‘Today, we fear for our lives again’: co-organiser of Sarajevo protests calls on peace implementers to act

CN: genocide, war, trauma


The ongoing security crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina shows no sign of abating. Bosnian-Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, continues to peddle a secessionist rhetoric that is yet to provoke meaningful repercussions for the politician. Now, documents accessed by regional press indicate the nationalist leader seeks to create a parallel judiciary, armed forces and border police for the Republika Srpska entity his party controls. The last time similar plans were drawn up, convicted war criminals Radovan Karadžić and the Serb commander Ratko Mladić went on to orchestrate a campaign of ethnic cleansing that saw tens of thousands of non-Serb civilians murdered.

In the likely event that Bosnia’s Constitutional Court were to strike down his plans, Dodik has threatened to use force to prevent state authorities from preserving peace. 26 years after the Dayton Accords were signed, Bosnian civilians, scholars and activists are calling on peace implementers and international leaders to help prevent another conflict and the loss of livelihoods that have been painstakingly rebuilt since the 1992-1995 war.

Two weeks ago, Suad Đozić and Sjeda Čavčić organised protests in Sarajevo. Protesters have called on the US, the EU and Bosnia’s incumbent High Representative, Christian Schmidt, to protect the constitutional and legal order of the country. New protests are to be held today between 10:00-12:00 local time (press release to be found at the end of the article).

In light of the increasing escalation of secessionist rhetoric and the potential for loss of life, Politika News spoke with protest co-organiser Suad Đozić about the situation on the ground, as well as the political context to what is happening. He did not mince his words.

The current political direction is heading for the greatest destabilisation in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the 1992-1995 war.

Why is the situation in Bosnia so dangerous now?

Because the radical ultra-nationalistic rhetoric has been purposefully set in motion to destabilise Bosnia-Herzegovina by the President of Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Milorad Dodik.

His political party controls and blocks the work of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Parliamentary Assembly, as well as the executive government – The Council of Ministers. Since Milorad Dodik has a majority in the Republika Srpska entity Assembly, his party has initiated and adopted decisions that resemble the same decisions wartime leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic instigated.

Those actions set Bosnia-Herzegovina on a path of destruction, bloodbath and the worst atrocities since World War Two, including genocide. Today, Bosnian citizens fear for their lives again. The current political direction is heading for the greatest destabilisation in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the 1992-1995 war.

Protest co-organiser Suad Đozić and Bosnian scholar, Dr. Esad Duraković, at the Sarajevo peace rally on 25 October

As someone who has lived with the reality of post-war Bosnia, how do you think things have reached this point in Bosnian politics?

It was expected, since the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina ended with a ceasefire and not with clear ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. 

The war criminals were not prosecuted at a level that would have ensured the politics that instigated the war were eradicated or pushed onto the margins with little or no influence at all. 

To this very day the war has continued by different means and methods. Even when there were some hopeful political initiatives, usually pushed by key players in the international community, or their representatives, they were all short-lived. 

Unfortunately, the constitutional arrangement within the Dayton peace agreement allowed for the use of some very effective blocking mechanisms – such as entity voting at the House of Representatives of the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia-Herzegovina – where nothing could move forward without the approval of one entity and usually one political party (RS and Dodik’s SNSD). It would have been a real surprise had anything been different today.

‘Some go as far as to advise their children to leave Bosnia altogether.’

What is the feeling among the Bosnian community? What are people feeling on the ground?

A lot of uneasiness, discomfort, fear and to some extent panic.

At first, everything appears to be fine with ordinary people on the ground. However, small group conversations among people who know each other or trust each other show a great level of worry. Some go as far as to advise their grown-up children to leave Bosnia altogether.

More and more people ask openly if a war is going to happen. The ongoing fear-inciting rhetoric has put people on the greatest level of alarm. This won’t go away easily.

‘The OHR is a lame duck.’

There are several institutions, including the EUFOR military deployment and the OHR (Office of the High Representative), that have been put in place to keep Bosnians safe. Are they doing enough?

Almost no one takes them seriously. 

Bearing in mind the experience of the Srebrenica genocide and other atrocities in other places where we had the authorisation for full use of power to protect the people, including in the United Nations so-called “safe havens”, hardly anyone trusts the international agencies will provide anything close to serious protection this time around. 

The EUFOR size is insignificant. Hence their mandate is only to support the Bosnian security forces and not act alone. Considering that it is impossible to have a consensus for inviting EUFOR to act on the part of the instigators of violence, the EUFOR’s presence is, therefore, rendered insignificant. 

The OHR, on the other hand, is a lame duck. Long past is the time when the High Representative was using “Bonn Powers” to remove obstructive politicians. Now he seems to share the fate of all Bosnians in equal measure. With the clear threat of veto powers at the UN Security Council by both Russia and China it is not feasible to expect any shift towards more affirmative behaviour.

‘Peace is under threat. The Bosnian powder keg is at a tipping point.’

According to the regional press, Milorad Dodik intends on creating – among other things – a separate judiciary, armed forces and border police. What would be the consequences of this for peace in Bosnia?

The actions of Milorad Dodik and his followers are leading to a complete destabilisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Peace is under threat. 

An open and calculated process of enacting secessionist laws in the RS Entity Assembly is directly in breach of the Constitution and the Dayton Peace Agreement. Although the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina is to deem them unconstitutional, Milorad Dodik shows no signs of desisting. Quite on the contrary, he threatens to use force to stop the state Security and Investigation Protection Agency to carry out their work in the Republika Srpska entity. 

This is a call to action and an open threat to using force against a state agency. No one will watch Milorad Dodik take Bosnia apart neither by force nor in silence. Karadžic and Mladić led the war to conquer desired territory and expel the non-Serb population. Milorad Dodik wants to assume the same territorial control without having any higher authority overlooking it. The Bosnian powder keg is at a tipping point. 

‘No lasting peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina is possible while the dark forces of the 1990s are still in power’.

If the EU, NATO, EUFOR, the OHR – if all these institutions fail to respond adequately to Dodik, what happens next?

Milorad Dodik knows there is no way back from the decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CCBH). It has ruled on several occasions since 2012 that the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina belongs to the state and not to the lower administrative units. 

The fact that 54% of the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina according to the CCBH bears the title deeds in the name of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that the exclusive competency for any decision in respect of its disposal rests with the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina, means Milorad Dodik has only one move: to start the war again. An alternative, of course, is to escalate the political and security situation to such a high point that all the international agencies will bear down on Bosnian politicians to pass laws giving state property in the RS entity to “Milorad Dodik” in order to stop further escalation. 

No one can back down now after the clear rulings of the CCBH without risking losing power. Knowing that, Milorad Dodik, has embarked on declaring “the autonomous Republika Srpska within Bosnia-Herzegovina”. Should there be an “armed incident” he will call upon his political sponsors to initiate an international mediation which will suspend the current constitutional order and decisions of the CCBH to appease him.

While the political wrangling is going on, it cannot be ignored that some ordinary citizens could strike out under the pressure of everyday media campaign. The same response was witnessed in 1992. Living with the same fear of no one protecting them will push them to take the situation into their own hands. This will play into Milorad Dodik’s plan just as he would want to.

No lasting peace in Bosnia-Herzegovina is possible while the dark political forces of the 1990s are still in power fighting the war by other means. The international community with its various agencies should have done things differently to take them out of politics. Now it all seems a little too late.

However, let us choose to live in hope of a different scenario, albeit with some very unfavourable odds. Should the United States decide to act differently, as in 1995, we might see a different scenario very soon. All the mechanisms to resolve the current situation are on the ground and in place: the High Representative powers.

Politika News would like to thank Suad Đozić for his time. BSC speakers can access the press release for today’s rally below.

Article Images Credit: Suad Đozić

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