See you at the next crisis!

Once more “the most serious crisis of Bosnia since the signing of the Dayton Agreement” seems to have been averted thanks to the mediation of Catherine Ashton and EU threats against the RS. However, as Tim Judah reminds us, this is just the latest installment of the worst crisis since the end of the war. There is little reason to believe that the next “most serious crisis since the end of the war” is not far off. Dodik put himself in a win-win-win situation with the referendum: If it would have taken place, it would have given him popular-populist legitimacy to challenge any OHR decision (see the question: Do you support the laws imposed by the High Representative of the International Community in BiH, especially those pertaining to the Court of BiH and BiH Prosecutor’s Office, as well as their unconstitutional verification in the BiH Parliamentary Assembly?), including any state-building done over the past decade, from the flag to currency and numerous state institutions. If the OHR had banned the referendum, it would have polarized public opinion further, likely to his benefit. So what is the current “win” for Dodik for backing down? He manages to avoid sanctions and can even get some public displays of support (“We welcome your leadership, Mister President,” Ashton said) and gets internationals willing to negotiate with him. The EU offered a “structured dialogue” in exchange for shelving, not dropping the referendum.

I concur with Dan Serwer that this seems like a bad idea. The EU needs to have talks and take the lead in BiH, but not (only) with Banja Luka and certainly not on Dodik’s terms on the judiciary. Instead, solutions are needed on the implementation of the ECHR ruling in the Finci-Sejdic case and ensuring progress in regard to EU integration, as well as forming a govenrment. Once more, the EU is caught on the back foot, reacted rather than clearly acting in BiH. Dodik will continue to hold the threat of a referendum over such talks and with a largely hapless EU on the ground he is likely to gain from the talks.

The negotiations between Ashton and Dodik have shown that the RS parliament is a rubber stamp in the whole process and Dodik’s word is all that matters. Taken together with the structured dialogue, this is just the latest example of how international intervention continues to reaffirm the extra-institutional practices in BiH.

There will be a temptation among international actors now to relax and hope BiH will go away for a while to deal with other issues. However, if there is no follow up to address the core problems, the next, most serious crisis since the end of the war, is just around the corner.

Oh yes, and there is also that crisis in the Federation over the legitimacy of the government and there is no state level government.

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