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Is Republika Srpska getting an easy ride?

Caroline Schmitt February 3, 2016

Republika Srpska is an autonomous part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It lives off EU funds without adopting EU values and struggles to come to terms with its brutal past. PM Zeljka Cvijanovic is on Conflict Zone this week.

Zeljka Cvijanovic bei Conflict Zone
Image: DW

Zeljka Cvijanovic on Conflict Zone

In an exclusive with DW, Republika Srpska's Prime Minister is prominently unwilling to call the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 genocide.

"There was a terrible, massive crime committed in Srebrenica," Cvijanovic says on Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian.

Milorad Dodik, the entity's president, has called the Srebrenica genocide "a lie" at a commemoration for Serb victims of the war. More than 8,000 Muslim Bosniaks, mostly men and boys, were killed by Bosnian Serb forces after they overran the town in July 1995.

The mass killings at Srebrenica have become known as the worst massacre on European soil since World War II. Ratko Mladic, who led the army of RS, is currently on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. When the current President Dodik rose to power, hopes were high that he would bring about reconciliation and democracy.

Zeljka Cvijanovic bei Conflict Zone
Zeljka Cvijanovic is this week's guest on Conflict Zone with Tim Sebastian.Image: DW

In 2016, things are far from democratic in Republika Srpska. The average income for the Republika's 900,000 inhabitants is about 400 euros a month. More than half the population is unemployed. Without regular payments by the EU and loans from the international community, the government wouldn't be able to pay its officials.

In April last year, Dodik's party adopted a resolution proposing a referendum in 2018 on a "peaceful dissolution," which would essentially be a secession of Republika Srpska. The 1995 General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Dayton Treaty) does not allow him to do so, but that doesn't seem to hold him back.

His Prime Minister Cvijanovic also doesn't see a contradiction to the Dayton agreement: "So it's not about seeking more autonomy, it is about trying to preserve the level of autonomy that was given to the Republika Srpska within the Dayton Agreement. This is the only thing which really matters here."

Republika Srpska has also threatened to hold another referendum to reject state-level courts with jurisdiction over Bosnia and Herzegovina in its entirety. Again, to the indignation of the international community.

Tim Sebastian: "In July, the Ambassadors of the EU came here to Banja Luka and said: 'We are deeply concerned that the proposed referendum would represent an unconstitutional attempt not to reform, but to undermine and weaken those authorities.' Well these are the sentences that show that they have lost trust with you."

Zelja Cvijanovic: "I regret that you are quoting just these sentences. (... ) I know that you write bestselling political thrillers, but please let’s not cross the line into fiction."

Sebastian: "Did they say this or didn't they say this? They said it, they said it."

Cvijanovic: "I don't know what they said, so what, I am saying something else."

Serbien, Interview mit Zeljka Cvijanovic
Image: DW

Although the Republika receives these regular payments from EU, Cvijanovic refuses to align fully with the EU, as her country isn't even a candidate for accession yet: "We are not a member of the European Union. We don't have any obligation now at this moment to fully comply with whatever."

More than 20 years after the end of the war in Bosnia, the entity struggles with curbs to freedom of expression and free press and corruption. Cvijanovic acknowledges "double corruption" in relation to a scandal over buying delegates' votes in parliament, suggesting that opposition corruption justifies government corruption: "Members of parliament who actually belonged to the opposition bloc joined us and our two members of parliament joined them. Sorry, then it's double corruption." The media outlets who brought this case to public came under investigation and their computers were confiscated.

Zeljka Cvijanovic: "But what are the obstacles actually for the development of free media?"

Tim Sebastian: "Intimidation and threats."

Cvijanovic: "What are the obstacles here, I don’t see any formal obstacles to the development of free media."

Sebastian: "They criticize you for having too much state control. Political control over your state broadcaster, the RTRS, too much political control."

Is the international community being too soft on the Republika Srpska's solo run? Judge for yourself on Conflict Zone.