Is Bosnia on the verge of breakup?
Plus: What we're reading, and an update from the chancelleries
Cristina Maza, the author of our weekly reading list, recently spoke to Jasmin Mujanović, the author of Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans. She’s shared the transcript of her interview:
Cristina: I understand that Bosnian Serb politician Milorad Dodik has put forward proposals that would essentially separate the Serbian entity Republika Srpska (RS) from the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina.1 But he’s made threats like this before. Why is he being taken more seriously now?
Jasmin: The reason it’s being taken more seriously is because he laid out very concrete steps that he wants to take, and he’s actually begun taking these steps.
Bosnian media published a memorandum that his party submitted to the Republika Srpska Assembly. It outlines in detail, over the course of some 100 pages, all of the so-called competencies they believe have been unduly transferred from the entity level to the Bosnian state.
He’s really driving toward a de facto secession by proposing such a profound degree of separation from the state institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the creation of parallel institutions. That’s secession in all but name.
Indeed, he’s explicitly threatened that not only would he recreate the VRS—the former Bosnian Serb army2—but use the Republika Srpska’s security services to expel government officials from the territory of RS. He’s taking a very alarming set of escalating steps.
He has refrained from saying explicitly that this is secession. He’s framed it as going for what he calls “the original Dayton [accord],” which is a completely spurious concept that he’s invented, or has had lobbyists concoct for him.
The Office of the High Representative (OHR) and other foreign observers see it as the most serious crisis since the end of the war.
Cristina: Is the alarm primarily because of Dodik’s actions, or are other factors weakening the state?
Jasmin: Dodik’s efforts are the centerpiece, and I can’t remember if we’ve ever had such an explicit report from the High Representative. It makes very clear that this is the most serious political and perhaps security crisis since the end of the war.
Then there is the surreal aspect that, as we are reading this report, for the first time, a High Representative has been prevented from addressing the UN Security Council because of the growing clout and interference and involvement of the Russian Federation on behalf of Dodik. That’s where we get the sinister geopolitics that are very alarming to a lot of ordinary Bosnians.
But Dodik is not alone, in this sense. Aside from the support that he gets from Russia and from Belgrade, without which he couldn’t do any of what he is doing, the reality is he has a tremendous amount of support from the Croat nationalist establishment, and from the HDZ (the right-nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, or Hrvatska Demokratska Zajednica), in particular.
Cristina: What’s the legal basis for the proposals Dodik is putting forward? Has anyone made a legal argument that his proposals should be permitted under the Dayton Agreement?
Jasmin: No, there isn’t any legal basis. Dodik’s argument is that there has been an illegal transfer of authority from the entity level to the state level. He accuses the High Representative of having done a great deal of this.
But he neglects to mention that most of the competencies, including the formation of the Bosnian armed forces, were created through acts of the Bosnian Parliament. They are legal by every definition of the term.
Specifically, the way he’s proposing to address all of these presumed illegalities is to have the Republika Srpska National Assembly simply pass resolutions and laws that he claims will somehow magically overrule the Bosnian Constitutional Court, the OHR, and the Bosnian parliament.
You can either overturn a law through an act of parliament, or you can go to the courts and the courts may strike down a law—and that’s kind of it.
Technically, in Bosnia, you can appeal to the OHR, and the OHR can then issue a new law that would overturn the existing law. There are avenues to address his grievances.
But what he’s saying is that a subnational unit, an administrative region of the Bosnian state, has the authority and competence to overrule state authorities, the state judiciary, and the state executive—which again, is not true.
That’s why this is secession in all but name, because he’s assuming powers for the Republika Srpska that he can only assume by going outside of the established legal order of the country.
He’s by definition undermining the constitutional order of Bosnia and Herzegovina` and the country’s rule of law.
Cristina: How have people in Republika Srpska responded to this? Is this a politically popular move?
Jasmin: It’s a little bit hard to tell. The RS opposition parties have been extremely critical of Dodik’s push. They’ve characterized this as his own personal gambit and one that’s very much imperiling the entity’s existence.
They think that in the event of a serious crisis in Bosnia, it’s possible it will go very badly for supporters of the RS.
What the attitude of the public at large is, though, it’s tough to tell. Keep in mind that Dodik has created a quasi-police state in the entity, a quasi-autocracy.
We’ve seen the weakening of the regime take place over the last few years. In particular, we saw it on display during the recent local elections in Bosnia, when it lost the mayoral race in a number of key cities, including the capital of the region, Banja Luka.
I think that gives us a bit of a sense of why he’s doing this. He understands that despite all of his efforts to turn the RS into a private fiefdom, there are residual quasi-democratic avenues, largely thanks to the entity’s embeddedness in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a whole. He’s concerned that there’s a scenario in which he could lose power through elections.
The problem for Milorad Dodik is that he knows that when that happens, or if that happens, he has really only two options. He’s going to end up like Nikola Gruevski, and he’ll be in exile in someplace like Budapest, or Moscow, or Belgrade. Or he’s going to be in prison.
There is no option in which Milorad Dodik retires and hangs out, or becomes a ho-hum opposition leader. That is not the way this thing is going to go.
He knows that. So he’s painted himself into a corner such that he has to create a very dramatic situation, one where he can preserve his own political and personal freedom.
That is, fundamentally, what’s animating a lot of this. This is not to discount that he’s a true believer in the ideological project of Serb nationalism in Bosnia.
What Cristina’s writing:
• An article about the escalating conflict in Ethiopia and a new bill in Congress to sanction anyone responsible for derailing peace negotiations.
• An article about the US and EU response to the crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. The European Union plans to announce new sanctions against Belarus as early as next week, and the White House intends to follow suit:
“Both the EU and the United States must impose strict sanctions,” said Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the former president of Estonia and an expert on regional security.
“The problem is that a number of countries have cutouts,” Ilves noted. “The primary lender to the Lukashenko regime is Raiffeisen Bank in Austria. The EU imposed sanctions, but then countries claim national cutouts. You’re not going to do much damage if they can keep borrowing money from European banks.”
• Petr Fiala, the head of the Czech Republic’s Together coalition, will be appointed as the country’s next head of government as Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš steps down, Politico Europe reports.
• In North Macedonia, a bid to topple Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s government stalled after the opposition failed to reach a quorum because one MP went missing, Balkan Insight reports. Zaev announced his resignation last month but never actually stepped down.
• A man wanted by the FBI for allegedly participating in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol is seeking political asylum in Belarus, Radio Free Europe reports.
• A coordinated action against the REvil cybercrime group was announced by the U.S. Department of Justice, Europol, and the Romanian police. Two alleged hackers, one from Romania and one from Ukraine, were arrested. The Justice Department also seized US$1.6 million in cryptocurrency from the group. You can read the indictment here.
• US Deputy Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar traveled to Bosnia and Herzegovina to calm rumblings of potential violence. “The most important thing we agreed with all of the interlocutors we met today is that we all agreed that there will be no war,” Escobar said, according to Balkan Insight. US special envoy Matthew Palmer was also in the country to push for electoral reform.
• The crisis on the border between Poland and Belarus has escalated, with armed Belarusian authorities escorting hundreds of migrants, including children, toward the European Union. Some videos showed shots fired, allegedly to keep the migrants from returning to Belarus. Politico Europe has the report. In response, Poland’s interior ministry sent 12,000 troops to the border with Belarus and used teargas to stop migrants from crossing.
• Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “masterminding” the migrant crisis on Belarus’s border with the EU, the Guardian reports. From Claire—Mark Galeotti, whose books we’ve discussed in the Cosmopolitan Globalist Book Club, takes issue with this analysis: “it is foolish to underestimate Lukashenko’s personal agency,” he writes for bne Intellinews.
• Poland warned of a possible “armed” escalation on its border with Belarus, the BBC reports. From Claire—the French politician Frédéric Petit reported on Twitter that the former Belarusian culture minister and ambassador to France, who is now in exile, has conveyed to him bloodcurdling information. According to Petit, the exiled minister says the regime is preparing to send trained combat veterans into the EU to commit terrorist attacks. They are training for this, he says, at a base near the village of Opsa in northwestern Belarus, which belongs to the Special Active Measures Department of the Belarusian National Border Committee. The minister claims GRU advisors are participating in this training. (If true, this would strongly militate against Galeotti’s thesis.) Initially, he says, the operations would be directed against Belarusian political and civil society figures in exile. Is it true? One can think of many reasons to doubt this report, but Petit tells me his interlocutor has never so far given him bad information.
• Russia deployed strategic bombers to Belarus’s airspace amid escalating tensions between Belarus and Poland, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• Russia blamed the EU for the migrant crisis on the border between Belarus and Poland, Reuters reports.
• Lukashenko threatened to cut off Russian gas flowing to Europe via Belarus, Politico Europe reports.
• Bloomberg reports that the US is discussing with the EU concerns that Russia may be preparing for an invasion of Ukraine.
• The Russian Defense Ministry accused the US military of “aggressive” action in the Black Sea, Reuters reports.
• Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia may be looking to “move further” into Ukraine, ABC news reports.
• Recommended: Ben Makuch’s piece for VICE on the bizarre coup attempt by pro-MAGA mercenaries in Venezuela. Not only is it interesting, it’s very well-written.
• Mexican authorities made their first arrest in connection to Israeli security firm NSO Group’s Pegasus malware, according to a statement from their Attorney General’s office.
• The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said that Facebook could pursue a lawsuit accusing Israel’s NSO Group of exploiting a glitch in its WhatsApp messaging app to install Pegasus malware, The Wire reports.
• Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega detained at least seven political rivals and won the country’s election last weekend, the BBC reports.
• Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is receiving support from former President Donald Trump and his allies in his attempt to question the legitimacy of Brazil's presidential election, scheduled for next year, the New York Times reports.
• El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele deployed the military to patrol the streets in the capital San Salvador and other parts of the country to combat rising homicide rates, Deutsche Welle reports.
• The head of Iran’s environment department said Tehran will only ratify the Paris climate agreement if sanctions against the country are lifted, the BBC reports.
• Houthi forces in Yemen breached a compound in Sanaa that housed the American Embassy and detained Yemeni security employees of the US government, the State Department said.
• Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi was targeted in an assassination attempt by explosive-laden drones at his residence, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• The UN Security Council expressed “deep concern” about clashes between troops associated with the Myanmar junta and fighters from a militant group in the Rakhine state, Agence France-Presse reports.
• Myanmar sentenced American journalist Danny Fenton to 11 years in prison, the Guardian reports.
• Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered citizens to sign up for military training and gave security forces the authority to detain anyone they suspect of cooperating with rebel forces as rebel groups advance on the capital, the Wall Street Journal reports. Tens of thousands marched in the capital of Addis Ababa to support Ahmed and accuse foreign media and the US of attempting to undermine the prime minister and his government.
• A newly-formed alliance of Ethiopian opposition factions pledged to take down Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and then form a transitional government, Reuters reports. The alliance is named the United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces. It includes the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Army.
• The State Department established a new task force to oversee its “planning, management and logistics” in response to the events in Ethiopia, Foreign Policy reports. Cristina confirmed this for the article she wrote this week about Ethiopia.
• Two Cambodian officials were blacklisted by the US for their involvement in a corruption scheme at one of Cambodia’s naval bases, Reuters reports.
Claire—what a week.
From the Chancelleries
What the State Department says:
What the Elysée Palace says:
What the European Council says:
What the Zhongnanhai says:
The Cosmopolitan Globalist is as ever grateful to the great Cristina Maza. Read more by her here.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is comprised of two entities: the Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. An “entity” here is roughly analogous to an American state; Bosnia and Herzegovina is the larger federal structure. The vast majority of Croats and Bosniaks were expelled from what is now the Republika Srpska during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.