Bosnia-Herzegovina: Attempted Dismantling – Politics

No sooner had the UN Security Council decided on Wednesday to extend the EU protection force Althea for Bosnia-Herzegovina by one year than Bosnia’s chief Serb Milorad Dodik spoke up. Dodik is the de facto leader of the Republika Srpska (RS), the second part of Bosnia alongside the Federation of Muslim Bosniaks and Croats, and he owes his political survival since 2005 to populism, the sabotage of the state structure of Bosnia-Herzegovina and an increasing rejection of supervision by the international community Community. This oversight of the country torn by the war from 1992 to 1995 has been exercised by the High Representative since the Peace of Dayton.

But Dodik claimed: “Bosnia and Herzegovina no longer has a high representative.” At the beginning of October he had already announced that 140 decisions and laws that the High Representative had passed would be repealed in the RS, that joint judicial bodies or tax collection would no longer be recognized, and that the RS would build up its own army. Together with his most powerful patron Russia, Dodik is also trying to both abolish the Eufor protection force and the office of high representative – and thus expand its own influence.

FILE PHOTO: European Union High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt

Christian Schmidt is the high representative of the international community. He exists and he has extensive powers – actually.

(Photo: Dado Ruvic / Reuters)

Even before ex-CSU politician Christian Schmidt became the new high representative in August, Moscow tried to prevent this. In vain: the UN Security Council – where Russia has a veto right – has to extend the mandate for an EU-led protection force every year. The High Representative, however, reports annually to the Security Council on Bosnia, but it is determined by the governing body of the “Peace Implementation Council“(PIC): In addition to the USA and Russia, there are also France, Italy, Japan, England and the EU. Unanimity is not required. So Schmidt got the office even without Moscow’s approval – and suggested in his first report for the UN Security Council of October 30, alarmed in the face of the Dodikian state sabotage.

Of course, Schmidt was not allowed to present this personally to the UN Security Council: Russia prevented this by threatening not even to agree to the extension of the EU protection force if Schmidt presented – or if his office were even mentioned in the new UN resolution. And so it became Resolution 2604 Adopted on Wednesday without mentioning the High Representative – reason for Dodik and Russia to claim that there is currently no High Representative.

From a legal point of view, such assertions – whether about the status of the High Representative or the validity of the laws he has passed – are false. Formally, HR continues to have all the powers as defined in the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement and a follow-up conference in Bonn in December 1997. If Dodik were actually to override decrees or laws in the RS, Christian Schmidt could do him simply discontinuewhat has been recommended by Balkan experts for years in view of Dodik’s sabotage. But powers of attorney on paper are one thing, reality is another: in fact, the High Representative can only do what the PIC’s leading countries tell him to do. Both that U.S. Department of State like the EU declared the continued support of the High Representative after the UN resolution. But in fact, neither Washington nor Berlin have shown any will to take action in Bosnia for years.

Schmidt’s predecessor Valentin Inzko was therefore condemned for years to almost only manage himself. A policy that gave Dodik more and more leeway to think about an alleged proclamation of independence or an annexation to Serbia. Without any consequences from the EU, the RS and EU candidate Serbia maintain close relations with Russia and China, Interior Minister Aleksandar Vulin preaches a “Serbian world” again; President Aleksandar Vučić receives Dodik regularly and holds joint meetings. Washington issued sabotage policies in early 2017 because of Dodik’s policy Sanctions against him – the EU refuses to do so to this day; the unanimity required for this is missing.

It is possible that Dodik is only pretending to be Bravado

How dangerous are Dodik’s rhetorical escapades so far? In his report to the UN Security Council, Schmidt warned that Bosnia was “facing the greatest existential threat” of the post-war period. If the RS actually creates its own army, there is a “very real” prospect of another armed conflict. Schmidt advocated increasing the Althea protection force, which currently only numbers 600 soldiers.

Of course, it is also possible that Dodik is bluffing – as has often been the case since 2005 – and merely pretending to be bravado in order to make a nationalist profile in view of his reduced popularity and the possibility of being voted out of office in October 2022. On the subject of the army, for example, Dodik claimed that in a survey four fifths of the Serbs serving in the army of Bosnia and Herzegovina stated that they would immediately join an RS army. But this is probably fictitious. The head of the Army Headquarters of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Senad Mašović, denied that there was a poll.

In contrast to Dodik’s talk of possible “independence” is also his economic dependency. The RS has hardly any industry, officially does not even have 1.2 million inhabitants, suffers from high levels of emigration and depends on transfers from Sarajevo. It is also according to the Ministry of Finance of Bosnia and Herzegovina heavily in debt: at the EU, EU countries and their banks: 510 million euros alone at the EU Bank EIB, hundreds more millions at the EBRD and EU Commission and Germany or Poland, Belgium, Spain and Portugal or banks from Austria, the specialist service estimated Balkan Insight. In addition, there are debts with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

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