EU opposes Serbian referendum
Bosnian Serb politicians are taking advantage of a 21 May referendum in which Montenegrins voted for independence from the state union with Serbia to call for Bosnian Serbs to be allowed to hold a similar referendum on independence from Bosnia, or even to merge with Serbia.
"Holding a referendum in Bosnia is not a good idea, and it is not a welcome idea," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Tuesday. The move was proposed by the hardline Serb National Movement (SNP), and supported by more moderate politicians, including Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.
"The will of the citizens can't be ignored. The Serb people do not want to live in a Bosnia imposed on them. The Serb people want a free Republika Srpska, separated from an imposed Bosnia and Herzegovina," SNP President Dane Cankovic said in a statement. "Bosnia-Herzegovina has become a tyrant that is stifling the will and wishes of Serbs to live in a free and democratic RS," he said.
He said the petition calling for a referendum for the secession of the RS from Bosnia-Herzegovina was "the first step towards the Serb unity". Prime Minsiter Dodik said the Montenegrin referendum should be the basis for determination of the final status of Kosovo and that all peoples in the region should be allowed to decide on their fate in the same way.
Dodik proposes that Bosnia be organized as a federal unit, giving each ethnic group the right to self-determination through referendum. "People who live in Bosnia-Herzegovina believe less and less in the existing state model," Dodik said.
Bosnia-Herzegovina Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic - a Bosnian Serb - told Serbian media that the right to announce a referendum was a "basic democratic principle" and that the international community should honor that right across the region. "The interest of the Republic of Srpska is to remain within the framework of Bosnia-Herzegovina, but to stop the pressure being put on it. That is what I especially hold against the international community," Ivanic said.
The international community's High Representative in Bosnia, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, rejected the referendum, saying no parallel could be drawn between Republika Srpska and Montenegro because Republika Srpska did not exist before the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war. "The international community will not allow the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina to be endangered," his office said in a statement.
The Dayton Peace Agreement signed in 1995 carved Bosnia into two political and administrative entities, the Republika Srpska and the Bosniak- and Bosnian Croat-dominated Federation entity. Even the Federation entity, formed in 1994 by peace agreement between Bosniaks and Croats, is not functioning as expected, with Bosnian Croats complaining of marginalization and seeking to create a third entity in which Croats are the majority.
In 2001, Bosnian Croats organized a referendum on the creation of such a third entity. The majority of Croats voted for self-government, but the international community rejected the referendum. Several high-ranking Bosnian Croat officials, including then-member of the tripartie Bosnian Presidency, Ante Jelavic, were charged and jailed for violating country's constitution.
Last October, Jelavic was sentenced to ten years in prison for economic crimes related to the case, but just one day before his sentencing he fled to Croatia, where he is waiting out a legal battle between the two countries over his extradition.