The Bosnian Serb entity assembly voted yes on a package of provisions that would see the regional government withdraw from national institutions despite the threat of new sanctions.
The one-day session was marked by lengthy speeches by Bosnian Serb member of the three-level State-level Presidency Milorad Dodik and Republika Srpska President Željka Cvijanović’s entity, while a lively controversy led the opposition to leave the debates in protest.
Despite this, Dodik’s SNSD-led ruling coalition had enough votes to endorse proposals which included drafting new entity-level laws that would allow the Bosnian Serb region to withdraw from the Bosnian military. , security services, tax system and justice system.
The proposed measures come with a six-month period required to draft new laws, including changes to the entity’s constitution.
Dodik has already threatened several times to secede from nearly half of the country.
In his speech during the session, he quoted former British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, comparing himself to Cameron ahead of the Brexit vote.
But opposition leaders in the entity’s assembly strongly criticized Dodik’s policies, with mutual accusations leading to shouting fits and extended session interruptions.
One of the opposition leaders, Mirko Šarović of the SDS, said the initiative is “a direct threat to peace”, which “would drag the RS into a spiral of war”.
“As a party, we will support any reasonable proposal, but it must be done by agreement. It is our responsibility and our duty to tell people where we are leading them,” arović concluded.
MP Branislav Borenović, leader of another opposition party, the PDP, said it was “hypocritical” of Dodik to do this in the run-up to parliamentary elections, scheduled for October 2022.
Borenović, who fought in the 1992-1995 war in the country as a soldier in the Army of Republika Srpska, said he knew what separate armies would mean for the future of Bosnia.
“It means conflict, war and death,” he exclaimed.
“Tell us about your projections, Mr. Dodik: what does the RS army represent? Do we have money for tanks, planes? The conditions for setting up checkpoints on the line of entity? Give your answers to the citizens, ”Borenović insisted.
The international community called to react
Other officials in the country, including Bosnian and Croatian presidential members Šefik Džaferović and Željko Komšić, called on the United States and the European Union to crack down on Dodik and his associates.
The international community reacted after the session, with representatives of Western governments expressing concern over the move that could potentially weaken Bosnia’s central authority.
However, a system of checks and balances will most likely see proposed laws rejected, either by the upper house of the entity’s parliament or by the state Constitutional Court.
The United States has already imposed a travel ban and an asset freeze on Dodik, while American and German officials have recently threatened further sanctions if the Bosnian Serbs further weaken Bosnia’s central institutions.
This decision, if pushed unilaterally, would run counter to the peace agreement that established the country’s current political system, considered one of the most complicated in the world.
Developed to end the Bosnian War in 1995, the United States-sponsored Dayton Peace Agreement created two administrative units in the country: the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat-majority Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Both regions have been given some degree of autonomy, with a state-level framework government overseeing the country’s main institutions, including the military, the supreme judiciary, and the tax administration.
The Bosnian Serb leader recently stepped up his ten-year separatist campaign, pledging in September to create the Republika Srpska’s own army, tax administration and justice system.
The United States has sent several diplomats to Bosnia in recent weeks to reiterate its support for the country’s territorial integrity and central institutions.
Dodik has repeatedly said he does not care about the new sanctions, adding that it would bring Serbs even closer to their “true friends” – a reference to his close ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin.
He also denied that the withdrawal of central institutions would lead to rapid secession or a new war, saying that “the Republika Srpska would not defend itself even if it was attacked”.
The 1992-1995 war was the worst bloodshed in Europe since World War II, with more than 100,000 casualties, while leaving millions of refugees and internally displaced people.