft law on a referendum will win the backing of Bosnian Serb opposition parties, which accuse Dodik and his party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, of using the talk of a referendum to divert attention from their failures in other areas.
The main opposition party, the Serb Democratic Party, described the government’s draft law as feeble, insisting that the law should include mandatory provisions for a referendum in Republika Srpska on Bosnia’s possible membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO.
Dodik dismissed the accusations and said the law would be “unconstitutional” if it included such provisions, as NATO membership falls outside exclusive jurisdiction of Republika Srpska.
“We must have a law that will not be controversial,” Dodik told journalists on Monday.
He also added that he did not expect any negative reactions from the international community if the law is adopted by the parliament.
“A number of international institutions have seen the draft and they did not assess it as unconstitutional,” Dodik said without elaborating.
Even if the law secures the backing of all Bosnian Serb deputies, it is likely to be vetoed by Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) and Bosnian Croat members of Republika Srpska’s parliament. If this happens it would have to be sent to the region’s constitutional court for review.
Under the Dayton peace agreement, Bosnia was divided into two highly autonomous entities – the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and Croat-Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) federation. Each entity has its own government, parliament and presidency, but the two are linked by weak central institutions.
Bosnian Serbs first announced plans to hold a referendum in December, following the decision by the international community’s High Representative to Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, to extend the mandate of international judges working on war crimes cases at Bosnia’s state court.
The Bosnian Serb government rejected Inzko’s decision and said it would call for a referendum to allow Bosnian Serbs to decide on the issue.
The post of the high representative was created under the Dayton peace agreement and was later given the authority to impose legislation and dismiss local officials who obstruct the implementation of the peace agreement.
However, Bosnian Serbs have recently stepped up their opposition to the high representative’s continued presence in Bosnia, accusing Inzko of abusing his powers and refusing to accept his authority.