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Serbs vote to leave Bosnian institutions

December 11, 2021

Lawmakers have voted to start work on pulling their autonomous Serb Republic out of Bosnia's armed forces, judiciary and tax system. The decision sparked warnings from the international community about a new conflict.

MPs in the Republika Srpska parliament
The non-binding motion by the Republika Srpska parliament is meant to pave the way for secession from Bosnia Image: Dragan Maksimovic/DW

The parliament of the Serb part of Bosnia-Herzegovina decided Friday to transfer powers away from the country's central institutions.

The approval by the regional legislature of Republika Srpska (RS) comes in spite of warnings against such a move from the international community and an opposition boycott.

Nationalism in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

What did the Republika Srpska parliament agree?

MPs voted to strip the Bosnian state of competencies in the areas of taxation, justice, and security and defense for the RS region.

The three institutions represent key pillars of joint security, the rule of law and the economic system in Bosnia, which was divided into two autonomous regions after its 1992-1995 war.

The proposal won a clear majority with 49 votes in favor in the 83-seat chamber.

The vote amounted to a non-binding agreement that fell short of a final decision to quit the institutions — a move that would have needed the support of the region's upper house.

Who is behind the move towards succession?

Milorad Dodik, head of the SNDS party and a Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, was the driving force behind the initiative.

Dodik, a former Western protege turned nationalist, has been threatening for years to separate Republika Srpska from the Bosnian state.

He has long complained about state institutions, saying they were established based on decisions by international peace envoys and were not enshrined in the constitution.

Bosnia-Herzegovina is nothing more than "a paper republic," Dodik told the Banja Luka parliament on Friday.

He announced that within six months, he would initiate legislation to reorganize the areas for which the central state no longer has jurisdiction.

It is not yet clear whether he will follow through on a promise made in September to create a separate army.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad DodikImage: ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP via Getty Images

What could be the impact of this decision?

Dodik's course threatens to destroy the architecture of the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended more than three years of war between Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. The early 1990s conflict killed roughly 100,000 people.

The agreement saw one half of Bosnia given over to Bosnian Serbs while the other was to be ruled by a Muslim-Croat federation. The two entities are held together by federal institutions.

Opposition leaders warned the moves may lead the Serb Republic into a new conflict.

"I think the path you have chosen is dangerous for Republika Srpska and we cannot follow you," said Mirko Sarovic, the head of the largest opposition Serb Democratic Party (SDS).

How has the West reacted?

In a joint statement, the embassies of Germany, the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy as well as the European Union delegation said the parliament's motion was "a further escalatory step."

"Members of the governing coalition in the RS must be aware that continuing this dead-end path of challenging the Dayton framework is damaging the economic prospects of the entity, threatening the stability of the country and the entire region and jeopardizing Bosnia's future with the EU," the ambassadors said in a joint statement.

The Peace Implementation Council, which monitors compliance with the Dayton agreement, recently warned that a "unilateral withdrawal" from federal institutions is not possible. It has threatened "consequences" for any party that violates the peace agreement.

This statement was not co-signed by Russia, which is part of the PIC, along with representatives of Western countries.

The Kremlin supports Dodik's actions, and the Bosnian Serb leader met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week.

mm/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)