The assembly of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, will hold a special session next week to vote on holding a referendum challenging the authority of Bosnia’s High Representative and the state judicial institutions.
The session was requested by the Republika Srpska President, Milorad Dodik, who is launching the initiative for the second time in four years.
International officials, local experts as well as Bosnian Serb opposition parties have condemned the plan.
Srdjan Puhalo, a Banjaluka-based political analyst, said the political and societal division of Republika Srpska into “patriots and traitors” wa being artificially created to draw public attention away from a catastrophic economic situation.
“The Republika Srpska authorities still have no solution on how to compensate for the lack of an IMF credit and so the budget deficit grows to some 250 million euro," Puhalo told BIRN on Wednesday. "That is why authorities try to draw attention to others issues, far away from everyday life,” he added.
Assembly speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic says the referendum question will be: “Do you support the anti-constitutional and unauthorized laws imposed by the High Representative of the international community, especially the laws imposed relating to the Court and the Prosecutor's office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the implementation of their decisions on Republika Srpska’s territory?”
However, Cubrilovic said in Banja Luka on Tuesday that this formula was only a proposal and the words could be reformulated following the assembly debate.
Cubrilovic also stressed that the referendum would not violate the terms of the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord.
“The referendum and its decision, no matter what it would be, won’t jeopardize the integrity and sovereignty of Bosnia Herzegovina,” he said, adding that the main motive of the referendum was only to reform the rule of law system in Bosnia.
International officials and Western diplomats are unconvinced.
“Referendum is unilateral, and in violation of Dayton not in its defense. Time is to act for a peaceful, prosperous future in BiH,” the US embassy said on Twitter over the weekend.
Dodik has been using the idea of holding of a referendum to challenge the authority of the state institutions and the Office of the High Representative since 2006, mostly for election purposes.
He launched a similar initiative in 2011, which EU officials prevented and negotiated a peaceful resolution by initiating judicial reform in Bosnia.
This time, the Bosnian Serb opposition bloc – which is stronger now than it was in 2011, and is threatening to take over control of the assembly, has rebuffed the idea and accused Dodik of political adventurism.
Dodik replied by accusing the opposition of betraying Serbian interests to Bosniak leaders. “We cannot cope with the burden of betrayal,” Dodik said on Sunday at Mt Kozara, addressing people who gathered to commemorate the plight of people in the region during World War II. Dodik listed all key opposition leaders by name, tagging them as traitors.
“The Republika Srpska is in trouble because it has fake representatives in common [state] institutions,” Dodik said, referring to the fact that the main Bosniak and Croat parties have selected Serbian opposition partners in the state coalition, instead of Dodik’s party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD.
The main opposition Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, on Sunday called on Dodik to resign, saying he had misused his presidential position to promote his own political party.
“Dodik will not be able to use fraud and lies to escape responsibility for his ten-year reign,” the SDS said on Sunday, adding that during Dodik’s reign, “Republika Srpska was the place of the greatest robbery of the people and today it is the poorest nation in the region and Europe.”
Another Bosnian Serb opposition party, the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP, also joined the ring on Tuesday.
“This issue is too serious and can inflict damage on Republika Srpska. We are ready to end the referendum story, which has been abused for almost a whole decade,” Branislav Borenovic, PDP vice-president, said on Tuesday.
He added that the opposition bloc has serious complaints about the state judiciary but referendum was not the tool to fix that problem.
However, experts and diplomats said the heated public debate was working in favour of Dodik, drawing public attention away from the fact that Republika Srpska and the rest of Bosnia face the threat of bankruptcy in the next couple of months.
“It is the old story about patriots and traitors,” Puhalo told BIRN. “If authorities have to face citizens whose wages and pensions are late, this is useful tactic to scare them with something else,” he added.