Milorad Dodik & the dangers of Serbian nationalism
Bosnian leader, Milorad Dodik, the current Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the collective federal head of state, is on the brink of joining the rapidly evolving nationalist and illiberal wave in Europe.
Dodik serves as the Serb member of Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency, and wants to pull his predominantly ethnic-Serb region out of Bosnia’s military, judicial and tax system. Dodik, a former Western protégé turned nationalist, has been threatening for years to separate Bosnian Serb entity, the Serb Republic, from the Bosnian state.
Dodik, a Serb nationalist, has made the news in recent months and his remarks are making EU leaders increasingly worried. In December, Annalena Baerbock, the German Foreign Minister under the new German coalition government has said that the European Union should impose sanctions on Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik for his efforts to get Serb-dominated areas in Bosnia to secede from the Balkan country, according to the Associated Press.
The Bosnian-Serb parliament, under the current leadership of Dodik, launched a series of steps that could weaken war-ravaged Bosnia’s central authority. In December, the parliament of the Serb Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina voted to transfer powers away from the country’s central institutions. The approval comes in spite of warnings against such a move from the international community and an opposition boycott.
However, in order to get a better understanding of the situation, let’s back up and give an overview of the ethnic tensions that are resurfacing in Bosnian politics now.
Bosnia has had a long history of firing up tensions in relation to ethnic relations. It was in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, that World War 1 was set off, after a young Serbian nationalist assassinated Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Then, the Balkan wars of the 1990s left its stain on these countries to this day. With more than 140,000 people who perished in the conflicts, a NATO military and diplomatic intervention was required to put an end to the massacre.
Whether it’s the cruel legacy of Slobodan Milošević and the genocide committed by Bosnian Serb forces during the Bosnian War, such as the infamous Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys, or the embedded atmosphere of ethnic rivalry that went on throughout the conflicts, the reality of the situation remains a constant, crushing one throughout the region.
The Dayton Agreement in 1995, signed in Dayton, Ohio (United States), put an end to the three-and-a-half-year-long Bosnian War, one of the Yugoslav Wars. The warring parties agreed to peace and to a single sovereign state known as Bosnia and Herzegovina composed of two parts, the largely Serb-populated Republika Srpska and mainly Croat-Bosniak-populated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The deal stopped the fighting but created an elaborate and highly dysfunctional political system, with a weak central authority in which different ethnic groups share power. The trio of elected presidents are Mr. Dodik, who represents Serbs, Mr. Dzaferovic, who represents Bosnian Muslims, known as Bosniaks, and Zeljko Komsic, an ethnic Croat.
Under the Dayton settlement, Bosnia is divided into two largely self-governing parts: Dodik’s Serb territory, known as Republika Srpska, and a federation controlled by Bosniaks and ethnic Croats. The federation, in turn, is divided into 10 “cantons,” each with its own government.
Even though Milorad Dodik has been making noise about Serbian secession for over a decade, his recent remarks may materialise into a more volatile crisis, and, what a United Nations senior official in Bosnia described as “the greatest existential threat” to the country’s survival since the early 1990s.
Dodik’s threat of forming a separate ethnic Serb army and concerns that Bosnia might return to the war-like atmosphere of the 1990s, are making Bosnian citizens worried.
Dodik and many of his fellow Serbs still deny war crimes committed by ethnic kin and instead see themselves as victims, as they did during the war. The claim is now that Bosnian Serbs are being unfairly picked on, after a decision in July by the U.N. envoy that outlawed the denial of genocide. The ban applies to all ethnic groups, but many Bosnian Serbs see it as targeted at them.
However, political opponents of Dodik see this ban as a huge mistake – one that emboldens belligerent nationalists, bolstering Dodik’s previously waning public support and encouraging him to embark on a “reckless adventure” that “has no chance of succeeding and has huge potential to provoke conflict, states Mirko Sarovic, the leader of a Serb political party opposed to Dodik, for the New York Times.
In the meantime, Europe’s response to Dodik’s provocations has been mixed. While Germany and Great Britain are discussing sanctions, Europe’s autocrats are embracing Dodik’s political discourse and behaviour. Hungarian leader Viktor Orban recently visited the Serb region’s capital, Banja Luka, in order to offer support to Dodik and declared that he would vow to veto any move by the EU to impose sanctions.
Bosnia, which is not a EU member state, but wishes to join, seems to be the newest challenge in a long pile of worrying trends for Western powers in Europe. The United States and the European Union are desperate to prevent a crisis from escalating and from turning into an opportunity that Russia could exploit. Russia wants to prevent Bosnia from becoming a EU and NATO member and is already siding with Milorad Dodik. In December, Dodik returned from a visit to Moscow claiming that he had received pledges of support during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There is no doubt that the Kremlin government is clearly delighted to see Bosnia in disarray, given that the United States and Europe once championed the country as an example of successful nation-building. For years, President Putin has warned the formerly communist lands of Eastern Europe that Western promises of peace and prosperity are hollow.
As Europe’s illiberal wave is increasingly more vocal, Dodik is being welcomed by the representatives of this authoritarian clique, as the counter power to the liberal and Western order becomes more potent in Europe. It remains to be seen if Dodik’s emerging presence on the European front of illiberalism will play a role, and whether it would have enough of a significance to further embolden the rise of this alternative paradigm in Europe.
Photo source: Associated Press