US imposes sanctions against Republika Srpska’s President Dodik

US imposes sanctions against Republika Srpska’s President Dodik
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia January 18, 2017

The US department of the treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said on January 17 it has imposed sanctions against the president of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik after he ignored a ban from Bosnia's state-level constitutional court and held  Republic Day celebrations earlier in January.

Dodik ignored several constitutional court decisions concerning the celebration of Republic Day, angering the international community and significantly raising tensions within Bosnia. Staging the biggest ever celebration of the Republic Day on January 9 despite the court's ban was the latest of the violations.

Sanctions against Dodik could slow Bosnia’s progress towards much desired membership in the European Union. The country formally applied for EU membership in February 2016 and hopes to get candidate status this year.

“Dodik was designated for his role in defying the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in violation of the rule of law, thereby actively obstructing the Dayton Accords; Dodik was also designated for conduct that poses a significant risk of actively obstructing the same,” the US treasury said in a statement.

Under the sanctions, any property or interest in property of Dodik within US jurisdiction is blocked, and US nationals are not allowed to participate in transactions with him. People who provide material support to Dodik can also be sanctioned. 

“By obstructing the Dayton Accords, Milorad Dodik poses a significant threat to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” acting OFAC director John Smith was quoted as saying in the statement. 

Earlier this month, Dodik claimed that the US embassy had denied him a visa, preventing him from attending the inauguration of US president elect Donald Trump. However, both Bosnia's Foreign Minister Igor Crnadak and the US embassy in Sarajevo said that Dodik had not in fact been invited to the inauguration. Investigations by RFE/RL later revealed that he had instead received an invitation to a private ball being organised by conservative religious groups. 

The news about the sanctions came shortly after the High Representative Valentin Inzko said he would not apologise to Dodik and other authorities in Republika Srpska for making a comparison between the celebration of the banned Republic Day and the commemoration of the foundation of the Independent State of Croatia - a World War II puppet state of Nazi Germany.

Republic Day marked the anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, shortly before the outbreak of the Bosnian civil war. At the time Bosnian Serbs claimed their republic was part of Yugoslavia – rather than Bosnia, which had declared its independence the year before. 

January 9 is also an Orthodox religious holiday, the Day of St Stephen, which is not observed by Catholic Croats or Muslim Bosniaks. In 2015, Bosnia’s constitutional court decided that the celebration of Republic Day in the entity contains elements of discrimination and should not be held until it meets the criteria of international legislation for human rights.

Following the celebration, some local analysts said that Republika Srpska’s politicians who were involved in the banned celebration may fall into international isolation.

However, Dodik relies on support from Russia and Serbia rather than the US. Following the statement about the US sanctions, Bosnian daily Nezavisne Novine quoted Serbia’s Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic as saying that his country will not join the sanctions.

Russia has not reacted yet, but last year President Vladimir Putin gave a clear signal of his support to Dodik ahead of a referendum on the celebration of Republic Day, which again was  organised despite the ban by the state-level constitutional court.