Bosnian-Serb leader eyes secession over name row with Muslim party

Pro-Russian nationalist Milorad Dodik denounces bid to rename Serb-run region

Milorad Dodik, Bosnian-Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, in October 2018. File photograph: Milan Radulovic/AFP/Getty Images

Milorad Dodik, Bosnian-Serb member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, in October 2018. File photograph: Milan Radulovic/AFP/Getty Images

 

Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik has renewed threats to break up Bosnia, after the country’s main Muslim party said the name of its Serb-run Republika Srpska region should be changed.

The row has deepened uncertainty in ethnically divided Bosnia, where bickering parties from its Serb, Croat and Muslim (or Bosniak) communities are yet to form a new central government after national elections last October.

The Dayton peace accord that ended Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war divided it into two semi-autonomous “entities”, Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation, which are linked at the state level by a relatively weak government in Sarajevo.

The pro-Russian Mr Dodik has long resisted EU-backed efforts to integrate the regions and has threatened to seek independence for Republika Srpska rather than transfer powers to the central government, which he claims the Bosniak majority will use to victimise Serbs.

The Party of Democratic Action (SDA), which is the largest Bosniak political group, now plans to ask Bosnia’s constitutional court to change the name of Republika Srpska (RS) in response to its alleged discrimination against Muslims and Croats.

Bosniak member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic in May, 2018. File photograph: AFP Photo/Odd Anderson/Getty Images
Bosniak member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic in May, 2018. File photograph: AFP Photo/Odd Anderson/Getty Images

“It’s time we say ‘enough’. We accepted the name Republika Srpska because we wanted peace, but we never accepted that it would be an entity where we’d be humiliated,” said SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic.

“It is not the intention of the SDA to abolish the name of the RS. We will ask that Bosniaks and Croats be included in everything, including in the name,” Bosnia’s N1 media outlet quoted him as saying.

Mr Dodik, who is the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite state presidency and leads Republika Srpska’s main party, said he would not wait for a ruling from a constitutional court in Sarajevo that he believes “will always rule against the RS”.

“If this appeal is accepted by the constitutional court... we will consider this a flagrant violation of the Dayton peace agreement and we will call for a session of the RS national assembly to decide on the future status of Republika Srpska,” he declared.

“If the SDA wants to do this, I will push for rigorous protection measures in the RS... All the laws that allow us to take control of the border overnight are already written,” he added.

“If you wanted to throw us, Republika Srpska, out of Bosnia... then you are doing the best job possible.”

Other Bosnian-Serb political leaders agreed with Mr Dodik, who is under US sanctions for allegedly undermining the Dayton accords and Bosnian statehood.

While seeking close ties with Moscow, Mr Dodik says he backs Bosnia’s faltering bid to join the European Union, but his party’s opposition to Bosniak and Croat hopes of Nato membership has hampered formation of a new national government.

“We call on all political parties to refrain from political manoeuvres aimed at distracting attention from the real issues facing Bosnia,” the EU delegation in Sarajevo said of the name dispute.

“Polarising statements and actions, including challenges to the constitutional framework of the country, will not facilitate the formation of new authorities at a crucial moment for the country’s EU path.”