Christian Schmidt, the high representative of the international community, has been urged by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s influential Centre for Security Studies (CSS) to remove Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik. The CSS has warned that failure to do so might lead to a new Bosnian conflict.
The CSS filed the appeal after Dodik declared plans for new, restrictive legislation on journalists and LGBT activists. This announcement followed Dodik’s proposal for legislation on NGOs, which was reportedly influenced by a law of a similar nature in Russia under President Vladimir Putin. All three actions seem to constitute an affront to Sarajevo’s state-level institutions’ authority. Dodik, a known supporter of Putin, has long advocated for Republika Srpska’s separation from Bosnia.
Human rights advocates were outraged by Dodik’s declaration that he would prohibit LGBT campaigners from attending kindergartens, schools, and colleges, and the CSS urged Schmidt to oust Dodik. In the event that the Dayton peace accord, which put an end to the 1992–1995 Bosnian conflict, is broken, the high representative of the international community has exceptional authority to engage in Bosnian affairs.
In contrast to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, Bosnia’s aggression is carried out from within, according to the CSS. “Hints of eroding institutions and slow implementation of intents into tangible legislative standards,” the CSS wrote.
It also stated that all of its early warning signs indicating that Bosnian society is in danger had long before been activated, and it determined that there was a significant likelihood of a new civil war.
The fate and future of Bosnian citizens are in the high representative’s hands. We observe that the level of democratic development is not at the desired level, despite decades of investment and the justifiable efforts and aspirations of the international community to leave the future to local leaders. We therefore implore Schmidt to use his authority to remove and forbid Milorad Dodik from engaging in politics in the interest of all Bosnian citizens at this crucial juncture for the country’s prosperity, adding that the international community’s complacency in the past regarding Dodik and his behavior may have played a role in the current demise of democracy.
Attack on LGBT activists in Republika Srpska
Dodik predicted in March that Republika Srpska would enact legislation prohibiting LGBT activists from entering institutions of higher learning within a few months. Just a few days had passed since a brutal attack on LGBT activists in Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srpska, and the subsequent cancellation of the city’s Pride march. Dodik asserted that at least 15 associations had protested the event, but he also disclosed his own position by saying he didn’t want gay individuals close by in a televised interview.
“Everyone has the right to live in freedom, I do not contest that. Everyone is allowed to do as they like, and I have nothing against them unless I do not want them around me. In an interview with TV K3, Dodik stated, “This is where my position on that ends.
Within the next several months, a law banning access to educational institutions for members of LGBT organisations will be passed in the Republic of Srpska. This includes kindergartens, schools, and colleges. They won’t be able to accomplish it, get close, or spread lies, he continued.
Targeting journalists with new defamation legislation
The political authorities in Republika Srpska came under fire from the EU for changing the penal code to make slander a crime. The modifications have drawn harsh internal and external criticism since they are perceived as a tool for stifling independent journalists.
The EU delegation issued a statement saying that the proposed legislative changes “would impose unwarranted and unjustified limitations on independent media and civil society.”
Republika Srpska’s move, it continued, was the wrong one and would not advance the nation’s chances of starting EU membership negotiations.
Bosnia was given candidate status by the European Council in December 2022.
High expectations accompany candidate status. The actions that Bosnia and Herzegovina must take are outlined in the Commission’s recommendation for obtaining candidate status. One of these, according to the EU delegation, was enhancing media and speech rights.
It exhorted Republika Srpska to revoke the changes and make sure that media freedom is completely protected.
Russia urges restrictions on NGOs’ funding
Only days after a similar bill in Georgia sparked widespread protests that caused the Tbilisi administration to back down, Dodik said earlier in March that Republika Srpska will propose a law on the operations of non-governmental organizations and civic associations. The law of Georgia itself was comparable to older Russian law.
According to Dodik, the statute is similar to US law. The US embassy in Bosnia, however, responded angrily to the proposed bill and claimed that the Moscow was its source of inspiration.
“We have already seen this movie, so we know how it will finish. In 2020, Russia claimed that it was simply mimicking the US model when it widened its foreign agent legislation. Nothing could have been more false, and the results are clear. Russian authorities have stifled opposition, destroyed civil society, and destroyed free media using their oppressive laws, according to a statement from the US embassy.
In attempting to approve the measures on NGO funding and defamation, Dodik is traveling down “a hazardous anti-democratic path,” according to Samantha Power, administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Іncreasing likelihood of conflict and secession
There have been forewarnings of attempts to split apart Bosnia for some time, which might perhaps result in a new outbreak of conflict in the nation, especially as Dodik has became more assertive in his secessionist statements. Bosnia was considered one of the potential flashpoints where Moscow could try to ignite instability or a new conflict within Europe after its invasion of Ukraine last year.
Back in 2018, the Penn Biden Center said that if Europe elected to apply more sanctions against Moscow, Russia could easily spark a new conflict in Bosnia and exploit it to destabilize the area. At the time, Michael Carpenter, the current senior director for diplomacy and global engagement at the Penn Biden Center and a former US deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans, expressed his belief that Dodik would not attempt to push his entity toward secession without Moscow’s support.
Russia is his main supporter. Also, the Kremlin is content with the current situation and opposes Bosnia and Herzegovina’s membership in either the EU or, God forbid from their perspective, Nato. Since RS [Republika Srpska] effectively has a veto over the nation’s geopolitical future, they prefer the status quo, Carpenter claimed at the time.
Carpenter continued, “Bosnia and Herzegovina is always readily available… where he can just press the button and really destabilize the situation in the region, but if Russia feels like it’s up against the wall, that European sanctions, for example, are being increased perhaps in a totally different context than Ukraine or something else, he [Putin] has Bosnia and Herzegovina always readily available…
Five years later, with a full-scale conflict in Ukraine and numerous sets of sanctions imposed by Western nations, Russia is in precisely that situation.
In a separate research published in 2018, the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) asserted that Russia was assisting the Serb-dominated entity’s efforts to militarize and divide the country. In order to ensure the future separation of the entity from Bosnia, the report said that Dodik was arming and equipping the police and allied security forces of the Republika Srpska with military-grade weapons and training them with Russian support.
After abandoning its plans to establish a reservist police unit many months earlier, Republika Srpska finally made public its new armed police unit the following year.
Many allegations from US-based sources have also claimed that Moscow has been covertly sponsoring Dodik for years.