Un-Happy Birthday, Republika Srpska

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Mailmen for Republika Srpska. Source: Srdjan Puhalo, twitter.

Last December, I gave an interview to Der Standard on the dangerous positions of far-right candidate Norbert Hofer in the Balkans, including his support for Serbian claims to Kosovo and his endorsement of the nationalist positions of Milorad Dodik. In response, not Hofer, but the representation of the Republika Srpska to Austria complained to the newspaper and criticised Adelheid Wölfl and not me, although it interview reflect mine and her views.

The comments of the RS representation seem an appropriate subject to respond to on the 25th anniversiary of the establishment Republika Srpska today. The celebration itself is a provocation, after it has been declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and an illegal referendum was held in the RS to reject the court decision. The celebration itself was designed to provoke with special police units parading with machine guns (and also the postal services of the RS).

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The arguments put forth by the RS office in Vienna are part of the general effort of Milorad Dodik and his party to whitewash the RS of its responsibility and to continue with the construct a quasi-state begun by Radovan Karadzic and his party. Recently, Serb historian Čedomir Antić published a History of the Republika Srpska, which was praised by RS leadership as part of the answer to the campaign against the RS. Of course without irony, the book covers the history of the RS, going back centuries, a classic exercise in retroactive nation- and state-building. The fact that around 45% of the population living on the territory of the future RS in 1991 were not Serbs is conveniently ignored.

So the RS office objected to me calling violent establishment of the RS a cause of the war, pointing out that the RS was established before the war began. However, the RS might have been declared by a Serb politicians on 9 January 1992, but it was established through ethnic cleansing and the expulsion of non-Serbs after April 1992, and this has been documented in great detail in numerous books and judgements of the ICTY.

Next, the Vienna office objected to me characterizing the rule of Dodik as using authoritarian means and talking for years about secession. As for authoritarian means,his   party has also over the years been publishing lists of enemies of the RS (see also here, here and here). These lists don’t only include names of foreign diplomats, but also Bosnian and Herzegovina NGOs, media and individuals. Such list-making of enemies and equating criticism of the party with attacks on the entities, can only be considered authoritarian practices. Furthermore, the state of the media and press freedom has been extensively noted and criticized by international organizations and NGOs (here, here and here).

Ironically, the office also objected I suggested that Dodik has been talking about secession for years, and that as a result the comment suggests that ‘he should not be taken seriously, which is damaging his reputation.’ Of course, it is ironic that main objection is that he just talks about secession not the project itself, which is of course in breach of the Dayton Agreement and UN Security Council Resolutions. Dodik and his party have been talking about independence and secession since 2006 (including a  resolution in the parliament in 2008 in response to the Kosovo declaration of independence). Klix.ba counted 30 times Dodik threatened a referendum over the years. For claims to independence, here,  see for also for 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015.

Now, of course, I cannot judge whether he really intends to pursue these threats and after more than 10 years of arguing that the RS should decide on independence and that is has the right (which it does not). Recent signs suggest that he more willing to take a chance and pursue this policy, even if it might be a hollow threat, as James Ker-Lindsay, as argued.

Finally, the RS office criticized my characterization of Milorad Dodik as nationalist. Instead, they noted that his politics are social-democratic and calling him a nationalist is damaging his reputation. Of course, they fail to mention that his party, the SNSD was expelled from the Socialist International in 2012. At the same time, the party been fostering ties to nationalist  and far-right parties, including not only the Austrian FPÖ, but also Front National which sent a delegation to “celebrations” of the RS. Dodik has personally welcomed individuals who have been sentenced for war crimes by the ICTY and been a witness of the defense of Radovan Karadžić. None of this is particularly socialdemocratic.

Why bother, the claims made by the RS office in Vienna are silly and unsurprisingly don’t withstand scrutiny? However, there are commentators who either lazily or for other reasons imitate such claims, see the argument of Timothey Less in Foreign Affairs (for an effective critique by Eric Gordy see here). Furthermore, there is a paradox in the claims by the RS leadership  , echoing what its creators in the 1990s, Slobodan Milošević, Radovan Karadžić, and others claimed, namely that they were not nationalists, while at the same time pursuing exactly nationalist, exclusionary policies.

Milorad Dodik and his leadership continue to dismantle  Bosnia. For all their claims to the contrary, they also dismantle the RS. It is only recognized in Dayton as part of Bosnia, without Bosnia, there is no RS. Downplaying war crimes, glorifying its perpetrators, suggesting that the RS can only exist  a weak or nonexistent Bosnia suggests the RS is not a salvageable political project, created through ethnic cleansing and mass murder and justified through its denial.

Here is the full text of RS office in Vienna discussed in this post

 

 

 

 

What the Belgrade-Prishtina Agreement means for Bosnia

The agreement between Belgrade and Prishtina, even if its implementation will surely hit some snags has repercussions beyond the two countries themselves. In particular Bosnia is going to be affected, being the other country in a continuous major political crisis.

First, the ability of the Serbian and the Kosovo government to find a compromise should put the current political elite of Bosnia to shame for not agreeing on some basic reforms, ranging from the implementation of Sejdić-Finci verdict to ensuring that Bosnian farmers can continue to export their dairy products to Croatia after it joins the EU on 1st July.

The second major consequence of the agreement will be for Republika Srpska and Milorad Dodik. Lately, he and his associates from the SNSD seem out of step with reality.When Tomislav Nikolić apologized the other day for Serbian war crimes, Dodik only commented that the interview (for BHT) was aggressive and that because he wants “good relations with Serbia and its leadership, there is no sense nor need to go into public comments and polemics“–hardly an endorsement for Nikolićs apology. Relations with Serbia have deteriorated after Dodik placed all his bets on Boris Tadić during the elections last year and thus is clearly not in favor with the current government, especially Aleksandar Vučić. The corruption investigations in Serbia that involve good “friends” of Dodik also did not help to improve relations.

Now with the deal between Serbia and Kosovo, Dodik has also lost his ability to evoke a credible alternative to Bosnia. His continuous suggestions that Republika Srpska might eventually become independent  has received a serious blow. While he never talked about the RS joining Serbia, it is clear that the RS could only leave Bosnia with Serbian support. The RS is too small and isolated to achieve this without a supportive neighbor, especially as few other countries in the region and in Europe are likely to take a favorable view. It never seemed particularly plausible that Serbia would support the RS in independence (instead of supporting it as an at least formal part of Bosnia) at the price of EU accession and worsening relations with its neighbors, but it has now become even less credible. The Serbian government has shown a degree of pragmatism and willingness to not pursue the idea of partition in Kosovo. So why would a government of Serbia “give up” on Kosovo, despite it being still part of Serbia according to its constitution and turn around and support the RS. As Dodik’s ally in Serbia, the DS also supports the agreement, Dodik seems rather isolted with his more critical view of the agreement. In fact, he is now closer to Koštunica and thus without strong allies in Serbia. Even if the DS were to return to power in Serbia (unlikely any time soon), it would be without Tadić as a friend and without the same ambiguity he displayed over the RS and Kosovo. Just a few days ago, Nebojša Radmanović, the Serbian member of the Bosnian presidency, evoked  in an interview the RS assembly resolution from 2008 that claimed if half of the UN members recognized Kosovo, the RS would also have the right to declare independence. Now, the count is over half with 98 (of 193) UN members recognizing Kosovo and a referendum on independence of the RS seems increasingly unlikely and evoking its might just start sounding a lot holler in next year’s electoral campaign.

One Socialist party less in the Balkans: Dodik and the Socialist International part ways

After five years membership in the Socialist International, the Alliance of Independent Socialdemocrats of Milorad Dodik has been suspended at a meeting of the SI council in Athens. The suspension was for nationalism and extremist positions of the party.  The SNSD was only admitted in January 2006, just as it took over power in the RS. Considering the nationalist rhetoric of the party since the elections in 2006, the suspension is long overdue.The long wait was probable due to the (false) hope that the SNSD might return to more moderate policies. There has been no indication of this and there has long been nothing social democratic in its policies.

In response to the suspension Dodik announced that the SNSD would preempt its own exclusion by leaving the Socialist International. In explaining his move, he noted that there was no use to being part of the SI and that is members were responsible for the global crisis. Instead, he was moving to establish closer ties with United Russia the dominant party in the Russian Federation. This seems indeed like a much more appropriate match for Dodik’s SNSD: a party without any platform which provides for the support of the leader and is happy to dominate with undemocratic practices.

The suspension also puts an end to the curious situation that the key stumbling block to the formation of the Bosnian government has been the difficult relationship between two members of the SI: the SNSD and the SDP of Zlatko Lagumdzija. It also suggest that the SI was unable to make retaining membership sufficiently attractive to moderate Dodik’s policies–in contrast to Serbia where granting the Socialist Party (SPS) observer status in 2008 helped usher in the DS-SPS coalition government. Over recent years, Socialist parties and foundations have maintained low-level contact with the SNSD in the hope to shape the rank and file of the party. The exclusion from the Socialist International would probably mean that also those contacts would decrease (although this is up to the discretion of the individual parties and foundations). Considering the rhetoric and policies of the SNSD there is little indication that this affiliation had a moderating effect on the party.

 

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