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Secession of Republika Srpska from Bosnia-Herzegovina

Right after the independence referendum in Montenegro, Prime Minister of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik suggested that a similar referendum should be applied to the Serbs of Bosnia. The Bosnian leadership has always worried that the Serbs use any pretext to secede. Today that is only an opportunistic and theoretical suggestion. What will happen after Kosovo's independence? Will this suggestion become reality?

Bosnia-Herzegovina backwards

Bosnia-Herzegovina is very uneasy nowadays. The Croatia-Brazil match in Germany provoked vandalism acts and street fights between the Croats and Bosnians in Bosnia-Herzegovina. It seems that every little occasion gives the three different ethnicities of Bosnia-Herzegovina to show their general dissatisfaction with their situation in the country.

As to the Serbs of Bosnia, they caused a real shock. Prime Minister of Republika Srpska (RS) Milorad Dodik stated that an independence referendum similar to that in Montenegro should be held in the RS. Before the general international reaction, Dodik stepped back. Not completely though as he stated thereafter: "If Sarajevo persists in claiming that the Bosnian Serb entity RS should not exist and is a genocidal creature, they will get the answer called 'people' and 'referendum'". Dodik then defied the EU, claiming that even if they put the threshold to 90 percent, the will of Bosnian Serbs would confirm their aspiration to independence. After the constitutional reform was rejected in Parliament at the beginning of May, these statements caused new disillusionment among the international community as long as the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina is concerned.

Three points are important. These statements come from a politician, who fought against the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), once led by the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. They come from the chairman of a moderate party, Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). And finally, they come from the Prime Minister of the RS.

These three facts are disturbing enough. The timing is also conspicuous: right after the independence referendum in Montenegro. This makes one think ponder on what will happen after Kosovo's independence one day.

It was easy to refute the parallelism that Milorad Dodik has been keen to establish between the case of Montenegro and that of the RS. The right for secession is a constitutional right for Montenegro. Montenegro had always been a republic, first within former Yugoslavia, then in the state union of Serbia-Montenegro. However, when it comes to Kosovo, which has never been a republic but an autonomous region within Serbia, things become much more complicated indeed.

Serbian Prime Minister supports the attitude of Milorad Dodik and warns that the independence of Kosovo would lead to the secession of the RS from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Just as the Albanians of the Presevo Valley (southern Serbia) who warn that if Kosovo is partitioned they will secede from Serbia to unite with Kosovo, now Kostunica "blackmails" the international community with the secession of the RS. And if the RS secedes, it would be no surprise that the Croats demand unification with Croatia in their turn. More that the Montenegrin independence, the Kosovo question will have a decisive effect on the future of the Balkans.

Another interesting point. Right after Milorad Dodik's referendum suggestion, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement Ollie Rehn stated that, instead of referendum, the RS should follow the constitutional framework and opt for "evolution rather than revolution". The reaction of Dodik to that statement was more than interesting. He calmly suggested that "Europe had more than once changed its mind about policy in the Balkans" and added "the fact that Europe does not allow a referendum in Bosnia-Herzegovina at this time does not necessarily mean that it will not in future". The cynical Dodik is absolutely right. The EU, by its incessant hesitation in its Balkan policy, has indeed lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the Balkan peoples in general.

It seems that until the general elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 1st October and the definite solution of the Kosovo question, the refrain of the RS leadership will be that of this well-known Clash hit: "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Election manoeuvre

Bosnia-Herzegovina will go the polls on 1st October. Milorad Dodik, with his somewhat not unexpected statements, already got the upper hand over his nationalist rivals. No wonder that President of the RS and chairman of SDS Dragan Cavic condemned his Prime Minister's statements as "pre-election propaganda": "Statements of this kind are simply raining down because of the political needs of the election campaign".

Milorad Dodik cunningly made a good electoral investment indeed. It will take sometime for other nationalist parties like SDS to be more nationalist than SNSD. If this nationalistic competition goes on increasing until the day of election, the Bosniak-Croat Federation must be prepared to witness a most disturbing pre-election campaign in the RS. And if the Bosnian and Croat parties, in their turn, decide to react to the Serbian parties, then the international community must be prepared to witness an explosive election campaign in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In such an election campaign overdosed with conflicting nationalisms, multi-ethnic parties like Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) or Social Democratic Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina (SDP) would have no chance at all. With three parties' nationalists clashing with one another, they would have no more legitimacy to call for tolerance and cooperation.

The parliamentary elections being scheduled for 1st October that date is dangerously close to November when the international community is intended to conclude the Kosovo status talks. One can assume that by that time Kosovo's fate will be clearer than it is now. This will of course add an extra tension into the Bosnian elections.

The international community would like to reduce in future the powers of either republic in order to re-establish a more centralised Bosnian-Herzegovinian state. During the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords in November last year, Richard Holbrook enumerated the RS among those "mistakes" that had been made at that time. On a more symbolic level the flag, the coat of arms and the anthem of the RS, which have been deemed unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, are due to be replaced by September 2006. All these would push the Serbian parties to have more dramatic life-or-death tones in their pre-election campaigns.

Given the timing and the context of the elections, it seems that all parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina will neglect vital issues like unemployment, poverty, social security, health care, problems of youth and so on. That the themes would be reduced to the "secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina" on one hand and the "abolition of the RS" on the other seems more than probable.

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