Phil Cain in Banja Luka -
Milorad Dodik, almost certain to remain as leader of the Bosnian Serb-dominated "entity" of Republika Srpska in elections on October 3, tells bne that he doesn't rule out a referendum on independence, but is also considering a more stealthy disengagement from Bosnia's dysfunctional shared institutions.
The Dayton Accord brought peace in 1995 after three years of bloody conflict, but the need for the consent of Muslim, Croat and Serb representatives to pass any laws has made Bosnia-Herzegovina largely ungovernable. The centralised and ethnically-homogeneous Republika Srpksa works relatively well. But the other entity, the Muslim-Croat Federation, made up of a bewildering regional patchwork of graft-riddled, multi-ethnic institutions, will remain crippled without reform. And Dodik is widely seen as the main obstacle to that.
"Who says so? Mr Inzko?" asks Dodik, referring to Valentin Inzko, the international community's High Representative responsible for implementing the Dayton Accord, although the accusation does not directly come from him. "Mr Inzko is undoubtedly a good man, but I doubt he has anything to say on these issues. He has a business mandate as well as a political one and acts in the interest of those who pay him."
Dodik expands on this idea that the list of High Representatives appointed to preside over his country have left businesses from their native land that held a dominance over the economy. "The Austrian Banks came with the Austrian Wolfgang Petritsch. The German Christian Schwarz-Schilling has even entered into business relations with the Muslim Ejup Ganic to blame the Serbs for war crimes," says Dodik, referring to Schwarz-Schilling's taking a professorship at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, founded by Ganic, former president of Bosnia. "This is considered normal. Yet we are always said to be the thieves."
Dodik claims that the High Representatives, including Inzko, have used legal and political violence and ignored the Dayton Accord, "underestimating and humiliating Republika Srpska." This kind of message goes down well among Bosnian Serbs. Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNDS) look like a shoo-in to retake control of the entity's single parliament in October's elections. Similarly, parties dedicated to serving the ethnic interests of Muslims and Croats in the Federation are also on track, but will be hamstrung without Dodik's consent to reform.
But joining the EU would surely require reform? Not according to Dodik, "The countries which have joined the EU are those which have created the necessary conditions themselves. Neither the EU nor the international community forces anything on them. Only in Bosnia is that the case."
He points to EU members like the Spain, where a representative of Catalonia is always present in Brussels. "Why does Brussels want a Ministry of Agriculture at the level of the whole Bosnian state when 85-90% of agriculture is in Republika Srpska? And what about a Department of Mines, when almost all the mines are located in the Federation?"
Worrying for those in Brussels who are determined not to see a break-up of Bosnia, Dodik refuses to rule out calling a referendum on independence, a threat he has made periodically over recent years. "We have a law on referendums which meets the highest European standards. I do not rule out that, if certain external minimum requirements are met, there will be a vote on independence."
Ironically, he says that the International Court of Justice's ruling in July that the Serbian region of Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008 was not illegal adds weight to Republika Srpska's case. Others argue the situations are not comparable, for one thing because Kosovo's Albanian majority had been terrorised by Serbs while in Republika Srpska Serbs "ethnically cleansed" Muslims and Croats.
A referendum is not, however, the only route to a form of independence. Dodik and his supporters are not "adventurers", he says. "I would rule out violence - that is why I support the presence of international troops in the country. But politically I exclude nothing."
Instead, there may be a quiet separation. Officials and elected representatives from Republika Srpska working in institutions shared with the Federation might "all get the flu and not be able to work for three years."
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