Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing a political crisis that some fear could lead to armed conflict, little more than 25 years after the Bosnia war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement.
Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, announced this month that the country’s Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska, will quit key state institutions to achieve full autonomy within the country, in violation of the 1995 peace accords.
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Dodik has been threatening the secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia for the past 15 years and his latest statements have fuelled concerns that an armed conflict could be reignited.
Here’s what you need to know:
How did the crisis start?
The crisis began in July when Valentin Inzko, then the high representative, banned genocide denial and established war crimes, as well as the glorification of war criminals.
Serb representatives responded by boycotting central institutions.
What’s happening now?
Earlier this month, Dodik said that Republika Srpska is pulling out of three key state institutions: the armed forces, top judiciary body and tax administration.
On October 12, Dodik said the Bosnian judiciary, security and intelligence agencies will be banned from operating in Republika Srpska.
Instead, “Serb only” institutions will replace these bodies in the entity by end of November.
“We want our authorities returned to us [the regional parliament] … This isn’t anything radical,” Dodik said. “This is for strengthening the position of Republika Srpska.”
On Wednesday, the Republika Srpska assembly adopted a law establishing its own medicine procurement agency, the first of its proclaimed agencies to operate separately from the state-level one.
Is secession on the cards?
Dodik insists “this isn’t secession” and “there is no possibility for war”, but he told media on October 14 that seven European Union countries support Bosnia’s dissolution, adding “friends” have promised help to the entity in case of “Western military intervention”.
“This is secession in all but name. And he’s testing the waters,” according to political scientist Jasmin Mujanovic.
This is secession in all but name. And he’s testing the waters. If Dodik and his masters in Moscow and Belgrade feel the response here is weak – which I fear it is likely to be – they’re going to escalate even further.
— Jasmin Mujanović (@JasminMuj) October 20, 2021
Why is this alarming?
When recently asked by a reporter how he plans to throw out members of state services – judges, prosecutors, members of armed forces – from the entity’s territory, Dodik referred to “1992 as the Slovenes did it”, referring to the use of violence during the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Dodik openly threatens to use violence in the upcoming steps aimed at the secession of RS.
Bosnia had a lot of crises since 1995, but what we are witnessing these days is by far the most dangerous one since the '90s.
To those not familiar with the region: secession of RS = war. https://t.co/B6B65upI2d
— Ismail Ćidić (@IsmailCidic) October 14, 2021
Emir Suljagic, director of the Srebrenica Memorial Centre, wrote in a column for Anadolu Agency on Sunday that “mono-ethnic institutions like the ones Mr. Dodik plans to re-create” were vehicles for genocide in the 1990s.
“Police, military, intelligence, and security services were at the centre of organised and systematic violence against non-Serbs. These institutions considered Bosniaks’ existence an existential threat,” Suljagic wrote.
“If we fail to deter these threats, the ultimate price we will pay is another Srebrenica [genocide].”
What can be done?
Partners who accepted the duty to protect peace 26 years ago and have the power to take action must do so, Ismail Cidic, head of the Bosnian Advocacy Center, told Al Jazeera.
Critics found the joint US-EU statement on Wednesday underwhelming, as it called for “all parties” to respect state institutions.
“I understand that ‘both-sideism’ is always a safe option for every diplomat, but the consequences of such an approach are well known from the 1990s,” Cidic said.
“If they are not willing to react because of the people of Bosnia, they should do it at least because of the leaders in their countries who cannot afford yet another refugee crisis or a Russian-backed conflict right next to the NATO borders.”
Pro-Bosnian political leaders and state institutions “must be prepared for dangerous scenarios”, he said.