Bosnian Serb leader Dodik defies sanctions as tensions flare

U.S. sanctions imposed on Milorad Dodik last week underscored a shifting view of the Bosnian Serb leader in western capitals – and the threat of rising ethnic tensions in the region Balkans.

Dodik was first elected Bosnian Serb leader more than two decades ago, amid peace accords that ended Europe’s bloodiest conflict since the second world war. In the West, he is seen as a figure capable of helping Bosnia – divided between one entity controlled by the Serbs and another dominated by Croatians and Bosnians – overcome the sectarianism of his country. it.

But the increasingly nationalist politician portrayed the 1995 Dayton peace accord as a vehicle for Western interests. He has boycotted Bosnian organizations since July and wants to end cooperation with Bosnian Serbs on issues such as defense, taxation and justice. The outlook for what effect will is a secessionist has raised international warnings about the risk of a new outbreak of ethnic violence.

Last week, Washington proposed freezing Dodik-related assets in the US for alleged “destabilizing and corrupt activities” that jeopardize the Bosnian peace process. This week, the EU threatened to follow through with its own sanctions, condemning “extremism” at controversial celebrations held in the Serb-dominated region of Bosnia on Sunday. January 9th.

Bosnian Serbs celebrate an outlaw holiday with a parade in Sarajevo on January 9, 2022
Bosnian Serbs celebrate an outlaw holiday with a parade in Sarajevo on January 9 © AP

Dodik, who has grown closer to rulers, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, responded defiantly.

“If they thought they were going to discipline me, they were wrong,” he told state TV channel RTRS after the US sanctions. “I even have a new incentive to fight for the rights that have been taken from us for 26 years.”

The The Dayton Agreement divided Bosnia into an Autonomous Serb Republic and a Federation, dominated by Croats and Bosnians, both linked by a weak central government. Serbs make up about 1.3 million of Bosnia’s 3.3 million people. International scrutiny has prevented violence for decades, analysts say, but over time the work has deepened ethnic divisions that are being exploited by leaders like Dodik .

Dodik’s threats also came after Valentin Inzko, the International High Representative of Bosnia, imposed Denial of genocide banned in July, just before leaving office. The Office of the High Representative was established by the Dayton accord to help maintain peace and develop democratic institutions.

Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina showing the Federation areas of Bosniak-Croatian and Republika Srpska

Haris Silajdzic, the former prime minister and president of Bosnia who helped broker the accords, believes that Dodik wants the Serb Republic to take public land and property away from the control of the national government.

“They want . . . Silajdzic said. He and other politicians and analysts say this means getting Dodik under control.

Valery Perry, a senior associate with the Sarajevo-based Democratization Policy Council, said there was a serious risk of corruption. “It is worrying that the international community has not pushed this back much further,” she said.

Dodik did not respond to a request for comment.

Majda Ruge, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, called Dodik’s move to break away a “desperate escalation”, adding that tax separation would cost the Serb Republic 360 million dollars in annual revenue, compared with a gross domestic product of 7 billion dollars.

Elections will take place in Bosnia in October. Opposition in the Serb Republic say their interests are encouraging Dodik to fight over issues like identity.

Branislav Borenovic, chairman of the opposition PDP party, said: “Dodik is a good con man. “He is trying to keep a crisis on the agenda. It was the only way for him to stay in power. He has no real answers to the challenges of the economy, the pandemic, the corruption, the migration, the challenge to the rule of law.”

Borenovic also said genocide ban helped Dodik. “When Inzko imposed this law, he made it [Dodik’s party] new fuel, a crisis – and they will use it as long as they can, until the election if they can,” he said.

Inzko said he sought to do the right thing, calling Dodik “an unqualified person” who “tried to destroy Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

Dodik, Inzko said, “has supported the west, now he is mocking the west. He once said that [wartime Bosnian Serb leader and convicted war criminal Radovan] Karadzic was a war criminal and must be delivered to The Hague, now he is honoring him”.

Dodik’s secessionist threats come as the West is jostling for influence in the Balkans with Russia and China. Since 2006, Dodik has strengthened ties with Putin, whose main strategic objective in the region is to prevent further expansion of the EU and Nato. Dodik visited the Russian leader in December and said that Putin had secured his support against the “liberal West”.

A Bosnian Serb soldier returning to his home in 1996 as part of the Dayton peace agreement
A Bosnian Serb soldier returns to his home in 1996 as part of the Dayton peace agreement © Reuters

However, Aleksandar Vucic, president of Serbia, distanced himself from Dodik even though his own Serbian nationalism was criticized by the West.

“The international community has made a thousand mistakes in Bosnia,” Vucic told the Financial Times in a recent interview in Belgrade. “Putting power and authority out of the Serb, not listening to the people. . . But you have to be 100% strict in following the Dayton peace accord and the Bosnian constitution. “

Sources in Bosnia and Western diplomats say that while the US moves may herald tougher sanctions, the West is also keeping the door open for negotiations with the Serbian leader in Bosnian. “That’s one of the reasons why we don’t escalate as people would like,” said a senior State Department official.

ECFR’s Ruge said she was optimistic that a unified Western response could force Dodik to change course in secession. “It could be prevented,” she said, “if all the important capitals of the West were on the same page.”

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