Argument: There is little threat of Republika Srpska seeking independence


Gordon Milosevic. “Response It is wrong to sound alarms about a ‘Bosnian powder keg'”. The Guardian. 31 Oct. 2008 – Contrary to the assertions of Richard Holbrooke and Paddy Ashdown, Bosnia-Herzegovina is not a “powder keg” (Comment, October 22). Thirteen years after the signing of the Dayton peace agreement, the state is not “in real danger of collapse”, nor close to “another crisis”.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is at peace, all its citizens travel freely throughout the country, and they have the same aspirations as their neighbours in western Europe: to make a better life for themselves and their children.

It should not be surprising that there are differences among us about the institutional structure that best meets the needs of all the citizens and ethnic groups, particularly about the proper balance between those powers which ought to belong to the state and those which are best left closer to the citizens at entity level (ie federal unit level).

Ashdown and Holbrooke claim that Milorad Dodik, the Republika Srpska prime minister, has “reversed much of the real progress in Bosnia”. This comment is both unhelpful and incorrect. It would be wrong to underestimate the areas of agreement and reforms undertaken during Dodik’s tenure: for example in the areas of police reform (which led to the signing of the stabilisation and association agreement with the EU); movable military property (which facilitated Bosnia-Herzegovina’s path to Nato membership); cooperation on the issue of Srebrenica; and judicial reform.

Some politicians in Bosnia-Herzegovina, including some within the international community, seem to want a “unitary” system of government, not the federal system created by Dayton. The Republika Srpska government has made clear its support for the framework created by Dayton. It will not accept the imposition of a unitary structure, which is not required for entry into the EU (many of whose member states combine a devolved constitutional structure with efficient state institutions).

The duty of the Republika Srpska government, particularly at a time when politicians elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina continually question its very legitimacy, is to represent its citizens and protect the powers granted by the Dayton agreement. Protecting and defending our existence is not an extreme nationalist position and should not be construed as such.

Dodik consistently and publicly supports the entry of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with Republika Srpska as an integral part, into the EU. His policy is not, as Ashdown and Holbrooke claim, “to place his Serb entity, Republika Srpska, in a position to secede”. A position on independence is not an action aimed at destroying Bosnia-Herzegovina, but a predictable and logical reaction to attempts to unilaterally abolish the republic, or change the status granted to it by Dayton.

Sounding alarms about a “Bosnian powder keg” is unwarranted and, more importantly, unconstructive. It plays into the hands of those who want to use the international community to impose solutions favoured by one side against another, “solutions” that do not have the support of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people. It is time for the political leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina to do the hard work of negotiating those solutions themselves, respecting the rights guaranteed to each of the constituent peoples under Dayton.

“Analyst sees Bosnian Serb leaders’ secession talk as “largely empty threat”. BBC. 8 May 2008

“In Bosnia, Standing Up for a Peace Pact”. The Washington Post. 14 Sept. 2007