By having organized a referendum on the “Statehood Day,” the Bosnian Serbs have confirmed their commitment to protect their sovereignty and the principles of the Dayton Agreement and have preserved the existing status quo in Bosnia and Herzegovina, experts on the Balkans have told EADaily. They believe that now relations between Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska will depend on the interests of external players. And here the European Union is at variance with the United States and some Muslim nations. While the Europeans are seeking stability in the Balkans, the Americans may try to shatter it in order to gain a stronger foothold there. They may force the Bosnians to encroach on the sovereignty of the Bosnian Serbs and the latter will certainly resist.
“This referendum was really vital for the Republika Srpska. It has put an end to Sarajevo’s anti-Serbian attacks. The war was not over in 1995 and the Dayton Agreement was just a ceasefire. The Bosnians are still warring against the Bosnian Serbs, simply, they are using other methods. Over the last years, they in Sarajevo, jointly with international envoys, have been taking away from the Bosnian Serbs all they gained during the war. In fact, they have been fighting against their sovereignty,“ historian Anna Filimonova said.
She said that each nation has the right to organize a referendum. “This right is guaranteed by a number of international agreements, including the UN Charter. And it is simply ridiculous to hear them in Sarajevo saying that the referendum has undermined the Dayton Agreement. No agreement can be superior to the right of a nation to express its will. Power belongs to people. This is what all international doctrines say and the Dayton Agreement cannot dispute this. That agreement is very specific about the rights of the Bosnian authorities. Hence, whatever is not mentioned there is the rights of the so-called entities - the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska. So, the referendum has not undermined anything,” Filimonova said.
According to her, the Republika Srpska and its leader Milorad Dodik are just trying to protect the sovereignty and the legitimacy of the Bosnian Serbs and the referendum was just one more step towards this goal. The problem is that this is against the interest of the West and its Bosnian supporters.
“It seems that they in the West and Sarajevo would like to see no Republika Sprska or even no Serbs in the Balkans. They want the Serbs to turn into a club of suicides. By their constant attacks on the Republika Srpska, the Constitution Court and the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina keep violating the Dayton Agreement. All their decisions on the Bosnian Serbs are illegal and must be reviewed,” Filimonova said.
According to her, not all the mechanisms used by Bosnia and Herzegovina are viable. The Bosnian authorities live due to external donations and are very corrupt, with most of their officials being just puppets in the hands of Muslim Bakir Izetbegovic and his party.
“In fact, Bosnia and Herzegovina is being ruled by an authoritarian regime, which has made it a servant to western diplomats. Arabs are actively buying land and property here, with Wahhabis forming something like ISIL. They already have almost 30 armed strongholds along the border with the Republika Srpska. So, today Bosnia and Herzegovina is a fully disabled but very dangerous state,” Filimonova said.
In contrast, the Republika Srpska is a functioning state with efficient political machinery and mobilized population. This is against the plans of the Americans, who are seeing to set the Bosnian Muslims against the Bosnian Serbs. “I guess the referendum will be followed by a long anti-Serbian propaganda campaign and a series of provocations,” Filimonova said.
“All the enemies of the Republika Srpska – the Americans and the Arabs with their special services and pseudo-diplomats together with the Croats – will try to revenge on the republic for its independence. They will keep causing chaos and conflicts. But the Bosnian Serbs have a strong security service and are aware of all existing threats and challenges. So, scenarios like Wahhabi invasion and NATO’s ‘support’ from Croatia will not work. I am sure that there will be a lot of anti-Serbian hysteria in the West. They will even try to prosecute Dodik. But they will fail,” Filimonova said.
She noted that the Balkans are still an explosive region as one of the strategic goals of the West here is to weaken Serbia as the key regional player. “Sooner or later they in the West will try to cause instability in the region. This is a matter of time. So, we should do our best to support the local Serbian states,” Filimonova said.
According to senior researcher at the Institute of Slavic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences Pyotr Iskenderov, the referendum reflects the wish of the Bosnian Serbs to protect their sovereignty.
“Today the Bosnian Serbs are the key advocates of the Dayton process, i.e. they want their republic to preserve all the powers given by the Dayton Agreement. In contrast, the Muslim authorities in Sarajevo, together with the EU and the U.S., are trying to destroy the Bosnian federation to the detriment of the Bosnian Serbs,” Iskenderov said.
“The Bosnian Serbs are alone in this confrontation even though the Dayton Agreement allows them to contact with Serbia. The problem is that last spring the Serbs elected a coalition that seeks to integrate Serbia into the EU. This is why they are making serious concessions on Kosovo and are not willing to support the Republika Srpska. So, the referendum was the only way for the Bosnian Serbs to claim their rights through international approved legal mechanisms,” Iskenderov said.
“This policy is opposed by Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats. The position of the former is clear – they insist on unitary Bosnia. But the latter are showing a double-faced attitude. Croatia is an EU member and the Croats know that the EU will not admit Bosnia and Herzegovina in the way it is now. So, they will support the Bosnian Muslims in their wish to centralize Bosnia. I don’t think that there will be a new war but the Bosnian Muslims will continue appealing to the West against the Republica Srpska,” Iskenderov said.
Further developments will depend on external players. “Today the EU does not need a new conflict in Bosnia. So, the Europeans will most probably call for stability or at least continued status quo. Whether the Bosnian Muslims will listen to them depends on what support they will get from the United States and the Muslim world. Those two players can play a destabilizing role in the region,” Iskenderov said.
The Statehood Day is celebrated on January 9. In 1992 a group of Yugoslav MPs representing Bosnian Serbs expressed disagreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s decision to break away from Yugoslavia and established Republika Srpska. That decision was followed by a war, which ended in an agreement signed at the U.S. military base in Dayton. The agreement proclaimed Bosnia and Herzegovina as a federation, where the Bosnian Muslims and the Bosnian Serbs had equal rights.
The current conflict started in Nov 2015, when the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared illegal the Statehood Day stipulated by the law on holidays of the Republika Srpska. In Sept 2016 the court prohibited the Bosnian Serbs to vote on that issue. But the latter did it, with 99% them voting for the Statehood Day.
The Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina reacted by instituting a case against the organizers of the referendum. President of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik said that he was ready to answer but from the territory of his republic. He added that neither the Constitutional Court nor the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina were legal as they had been formed under the pressure of Bosnian Muslims and some western diplomats.
Russia took the Serbs’ side by supporting the referendum and urging the world community not to politicize it. It should be noted that a few days before the referendum, Dodik had a meeting with Vladimir Putin.
After the referendum Spokesperson of Russia’s Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said that the Dayton Agreement allowed its entities to fix national holidays. So, the Bosnian authorities had no grounds for using extraordinary “Bonn powers” with respect to that procedure.
Later the Russian foreign minister had a phone talk with his German counterpart. Sergey Lavrov said that the referendum posed no threats to the integrity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and was not contrary to the principles of the Dayton Agreement. He urged the Europeans not to fuel tensions but to encourage the Bosnian sides into a constructive dialogue on stability in their country.
The Americans reacted immediately by qualifying the referendum as illegal. They in Washington condemned the referendum and expressed support for the Sarajevo authorities in their wish to make the Republika Srpska responsible for undermining the supremacy of the law and preventing the implementation of the Dayton Agreement.
Dodik said that the authorities of the Republika Srspka were firm as they enjoyed the support of their people. He even said that the Bosnian Serbs might vote on their break-away from Bosnia and Herzegovina – especially as they have all legal grounds for this. In 2008 their parliament adopted a resolution saying that the recognition of Kosovo by UN and EU members had created a new international principle – priority of a nation’s right to self-determination and independence. And the Bosnian Serbs may well use this right.