A feast for the Serb separatists. Bosnia lessons for Ukraine

Author : Vitaliy Martynyuk

Source : 112 Ukraine

99.81% of participants responded positively to a question "Do you agree that January 9 should be marked and celebrated as the Day of Republika Srpska?"
14:51, 28 September 2016

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Recently referendums in Europe bring many surprises and have a direct, as in the Netherlands, or indirect, as in the UK, impact on Ukraine.

Conducted September 25, 2016 referendum in Republika Srpska - part of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) - has no direct influence on Ukraine, but circumstances and the results of the event can be useful for making conclusions.

Why a referendum concerning holiday is dangerous?

A referendum in Republika Srpska was initiated by its current leadership and its inspiration was the President of the Republic Milorad Dodik, known for his radical views and calling for the independence of the republic.

Related: Nikolic: ‘Serbia can’t introduce sanctions against Russia’

The question was “Do you agree that January 9 should be marked and celebrated as the Day of Republika Srpska?” The turnout was over 55.75%, 99.81% of participants responded positively.

The referendum has caused a serious conflict in BiH, criticism from Western countries, and support from Russia.

The problem is that January 9, 1992 the Bosnian Serb parliament announced the creation of Republika Srpska as a federal unit of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in response to the output of BiH from Yugoslavia. And in the spring the war in BiH began, which lasted for three and a half years.

Related: Serbia accused Hungarian authorities for breaking international law

After signing Dayton treaty in December 1995, Republika Srpska has retained a special status, which maintains direct relations with Serbia and trying to get more powers, including the relatively independent foreign policy activity.

Especially these trends have intensified during the rule of Milorad Dodik as prime minister and president. 

These trends undermine the integrity of BiH and deepen the internal conflict in the country. It is no coincidence that the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia has already opened an investigation on this referendum.

Trump card at the elections or attempt to avoid bankruptcy?

Back in November 2015 BiH Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the law on holidays of the Republika Srpska, including the Republic Day. Official Sarajevo spoke out against the referendum, considering it as illegal and one that contradicts the decision of the Constitutional Court.

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In Republika Srpska itself against the referendum there were some opposition forces, including the coalition "Country", representatives of the Bosnian population (13% of the population) and ethnic Croats (3%).

Opponents of the referendum believe that this expression is a step towards the declaration of independence of the Republic of Srpska, which could put an end to the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Related: The Independent: British MPs to hold debates on repeated referendum on Brexit

In support of this concern after the announcement of election results Milorad Dodik said that "Republika Srpska is the state."

Politicians and analysts in BiH also called a referendum the last attempt of Milorad Dodik, who counts on the national feelings of Bosnian Serb in order to avoid justice and avoid bankruptcy of Republika Srpska. The referendum, in their opinion, should strengthen the electoral situation of Dodik and his party.

West against Russia

In general, representatives of the international community, including the European Union and the Council on the implementation of peace in BiH, opposed the referendum.

Related: Scotland is ready to hold a new referendum on independence

A week before the referendum High Representative of International Society Valentin Intsko, said that the results are not legitimate and warned the organizers about possible sanctions against them and criminal proceedings for failure to fulfill the decision of the Constitutional Court of BiH. This question will be discussed at the meeting of the implementation of peace in BiH.

EU, US, and other countries put pressure on the leadership of Republika Srpska since the beginning of this year, calling not to hold a referendum.

Related: France also calls for referendum on exit from EU

Ambassadors of Western countries (France, Germany, Italy, UK, USA, Canada, Turkey and Japan) in a joint communiqué dated September 20, once again made a corresponding statement, stressing the need for the unconditional implementation of the Constitutional Court of BiH. They confirmed the integrity of BiH and its prospects of EU accession and stated inadmissibility of revision of borders in Europe.

The EU fears that the Serbian population of BiH may resort to unpredictable actions that destabilize the situation in the country.

Similarly, none of the Western Balkan countries, including Serbia, did not support a referendum in Republika Srpska.

Related: Dutch referendum: consequences for Ukraine, the Netherlands,and EU

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić publicly urged Dodik to refrain from this idea. Serb leadership looks to Russia, but still it is committed to the integration of the European Union, constantly declares Belgrade contribution to stability in the Balkans.

Although Dodik himself occasionally uses his demonstration of the Serbian "patriotism" for indirect influence on the leadership of Serbia, the Belgrade is aware of the possible negative consequences of the referendum for the entire Balkan region.

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Instead, Russian Federation was the only country that officially supported the referendum in Republika Srpska.

Deputy Director of Information and Press the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Bikantov announced recognition of the referendum.

On the eve of it, September 22, Putin held a personal meeting with Milorad Dodik, where Russian leader discussed bilateral relations and expressed support for the policy of Dodik.

Direct contacts with the leadership of Republika Srpska, bypassing BiH leadership, undermine internal stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, what is beneficial for the Kremlin.

Bomb is ticking

The consequences of the referendum in case of implementation of its decisions will be negative for the Balkan region.

According to Dodik the next step of resistance, would be adopting a draft law on the Day of Republic of Srpska.

If such a move is made, despite warnings from the leadership of BiH and the international community, the situation in the country can dramatically worsen.

Related: Cameron rules out a second referendum on the UK's membership in EU

This is not a conflict between BiH and Republika Srpska, but within the autonomy. Such a course could cause massive protests among Bosnian Croat population of BiH, including the Republic of Srpska.

The the leadership of Republika Srpska might not aggravate the situation, deciding not to play into the hands of Russia. In practice, this might mean that without the approval of a special law, the Serb leaders in BiH can call on legal celebrating Day of Republika Srpska on January 9th.

In any case, the referendum laid the bomb, which could explode in the Balkans at any time. Therefore, exacerbation of the conflict is possible at any time.

Leaders of Republika Srpska, alone or following the orders of Moscow, might resort to more radical steps, such as the referendum on the independence of Republika Srpska.

This would finally "bury" Dayton Peace Agreement and significantly destabilize the situation in the region.

Lessons for Ukraine

Ukraine should consider this situation to avoid laying similar mine.

Minsk II are not able to fully resolve the conflict with Russia, which is constantly violating them. The result of their folloving can only be a ceasefire, and only full withdrawal of the troops, and even more, the elections to the so-called Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics cannot be done without increasing the international presence in eastern Ukraine.

Related: In annexed Crimea people can vote in buses

Giving the actual autonomy to individual regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions (as proposed by Moscow), can create a prototype of the "Republika Srpska" in eastern Ukraine that could explode at any time.

Therefore, the restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including Crimea and Donbas, should be conducted without conditions and special status.

Otherwise, we will watch the "Balkanization" in Eastern Europe.

Related: MFA: Elections in occupied Crimea call into question legitimacy of State Duma

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