Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska, has sparked a new scandal, announcing that his entity will adopt a law on “foreign agents”.
Dodik announced that Republika Srpska will adopt a law on the activities of non-governmental organisations and civil associations, just days after a similar law provoked mass protests in Georgia that forced the government to back down. The Georgian law, in turn, was similar to earlier legislation in Russia.
Dodik’s move was seen as disturbing by the EU delegation in Bosnia.
“Any unfounded limitation of the effective exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to association (and expression), is in itself contrary to the aspirations of Bosnia & Herzegovina to progress on the European path,” N1 quoted the spokesperson of the EU Delegation, Ferdinand Koenig, as saying.
He added that planned law could significantly reduce the space for civic engagement, which is unacceptable for the EU.
Dodik claims that this law mirrors US legislation. However, the US embassy to Bosnia reacted strongly to the planned bill, saying it was inspired by the Kremlin.
“We have seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. When Russia expanded its foreign agent legislation in 2020, it too claimed that it was merely copying the US model. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and we have seen the results. Russian authorities have used their repressive legislation to suppress dissent, eviscerate civil society, and eradicate free media,” the US embassy said in a statement.
It added that the US legislation was diametrically opposed to this model and condemned Republika Srpska’s ruling party for attempting to change laws only to help its efforts to consolidate power.
The US also condemned another planned legislative move by Republika Srpska: to amend its criminal code criminalising defamation and insults and imposing jail sentences for the publication of video, photos or documents without consent.
“By criminalising actions that are usually handled as civil matters, this legislation would threaten freedom of expression as a fundamental human right and have a direct effect on journalists’ ability to report the truth,” the US embassy noted.
“This legislation, which the Republika Srpska National Assembly will consider on March 14, would make the situation drastically worse and threaten the existence of a free and independent press that is a cornerstone of a healthy democracy,” the US embassy noted.
The administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Samantha Power, also warned that Dodik is going down “a dangerous anti-democratic path” in trying to pass the two bills.
“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the President of Republika Srpska is following others in the region down a dangerous anti-democratic path in trying to pass Kremlin-inspired draft laws that rob residents of their basic rights, silence dissent and allow corruption to flourish unchecked,” Power wrote on Twitter.
Dodik responded to Power, insisting the entity was copying the US model.
“Republika Srpska is inspired by American law and the highest standards in the protection of human rights and freedoms, among which is freedom of speech, which implies responsibility, which is the case in the most developed Western societies,” he wrote on Twitter.
“We are copying the American model that made the US one of the world's great powers. It is interesting that the director of USAID is reacting, knowing that many “projects” in Bosnia & Herzegovina are financed through USAID,” he added.
Meanwhile, the US rebuked the pro-Russian Serb leader over his latest threat that Republika Srpska will secede from Bosnia if a state property law, temporarily banned by the state-level constitutional court, is not applied.
Bosnia consists of two autonomous entities – the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska, each having its own parliament, government and president. There are also state-level institutions. For year, Dodik and other Bosnian Serb politicians have defied the state-level institutions, and Dodik has frequently threatened that the entity will secede from Bosnia.
“The United States rejects Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik’s March 9 comments, in which he sought to undermine the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional Court and made repeated threats about the Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). Article III (3) of the Dayton Constitution clearly states that the Republika Srpska must fully comply with the decisions of the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, including the final and binding rulings of the BiH Constitutional Court,” the US said in a separate statement.
At the end of December, Republika Srpska’s parliament adopted the draft bill on immovable property used for the functioning of public authorities, which was strongly objected to by the Bosniaks as it ruled that all immovable property on the territory of Republika Srpska belongs to the entity.
This was in violation of an earlier ruling by the state-level constitutional court invalidating an earlier law passed by Republika Srpska lawmakers, that put immovable property under the control of the entity’s authorities.
Earlier in March, the state-level constitutional court temporarily banned the law’s implementation, after the international community’s high representative Christian Schmidt suspended the law’s application.