Milorad Dodik, the highly controversial leader of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Serb entity for years, has once again threatened that a referendum on the entity’s secession will be called after a meeting with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic held on February 15.
Despite now being a member of Bosnia’s tripartite state-level presidency, Dodik has renewed his calls for the referendum that — if it were to go ahead — could lead to the breakup of Bosnia and the destabilisation of the wider region.
Dodik’s secessionist aspirations are not new and the latest threats come after his ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) announced that they would halt their work in the decision-making process in the state-level institutions, objecting to a ruling of the state-level constitutional court.
Vucic arranged the meeting with Dodik, Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic and representatives of the Serbs in Montenegro to discuss the situations Serbs are facing in these countries.
At the meeting, Vucic called on Dodik to act legally, through institutions and without provoking the destabilisation of the region. He also said that Serbia needs peace, but pointed out that Serbia will support the Serb entities in both Bosnia and Montenegro.
“We shall ask that the status of Republika Srpska be decided through a people’s decision, through a referendum, no matter how many times they have challenged this,” Dodik said following the meeting.
He added that he heard what Vucic said, but “a time comes when people cannot allow us to be stupid”.
He added that the latest decision of the constitutional court “crossed a red line”, which “only confirmed that Republika Srpska has to go on its own path and decide on its status”.
Bosnia consists of two autonomous entities – the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. It also has state-level institutions. Republika Srpska’s ruling politicians have many times claimed that the state-level constitutional court is working against its interest and has declined to obey its rulings.
The latest escalation of the never ending political crisis in Bosnia came after the state-level constitutional court ruled that public land in Bosnia is owned by the state, not by the entities. The court ruled that an article in Republika Srpska’s law on agricultural land was unconstitutional.
After the ruling, Republika Srpska’s representatives in state-level institutions said they will halt their work in the decision-making process on any matter that falls under the jurisdiction of the state-level authorities, until a new law on the constitutional court, which bans the participation of international judges, is adopted.
This is not the first time Republika Srpska has demanded the removal of foreigners from the state-level constitutional court. In 2016, Dodik, who at the time was president of Republika Srpska, announced that his entity was breaking all ties with the state-level authorities. He later backed off from this statement, but Dodik is notorious for his aspirations for the secession of Republika Srpska and has many times stated he does not recognise the state-level institutions.
Two of the nine judges in the state-level constitutional court are foreigners – a decision that was part of the Dayton Peace Accord that ended the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian war. The Dayton agreement was backed by both Republika Srpska and the Federation at the time.