Marking the 19th anniversary of the autonomy of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, entity President Milorad Dodik took the opportunity to warn on national television that Bosnian Serbs would not allow any further decentralization, which is necessary for EU integration. He described Bosnia-Herzegovina as a ‘divided society’ that ‘is in the phase of falling apart’as it has not found an internal consensus on how it should look’.
‘For us [Bosnian Serbs], Bosnia is a place of punishment,’ he opined.
Of course, Bosnia is a divided society; specifically divided into two separate entities ‘ the Bosniak- and Croat-dominated Federation and the Bosnian Serb-dominated Republika Srpska. And some Bosnian Croats, spurred on by opportunistic politicians who use ethno-nationalist rhetoric to fan the fires of disunity, would very much like to carve the country into a third, Croat-dominated entity. The main Croat ethno-nationalist leadership now apparently has the tacit support of Dodik in this plan ‘ that is, only as long as such a new entity would make sure to steer clear of Bosnian Serb ‘territory’.
Regardless, it will not be allowed to happen, at least as long as the international community is still calling the shots, and as long as Bosnia maintains its desire to join the EU.
What is most important to Dodik in all of this is keeping his job and his position of power, which would be severely diminished if the country were to become fully decentralized. Many do not even believe that his outspoken ethno-nationalist rhetoric is sincere. More often than not, such strong leadership figures cling to only one principle: opportunism.
Dodik has already changed his colors at least once, when he first came to power after his party defeated that of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic. At that time, Dodik surfaced as the ‘moderate’ darling of the international community, but he soon shed that suit for one that Karadzic himself would have worn. His about face was accompanied by the type of rhetoric that is sure to win votes and cement support among the vulnerable masses.
Is Bosnia falling apart’ Well, the situation is anything but ideal, but it’s no more falling apart than it has been during the past decade. And now with its sites (mostly) set on the EU, it is hard to imagine anyone would allow it to regress to the point of no return. And this, of course, is the point of decentralization.
Since the end of the 1992-1995 war, the international community has unilaterally transferred 68 powers from the entity level to the state level, including control over the judiciary system, collecting of customs duties, the military, police reform and the management of foreign trade. Dodik has vowed to return those powers to Republika Srpska, even at the expense of the country’s EU membership.
But this is nothing new from Dodik, and his threats generally surface and then end in silence, only to resurface again, usually in direct response to an ongoing tit-for-tat with the international community’s high representative (or during election time).
Last week, Dodik’s feathers were ruffled when High Representative Valentin Inzko vetoed a Republika Srpska law on state property that had been passed by Bosnian Serb officials despite warnings from the international community. The law brazenly stated that Republika Srpska would unilaterally manage, secure and protect all forms of property (including state property) on its ‘territory’. After Inzko vetoed the law, Dodik said he would not recognize the decision as it ‘usurped’ his power. Sunday’s nationally televised comments were a direct response to Inzko’s move, and they were intended to save face for Dodik in the public arena. He cannot afford to be one-upped by the high representative. That is the game here, and it will continue to be played in this manner for the time being.
Dodik is a clever political architect and quite adept at public relations. He knows when to play the autonomy card and when to sit back and maintain a watchful silence. The Bosnian public seems to always have a very strong reaction to his rhetoric, which is the intention, but because his power base is largely reliant on this very rhetoric and little else, the advised response is none at all.