I today attended a meeting with Republika Srpska
(RS) Prime Minister Željka Cvijanović, who is in Washington talking
about reducing government Bosnia’s bureaucracies and decentralizing
the Bosnian state. I can agree with her general stance on those
questions. But she neglected to mention in an initial brief
presentation at a meeting hosted by Foreign Policy her President’s
The current issue is a referendum called by the RS
assembly on a vaguely worded proposition that challenges the
authority of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s courts and of the High
Representative who supervises implementation of the Dayton peace
agreements reached almost 20 years ago:
Do you support the unconstitutional and
unauthorized imposition of laws by the High Representative of the
International Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly the
imposed laws on the Court and Prosecutor’s Office of BiH and the
implementation of their decisions on the territory of Republika
The High Representative has discussed the legal
issues the referendum raises in a Special Report of the High
Representative to the Secretary General of the UN on the
Implementation of the GFAP in BiH. The law on the referendum has not
yet been published in the Official Gazette. Instead of proceeding as
usual with that, the RS President and government are using the
threat of the referendum to extract concessions from the European
Union, which is engaged with RS in a seemingly interminable dialogue
on its justice system.
I will leave the legal issues to the lawyers. What
is the diplomatic impact of what RS is doing?
What I told the Prime Minister is this: the
referendum proposal is convincing a lot of people in Washington that
RS is doing the wrong thing in such an objectionable fashion that it
is making the unthinkable thinkable: sanctioning RS officials and
even abolishing the entities, which are the heart of the Dayton
The reaction is less dramatic in the EU, which
still hopes to engage the RS and the Bosnians in general in reform
processes intended to soften the edges of the country’s entity
structure and enable it to make faster progress towards becoming a
candidate for EU accession. I wish the Europeans well in that
effort, which is backed by the international financial institutions
on which both entities and the state government in Bosnia depend.
The EU reform plan means the Europeans are less likely to join the
US in vigorous action against the referendum proposal.
That is too bad, because only when the RS sees
Europe and the US closing ranks and getting ready to do something
dramatic will it yield to sweet reason. That is what happened with
the Brcko arbitration that reintegrated one of the most contested
pieces of real estate in the country and with defense reform that
unified the armies in Bosnia ten years ago. Until the Europeans and
Americans decide to act together in a concerted way, we’ll see
Some will wonder why I even attended a meeting at
which I was bound to hear propositions that I object to.
My general approach to life as a private citizen
and professor is that I am willing to listen to any foreigner the
USG allows into the country (and quite a few it won’t allow in). My
willingness to listen is in no way an indication of agreement or
even softness. I was absolutely clear that Dodik’s toying with the
referendum and using it to extract concessions from the EU is
damaging not only his reputation but the viability of the RS.
Catastrophic was the term I used to describe the likely outcome.
I am saying so publicly as well so there is no
doubt about my views. It is arguable that we needed to allow the RS
to continue to exist at the end of the Bosnian war in order to make
peace. The peace has lasted, and for that we should all be grateful.
But institutions are not necessarily forever. If the RS continues on
its counterprodutive path, Americans and Europeans should reach the