Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik proposed on Tuesday that a referendum challenging the authority of the state-level judiciary and Bosnia’s top international official, the High Representative, should take place at the beginning of September.
“The referendum question should be: do you support the anti-constitutional and unauthorised laws imposed by the High Representative of the international community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially the laws imposed related 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?” Dodik told journalists in Banja Luka.
“Of course, we expect a big ‘no’,” he added.
Dodik launched the referendum idea after complaining that Bosnia’s state-level judiciary has done nothing to push forward the case against the Bosniak wartime commander in Srebrenica, Naser Oric, who was extradited to Sarajevo last week.
Dodik and other Bosnian Serb politicians have complained that state persecution has been focusing too much on the war crimes committed by Bosnian Serbs and ignoring those committed by other ethnic groups.
If held, the referendum would be seen as the first step in the break-up of Bosnia and Herzegovina and would deepen the country’s political crisis.
However the entire opposition bloc in Republika Srpska, led by the Serb Democratic Party, opposes Dodik’s idea.
The idea was also criticised by the US embassy in Sarajevo, which noted that the state-level judiciary was part of the Dayton Peace Agreement that ended the war.
“No entity can hold a referendum on competencies that belong to the State,” the embassy said in a written statement for BIRN.
“An independent judiciary is the cornerstone of any democracy, and should be respected by all,” it said.
Dodik launched a similar referendum initiative in 2011 but backed down after facing imminent sanctions from the international community. He said on Tuesday that he would ask for a special session of the Republika Srpska National Assembly to reactivate the referendum issue.
Sanctions were averted at the last moment in 2011 when EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton flew to Bosnia and negotiated a solution with Dodik, which included the launch of the so-called ‘structured dialogue’ on the reform of Bosnia’s judiciary. Dodik told media on Tuesday however that this agreement had proved to be “a hoax”.
But unlike in 2011, when Dodik had strong support in the Republika Srpska National Assembly, which requires a simple majority for the adoption of a referendum initiative, Dodik’s position today is much weaker.
His ruling coalition is struggling to maintain control over the entity and has lost power on the state level.
The Serb Democratic Party said on Tuesday that Dodik and his party had “abused” the referendum issue.
“There is no clear plan as to what will they do after the referendum. There is no information about which countries will support Republika Srpska in such an activity,” the party said in a statement.
The Bosnian Serb chairman of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency and the leader of the second-strongest Serb opposition party, the Party of Democratic Progress, Mladen Ivanic, said Dodik appeared to be serious about the referendum idea but accused him of “short-term politics”.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Bosniak speaker of the state House of Representatives and a senior leader of the Party of Democratic Action, told BIRN meanwhile that the initiative was undermining the constitutional order and threatening stability.
“This all is about questions that address the sovereignty of Bosnia and Herzegovina and no one has the right to undermine [its] sovereignty,” Dzaferovic said.
“This can lead to instability in the political situation and we need the opposite, reforms and integration,” he added.