Sabre-Rattling in Bosnia and Herzegovina

July 2022, Protesters gather outside the Office of the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Photo: David I. Klein)

For a couple of years now a political crisis looming in Bosnia and Herzegovina has escalated during the past two months towards a crisis worse than the one during the 1992-1995 war that saw 100,000 people killed, that saw genocide committed by Serb aggressor, that saw Bosnian Muslims import Islamic Mujahideen forces in the process of slaughtering Bosnian Croats as if their slaughter by the Serbs was not enough. The Croat population in Bosnia and Herzegovina has reduced drastically since 1995 and is now threatened to become an ethnic minority in cantons or areas across the country instead of remaining one of three Constitutional peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina nationally. The Electoral laws have permitted Muslims to elect Croat representatives and, contrary to Serb and Muslim population Croats have for years been denied the exclusive right to elect their own representatives into the parliament and other assemblies that carry on the governing within the country.

Christian Schmidt, the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina overseeing implementation of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the devastating war, said on several occasions in the past few months that leaders of the country’s Bosnian Serb-dominated entity (Republika Srpska/ Serbian Republic) have systematically challenged Dayton Agreement provisions and intensified their activities aimed at usurping powers granted to the federal government. While the Dayton Accords successfully ended the massacres, this arrangement currently exacerbates problems in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Namely, the creation of the ‘Republika Srpska’ and the tripartite presidency essentially rewarded Bosnian Serb leaders of the Bosnian War with unimpeachable influence over the new Bosnian state. The clear ethnic divisions inherent in Bosnia’s two entities as well as its ethnically segregated presidencies enables its leaders to pit their ethnic groups against each other for political gain and Croats being in lesser numbers in the Federation are systematically being oppressed and quashed by Bosniak/Muslim powers.

High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, German diplomat Christian Schmidt, Schmidt is the eighth international administrator in Bosnia and Herzegovina since the end of the 1992-1995 war. EPA-EFE/FEHIM DEMIR

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement (1995) established two separate entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs (Republika Srpaska) and another – Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina – dominated by the Bosniaks (Muslims) but also consisting of Croats where both Muslims and Croats were to have equal status and power. The two entities are bound together by joint central institutions, and all-important decisions must be backed by both. But when Muslims elect Croat representatives to the parliament and assemblies the issue has been that such representatives have not fully acted in the interests of Croats.

Schmidt said in his May 2022 report to the U.N. Security Council that the actions by the Bosnian Serb entity, known as Republika Srpska, “not only erode the fundamentals of the agreement, but directly threaten to undo more than 25 years of progress in building up Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state firmly on the path towards European Union integration.”

In July 2021, the UN Security Council rejected a resolution put forward by Russia, which has close ties to the Bosnian Serbs, and Moscow’s ally China that would have stripped the powers of the international High Representative immediately and eliminated the position entirely in one year.

The High Representative’s powers have come under criticism from Bosnian Serbs for not offering the possibility of appealing his decisions, which have immediate effect. The Office of the High Representative has dismissed dozens of officials, including judges, civil servants, and members of parliament, since its inception, and overturned other actions.

Schmidt said Republika Srpska’s government and National Assembly have sought to chip away at state institutions by creating parallel bodies in the Bosnian Serb entity. At the same time, he said, representatives from Republika Srpska elected or appointed to the National Assembly and state institutions either don’t participate in decision-making or block decisions not in the interests of Bosnian Serbs.

“This has the effect of impeding the state’s ability to function and exercise its constitutional responsibilities,” Schmidt said.

He pointed to “non-existent” legislative output, stalled reforms required to advance toward EU membership, international agreements on hold, and the failure to adopt a state-level budget for the second year in a row.

On April 16, 2022, Schmidt suspended a law adopted by Republika Srpska that would have enabled the Bosnian Serbs to take over state-owned property on their territory, calling it unconstitutional. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik said in an interview that action by Schmidt couldn’t stop the law from taking effect.

Another contentious issue has been the lack of agreement between Bosniaks and Croats in the federation on electoral reforms, which Schmidt said has prompted Croat parties to cast doubt on the holding of the 2022 general elections (due 2nd October, that decide the makeup of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency, national, entity and cantonal governments), including by withholding financing for the elections.

Bosnian Croats have for years now claimed debilitating discrimination and demanded that the voting system be changed to make sure that Bosnian Croats alone choose Croat representatives. Bosniak officials have denied the claims and talks on the election reform have been stuck and shape the critical stage of the political crisis currently stifling the country.

Schmidt insists the 2022 general elections will be held in October under the same rules as in 2018, even though at that time calls for electoral laws changes were loud with many believing that the election results were illegal because the electoral laws were not changed to exclusively enable the Croats to vote for their own representatives.

UN Human Rights Chief, Michelle Bachelet, recently called for Bosnian politicians to “turn the page on rhetoric and policies of division,” and instead, “focus on promoting the rights of everyone across the country, and to build an inclusive and democratic future, based on equality of all citizens.” For this to happen, the leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina need to stop being politically rewarded for stirring ethnic strife OR permit equal rights and equal representation in governments of all three Constitutional peoples as designed by the Dayton Agreement. The desire for power (especially Bosniak and Serb) has led Bosnian leaders to lean towards divisive, sectarian politics that allow them to deflect from their own failures. Creating a more inclusive political system that addresses and respects ethnic differences without being solely defined by them would perhaps be an answer.

Christian Schmidt is adamant to impose measures for the re-functioning of Bosnia’s Federation (FBiH) entity, which include Electoral law changes and changes to the Federation Constitution. The changes to the Constitution, for example, mean that Bosnia’s constituent nations under Dayton Agreement – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – if their numbers in any Federation entity canton are less than 3 per cent, will no longer have representatives in the House of Peoples of the Federation parliament. This possibility has created uproars on all sides as it seriously weakens the strength of a constitutional people on national level. The political atmosphere of intolerance and sabre-rattling in Bosnia and Herzegovina is seriously escalating, while Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and President Zoran Milanovic are also at loggerheads regarding the best approach that would see Bosnian Croats receive their due powers and rights and avoid a terrible destiny of being reduced to an ethnic minority in the country or obsolete as far as governing of the country is concerned. 

In his Press Release of 28 July 2022, Christian Schmidt said that irresponsible rhetoric in Bosnia and Herzegovina must stop: “Warmongering and inflammatory statements, such as this one by Mr. (Bekir) Izetbegovic, are dangerous and hark back to the tragic conflict in the 1990s. They spread fear amongst all citizens, add to tensions, and in no way contribute to the promotion of cooperation, stability, and reconciliation in the country. Mr. Izetbegovic, together with all political leaders, should work on finding ways to keep the youngest and the brightest in the country instead of advocating for robots to replace them,” said the High Representative.

Considering the legislative and constitutional changes Schmidt looks to impose in Bosnia and Herzegovina Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said this week:  “We hope that the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, will take steps that will ensure at least minimal equality for Croats after the elections on 2 October.”  From where I am standing it is deeply concerning that Plenkovic talks of “minimal equality”, thus planting the idea that he would be happy with crumbs for Bosnian Croats rather than an equal slice of the power bread loaf. Quite scandalous and cowardly really. Croatia’s President Zoran Milanovic has been quite clear and stronger in expressing his views. “Across (the border) they are threatening war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They threaten war. Sefik Dzaferovic (Muslim member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency), who was a Mujahideen hostess in 1993, the man was in the committee for welcoming Mujahideen in the security unit in Zenica, now he and his boss are threatening war, drones. That’s a bigger topic for me than anything else. They are trying to beat up the Croatian people there… What is going on in Bosnia and Herzegovina is raging and threatening and politically endangering a nation of people. The issue of national security is not Ukraine, but Bosnia and Herzegovina. The language of hatred and intolerance is rampant in the streets of Sarajevo. The High Representative is being threatened, he can blame himself for that, because he is amending the Election Law and the Federation Constitution, which does not give Croats anything, but even that is considered a bit too much. He panics under the pressure of the Mahallas and Kasabs, the pub, the street or the Berlin police …,” Milanovic told the media during this week.

Bosnian Croats appear almost as an endangered species in that political environment with inadequate voices and inadequate propping supports from outside, from official Croatia. Bosnian Croats want to ensure that only Croats can vote for the Croat presidency by creating their own electoral district, to ensure that Bosniaks/Muslims cannot use loopholes in the existing electoral law that allow them to vote for Croat representatives as they have been doing and thus endangering Croat interests and rights. On the other hand, if public claims threaded through the media that Christian Schmidt is aiming to Islamise Bosnia and Herzegovina surface with substance then it will be clear that Croats are to be more disadvantaged than ever regardless Schmidt’s new proposed legislative changes that aim to provide freedom of all Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens to return to their homes where they had lived before the 1990’s war without fear or impediment. As 2nd October draws near this sabre rattling that’s been happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina will either die down or increase in intensity to perhaps a new armed conflict with alarming consequences beyond the country’s borders. Ina Vukic 

No Dogs, Catholics Or Muslims Allowed

Civilians of Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993 running for cover to avoid Serb snipers during the city's siege Photo: Chris Helgren/Corbis

Civilians of Sarajevo in
Bosnia and Herzegovina 1993
running for cover to
avoid Serb snipers during the city’s siege
Photo: Chris Helgren/Corbis

The referendum held on 25 September 2016 in the entity of Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska/RS) within Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) regarding confirmation that 9 January should be set as public holiday for the celebration of the Day of Republika Srpska/Serbian Republic Statehood Day may to many in the outside world seem benign but given BiH’s geographic position coupled with the 1990’s history puts it all in a different light. But, in reality and in truth this frighteningly defiant move led by Milorad Dodik, RS president – and nourished and supported via Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s promises of financial supports – has all the hallmarks of officially legitimising war crimes, especially ethnic cleansing and genocide (including Srebrenica) committed during 1990’s against Croatians and Bosniaks/Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina/BiH in that self-proclaimed Serbian territory situated within sovereign borders of BiH.

 

It once again brings to a chilling reminder the chilling “banner”, the “warning sign” under which Serb aggression operated there in that BiH sovereign territory in the 1990’s: No Dogs, Catholics or Muslims Allowed.

 OHIO, Nov. 21, 1995 from Centre left: President Slobodan Milosevic of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, President Alija Izetbegovic of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and President Franjo Tudjman of the Republic of Croatia sign the Dayton Peace Accords. Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brian Schlumbohm

OHIO, Nov. 21, 1995
from Centre left:
President Slobodan Milosevic
of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,
President Alija Izetbegovic
of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina,
and President Franjo Tudjman of the Republic of Croatia
sign the Dayton Peace Accords.
Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Brian Schlumbohm

 

In November 1995 the primarily US-driven international Dayton Accords peace agreement ended the war in BiH and it preserved BiH as a single sovereign state, divided into two largely autonomous parts/entities: the Bosniak-Croatian Federation and the Serbian Republic. Dayton Accords, although made having peace in mind, in essence meant that peace had no chance as no conductive environment was created for proper reconciliation, in many ways the Serb aggressor was rewarded with its own region to govern autonomously. Dayton Accords agreement had sealed the fate of BiH as a sovereign state made up of three constitutional peoples (Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs) into a perpetual state of ethnic rivalry, recriminations, dysfunction and fear that Serbs were only “an inch” away from achieving their initial goal of creating their own sovereign state from parts of BiH’s sovereign territory they’d cleansed of all non-Serbs.

 

Milorad Dodik had officially, with apparent newfound determination, begun threatening to hold a referendum on secession of Serbian Republic from BiH in 2014 if Bosnia does not become a confederation of three states (Serb, Croat and Bosniak). At that time he sought to seize on the Crimean referendum and subsequent Russian annexation as a political and moral guide and an example of self-determination in action, however wrong, tragic and misguided these actions may have been held by the leaders of the Western democratic world. Dodik had planned for the referendum regarding 9 January as the Day of Serb Republic/ Statehood Day (which date by the way coincides with the Serb Orthodox religious holiday) to be held on 15 November 2015 but this and any such referendum was thwarted via BiH Constitutional Court’s ruling, making such referendums illegal.

Milorad Dodik September 2016 Photo: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic

Milorad Dodik
September 2016
Photo: Reuters/ Dado Ruvic

Defying BiH Constitutional Court and BiH Parliament, to which Serbian Republic answers, the referendum held Sunday 25 September saw the Serbs living in that entity in overwhelming numbers voting Yes to declaring 9 January as the Day of Serbian Republic. The relatively very few Croats and Bosniaks now living in the Serb Republic (having returned there post 1995 Dayton Accords agreement) had refused to vote in the referendum because, in essence, the referendum represents Dodik’s rehearsal for an eventual secession of Serb Republic from BiH and, therefore, the destruction of BiH as the world knows it now.

A further element of defiance and repulsive attempt to legitimise genocide and ethnic cleansing committed by Serbs in this referendum can be seen through Biljana Plavsic’s comments as she voted in the RS representative office in Belgrade, Serbia. Biljana Plavsic, whose actions in 1992 as a member of collective presidencies of both Bosnia and the breakaway Serbian Republic of Bosnia constituted crimes against humanity and who actively supported the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats in Serb-held lands, who is an ICTY convicted war criminal said last week that the referendum represents a defense of Serbian Republic – of that in which she herself had participated in the 1990’s.

Whether the leaders of Croatians and Bosniaks living in BiH consider Dodik’s defiant move with the referendum as some kind of an internationally acceptable foundation for a movement that would split BiH into three different ethnically defined sovereign states (Bosniak, Croat, Serb) is at this stage a disquieting point occupying a great deal of political analyses space throughout the world. As desirable as contemplation of such a division of BiH into three sovereign states may appear to each of the three ethnic groups at this moment may be, this articulated in the media desirability or political assessment in essence masks the real and dangerous prospect of the possibility of repeated Serb violence and aggression against Croatians and Bosniaks in BiH.

 

Croatian refugee families from Serb Republic still today in their thousands seek return to their rightful homes in Banja Luka. Photo: HINA

Croatian refugee families from Serb Republic
still today in their thousands seek return to their rightful homes in Banja Luka.
Photo: HINA

Dodik’s defiance with holding the referendum and his subsequent defiance of the BiH State Prosecutor by refusing to answer a summons to appear before the prosecutor regarding his breach of the Constitutional Court order that declared the referendum illegal, are acts that are very likely to motorise the Serb population’s energy for renewed attacks against non-Serbs in BiH. Dodik has found it handy to interpret everything commented against his referendum as threatening to his personal safety and so:
I will not go to the prosecutor’s office in Sarajevo but I am ready to give a statement in any other judiciary office in the Serb Republic,” Dodik told a news conference 27 September 2016. He therefore rejects the jurisdiction of the government of Bosnia Herzegovina to which Serbian Republic entity must answer. He has therefore, in his mind and in his deeds already cut Serbian Republic’s ties with BiH.
If Dodik fails to comply with a summons, and fails to justify it, the prosecution will then issue an arrest warrant,” said Bosnia’s Security Minister Dragan Mektic, a Bosnian Serb.

Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina with entities of Serb Republic/ Republika Srpska and Croat Bosniak Federation

Map of Bosnia and Herzegovina
with entities of
Serb Republic/ Republika Srpska
and Croat Bosniak Federation

 

All this says that Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a more dangerous state than at any other time since Dayton Accords in 1995, with looming possibility of renewed violence and crimes against humanity. It confirms that, despite atrocities committed in early 1990’s and guilt confirmed via international criminal tribunal and domestic criminal courts, Serbs have not learned to keep their fingers off sovereign territories and state borders that have been established/recognised on an international level for many decades. Collective catharsis associated with the atrocities and war crimes as some guarantee of lasting peace in BiH has made no progress despite Dayton Accords and the UN’s International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). This latest behavior of Bosnian Serbs evidences the fact that reconciliation in BiH (in former Yugoslavia, really) has been a pipe dream, and a utopian dream concocted by the West and the European Commission who thought that equating the aggressor with the victim would reap positive results of reconciliation and peace. Permitting Serbian Republic to exist within BiH in the first place was the beginning of that pipe dream, which was above all cruel to the victims of war crimes and, as such, it was never going to work. Daytom Accord should have either split BiH into three distinctive sovereign states (Bosniak, Croat and Serb) or insisted on retaining BiH as a single sovereign state without entities or divisions of autonomous territory between its constituent ethnic/national groups.

But as things have panned out, the world must cringe with disgust watching the referendum signatures of the majority of the genocidal Bosnian Serb “nation” celebrating without an inkling of shame or remorse their “state” founded on war crimes, forced deportations, ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, genocide, torture…and all that permitted by way of world leaders’ benign political statements that offer only political analyses of the past and no visible intention for decisive involvement to stop such lunacy that is creating new victims of the imposed ethnic Serb superiority in that region. This is a true perversion of justice for the victims of crimes against humanity and freedom to live peacefully anywhere within one’s country’s sovereign borders.

By way of referendum for Serb Republic Statehood Day Bosnian Serbs are erecting a monument to those who committed genocide. This comes without real sanctions and practical intervention against this shame for humanity as all of the political analyses and statements by world leaders about this appear more benevolent toward this Serb cause of celebrating genocide than toward anything else. Turbulent times are on the cards once again for Bosnia and Herzegovina; for Bosniaks and Croatians. Together with political instability in Macedonia, violent protests in Kosovo, the destabilisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina will have a destructive influence on the entire Balkan region. The referendum in Republika Srpska also perfectly shows how history can be used to drum up hostility between nations. Desirous of peace and life without fear, a life that moves away from daily infliction of pain contained in politically live reminders of the 1990’s war, Bosnian Croats may do well by utilising this latest practically unchecked Bosnian Serb defiance and seek their own independence or autonomy within or without BiH. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

A Horror Journal: Forget The Victims Of Serb Atrocities And Genocide!

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) Yellow represents Serbian Republic That part of BiH that was ethnically cleansed By Serbs

Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)
Yellow represents Serbian Republic
That part of BiH that was ethnically cleansed By Serbs

Today 9 January the political entity called Serbian Republic (Republika Srpska) is pushing ahead with celebrating its Day – the 21st anniversary of its own proclamation! This is also the 21st anniversary of the beginning of genocide and ethnic cleansing of all non-Serb nationals from the areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina where Serbs were in majority. Serb police, soldiers, and irregulars attacked Muslims and Croats, and burned and looted their homes. Some were killed on the spot; others were rounded up and killed elsewhere, or forced to flee. The genocide culminated in Srebrenica massacre of more than 8,000 Muslim (Bosniak) men and boys in July 1995. Then in November 1995 came the Dayton Agreement which ended the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina effectively dividing it into two political/administrative entities: Serbian Republic (Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Federations of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosniaks and Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Ahead of the anniversary of the Republika Srpska (RS) Bosnian entity, members of 25 associations, which represent Bosnian war victims, held a press conference on Monday 6 January aiming to raise public awareness for the crimes and foundations of that entity.
A postcard with a photo of exhumed body remains found in Tomasica, the largest mass grave in Bosnia after World War II discovered at the end of 2013, was prepared for the occasion.
The postcards of the remains unearthed 18 years after the end of the Bosnian war were sent to the addresses of RS authorities ahead of January 9, the Day of Republika Srpska.
“If you mark the Day of Republika Srpska, do not forget that these are its foundations,” wrote the post card.

Postcard sent to Serbian Republic,  Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6 January 2014

Postcard sent to Serbian Republic,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, 6 January 2014

Today, 9 January, the president of Serbian Republic, Milorad Dodik, celebrated Serbian Republic Day, marking it publicly perhaps for the first time for what it truly was intended to be from the very start: an independent state, which will then easily pin itself as part of Greater Serbia. He sent a message to the world that the Serbian will continue existing and be increasingly stronger and that its independence needs to be placed as a government and political goal.
Commenting on the Postcard from victims (referred to above) Dodig said that it arrived from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and not from Serbian (Republic) and that Serbian (Republic) is not governed by politics of ethnic hatred.
“If someone does not want reconciliation, they can only increase our convictions that we are on the right tracks of fighting for our status. Are they going to continue behaving negatively towards Serbian (Republic)? Of course they will. Many of them have suffered and lost their loved ones, but the Serbian side also had many who suffered”, said Dodik.
He said that the crimes were not committed in the name of Serbian Republic and that it never had plans of such kind, and that none of its leadership set such goals.

Oh yes they did Mr Dodik! The goal was to achieve an ethnically pure region (Serb) and in order to achieve that goal genocide, rape and forced deportation were employed as means to achieve that goal.

We must not allow that attempts that seek justice for perpetrators of genocide be labelled ethnic hatred.

During his visit to Sarajevo in 2010 Croatia’s president Ivo Josipovic urged Bosnian and regional leaders to put the past behind and work towards a shared, prosperous future in the European Union. He is been pushing the same agenda in Croatia: forget the Serb, or any other, crimes committed during the war of brutal aggression, move forward…

Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Victims do not forget, victims cannot forget! Victims must have justice! We owe the victims the dignity of ensuring that genocide does not win its targeted prize: freedom/independence. Just imagine what would happen if someone came up to the Jews and told them to forget the Holocaust, to stop hunting down the Nazis who killed. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

PLEASE READ “THERE IS NOTHING TO CELEBRATE” BY MISHKA GORA

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