Bosnian Serbs boycott state institutions over ban on genocide denial

Many Serbs dispute court rulings on Srebrenica massacre and other 1990s war crimes

A vandalised  mural of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic  in Belgrade, Serbia. Photograph: Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo

A vandalised mural of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic in Belgrade, Serbia. Photograph: Darko Vojinovic/AP Photo

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Bosnia faces political paralysis after Bosnian Serbs began boycotting major institutions in protest at a decree from the country’s top international official to outlaw denial of the Srebrenica genocide and other 1990s war crimes.

High representative Valentin Inzko announced that anyone who “publicly condones, denies, grossly trivialises or tries to justify” the genocide or other atrocities committed during Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war could face up to five years in jail.

Most Serb political leaders in Bosnia and Serbia itself acknowledge that grave crimes took place at Srebrenica – where Bosnian Serb forces murdered 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in July 1995 – but reject the ruling of two international courts that the massacre constituted genocide.

“We will not live in a country where someone can impose a law by simply publishing it on his website,” declared Milorad Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s joint presidency.

He has repeatedly called for his Serb-run Republika Srpska region to leave a country that operates a complex and often dysfunctional system of power sharing between its Bosniak, Croat and Serb communities.

“This is the nail in Bosnia’s coffin,” Mr Dodik said of Mr Inzko’s decree. “Republika Srpska has no other option but to start the . . . dissolution” of Bosnia.

“You did not break the Serbian resistance. The Serbian resistance will only now manifest itself in the right way. Of course, we will not start any revolution or armed uprisings, but we will certainly raise a political uprising that will go so far as to show that Bosnia cannot function,” the Sarajevo Times quoted him as saying.

Boycott

Bosnian Serb politicians began their boycott of Bosnia’s parliament, central government and presidency on Tuesday.

Branislav Borenovic, the leader of an opposition party in Republika Srpska, said: “Serb political representatives will no longer participate in the work of the common institutions of Bosnia . . . and will not make any decisions until this issue is resolved.”

Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said he was “afraid that the atmosphere [in Bosnia] is the hottest since the Dayton agreement”, referring to the deal that ended the Bosnian war, enshrined its cumbersome political system and created the office of high representative to oversee implementation of the peace pact.

“It goes without saying that imposing and declaring decisions from the outside could never bring good results,” he said on Tuesday. “We are informed and we follow everything and, certainly, we cannot leave Republika Srpska in any economic or any other problem.”

Bosniak politicians lambasted Serbian interior minister Aleksandar Vulin last week for calling for the creation of “a Serbian world . . . to unite Serbs wherever they live”, which reminded critics of the “Greater Serbia” ideology that fuelled the 1990s wars that destroyed Yugoslavia.

Belgrade was furious last month when Montenegro made it illegal to deny the Srebrenica genocide and then sacked pro-Serb justice minister Zdravko Leposavic for saying the massacre was not an “unequivocally established” fact.

Mr Inzko said he issued his decree last Friday in response to increasing genocide denial in Bosnia and “an escalation of glorification of war criminals . . . that it is also sowing the seeds for potential new conflicts.”