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INFO   :::  Region > Bosnia - PAGE 1 > Dodik’s folly


Dodik’s folly

Daniel Serwer

September 28, 2016



American University Professor Ulas Doga Uralp asked last night whether I had written anything about the Bosnian Serb referendum, which passed Sunday with over 99% voting “yes.” Turnout was modest: somewhere around 55%. The issue on the ballot was whether Republika Srpska’s national day should be celebrated January 9. I won’t bother to explain why that is important to some people. Nor do I regret not having written something about it, though I believe I wasted a few breaths on it in an interview.

The substance of the referendum deserves to be ignored. The significant thing was that it was held at all, after the Bosnian constitutional court ruled it unconstitutional, rightly or wrongly. If the referendum is allowed to stand, Dodik intends to move ahead with an independence referendum in 2018. For some in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that would be a casus belli, just as it was in 1992.

I don’t really expect real war to ensue, though the risk of violence needs to be taken seriously. Many approved independence referendums don’t result in widely recognized sovereignty, most notably Russian-inspired referendums in Transnistria, South Ossetia, Luhansk, Donetsk, and Crimea. Don’t know all those places? That’s because they are under normal circumstances obscure provinces, now converted into poor, backwater satellites of Moscow with no prospect of wide international recognition. Their main function is to destabilize and retard the countries that continue to claim them, in service to Moscow’s anti-Western, anti-NATO and anti-EU ambitions.

That’s the best Republika Srpska can hope for if it proceeds with its current course: to become a poor, unrecognized, backwater satellite of a country whose GDP is now less than that of Spain and still decreasing. Russia is a declining regional power with little to offer even a strategically important place like Crimea. Republika Srpska as a self-declared independent state will get little recognition and even less money, since it doesn’t happen to sit on significant real estate. Dodik will no doubt have increased opportunities to line his pockets if RS declares independence, but the population is guaranteed to lose access to World Bank funds as well as American and European assistance.

I don’t expect it to come to that. It would be far better if Bosnia’s courts would handle the issue, declaring the referendum null and void and doing what it can to hold Dodik accountable for conducting it in spite of a constitutional court decision. This is Bosnia’s Marbury v Madison moment, when the court’s authority to review legislation and executive decisions requires affirmation. If the Americans and Europeans have any interest left in Bosnia, they need to make sure that happens.

Of course they might have just used the “Bonn powers” of the High Representative, who has said the referendum violates the Dayton agreements. They can no longer readily do that because they have somehow allowed Moscow to acquire a de facto veto over their use, and they fear they have no way of implementing the HiRep’s decisions. Putin’s Russia is happy to use the veto and ostentatiously provided support to Dodik with a visit to Moscow just before the referendum.

But none of that changes reality: Republika Srpska won’t become a widely recognized independent state but may well join half a dozen other Moscow-sponsored backwaters in serving Moscow’s commitment to destabilization. The EU and NATO may not be perfect, but they offer a lot better future than Russia does. That’s Dodik’s folly.



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