Articles on the Bosnia Conflict



Report #4—Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption
By Peter Lippman
Fall, 2015

2015 Report index

Report 1 Introduction/overview, Sarajevo, activism.
Report 2Immiseration and resignation.  Prospects for activism.
Report 3:  Prijedor. 
Report 4:  Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption.
Report 5:  Srebrenica. 
Report 6:  Tuzla, Mostar, and activism.
Report 7The wave of refugees coming into Europe.

Previous journals and articles

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Every time there is a new perceived threat to "stability" in Bosnia-Herzegovina, usually at the hands of Republika Srpska President Dodik, international commentators say "this is the worst crisis since Dayton." And I say that commentators should look closer at the post-Dayton history of Bosnia, and they will see that it is all crisis, and no stability.

This is how Dodikand his Croat and Bosniak counterpartsmaintain their positions of power: by keeping their international minders and domestic state authorities off balance. It happens that Dodik is better at the game than the Bosniak and Croat leaders. But in politics, every power game eventually comes to an end.

In the last half year, Dodik has been calling for a referendum to be held in the RS. Since the beginning of Dodik's nearly ten-year reign in that entity, he has threatened referendum several times. His referendum would ask the citizens of the RS whether or not they favored secession from Bosnia.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the concept of referendum has a strong association with war, because the 1992-95 war began just as a referendum calling for Bosnia to secede from Yugoslavia was taking place. That referendum did not cause the war, of course, but it added flame to the fire and gave a pretext to extreme Serb nationalists in their pending campaign to ethnically homogenize and divide the country.

In the present case, Dodik's referendum is not about secession, but asks, in ridiculously leading language, whether voters of the Republika Srpska support the state-level Constitutional Court and prosecutors of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This Court was established by the Bosnian Parliament in 2002, putting into effect an earlier decree by the High Representative. As such, the Court is seen by those who would break up Bosnia-Herzegovina as an illegal imposition by the international community. This interpretation of affairs ignores the legal power that the High Representative has had in administering an international semi-protectorate over the country.

The Constitutional Court adjudicates matters regulated by the state constitution, a Dayton document (Annex IV). It also deals with criminal proceedings, with one court that covers war crimes and a separate one for organized crime. The Constitutional Court is composed of two Croats, two Serbs, two Bosniaks, and three international judges, these latter appointed by the High Representative. For more background on the Court, see Dayton's Broken Justice.

Given the fact that the international judges tend to agree with the Bosniak officials on decisions that would preserve the state, as opposed to contributing to its dissolution, it often happens that a Court decision will be brought by a majority of five (Bosniaks and internationals) to four (Croats and Serbs).

The language of Dodik's current referendum asks voters if they support the “anti-constitutional and unauthorised laws imposed by the High Representative of the international community, especially the laws imposed relating to the [state] court and the prosecutor’s office of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”

It can be seen from this wording that the referendum, albeit quite vague, attacks not only the state-level Court but the prosecutorial office as well. It generally seeks to undermine any state-level authority over the entities; this has been Dodik's agenda since he came into office in 2006.

The threat of referendum has always been a trick up Dodik's sleeve. It is a way to distract his own constituency, to unnerve the international community, and to force voters in the Republika Srpska to move in lockstep in his support.

The proximate cause of the present referendum was the arrest of Srebrenica's wartime commander Naser Orić in Switzerland, along with circumstances ensuing from that arrest. Orić was detained in June of this year in response to a warrant issued via Interpol by the government of Serbia. It has been Serbia's habit over the last few years to mistreat Bosnian public figures (Ejup Ganić and Jovan Divjak, for example) by prompting their detention in foreign countries. Serbia's state prosecutor would like to haul such people into court in Serbia and throw them in prison after a show trial, but this tactic has met with limited success.

After some weeks of deliberation, Switzerland opted to turn Orić over to custodyin Bosnia, under the jurisdiction of the state court, rather than in Serbia. This disappointed and enraged nationalist Bosnian Serb officials who are, in a way, still fighting the war of the 1990s. Orić was extradited to the Bosnian authorities and released, although they are going through the motions of a trial. This trial may or may not go very far. Orić was already tried and acquitted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague; however, the ICTY rejected an appeal from Orić in mid-December to halt Bosnian war-crimes proceedings against him.

As if in direct response to the decision not to send Orić to Serbia, Dodik announced that he would hold a referendum on people's support for the Bosnian court and prosecution. It is most likely that the Orić episode is not of real import to Dodik, but that it provided the occasion for one of Dodik's periodic escalations.

Over the months since the announcement of the referendum, officials from all sides have criticized it. International officials have declared it illegal; pro-Bosnia officials in the Federation have warned of its potential destabilizing effect; and the opposition in the RS has also criticized the initiative. Banja Luka analyst Srdjan Puhalo wrote that Dodik is using it "to divert attention from the economic hardships that people in Republika Srpska are facing." And a high official of the opposition party SDS said that the referendum was "yet another of the unserious games and performances of Milorad Dodik."

British Ambassador to Bosnia Edward Ferguson stated that he believed that Dodik would drop the idea of what he termed the "unnecessary and unconstitutional" referendum, to which Dodik responded that Ferguson "was not invited to evaluate what is necessary or constitutional." And even Prime Minister of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, who has generally been a consistent supporter of the RS's policies, called on Dodik to "think again about holding the referendum." Dodik commented that "Vučić does not fully understand" the situation.

In lieu of support from Serbia, it appears that in the present case Dodik is relying on support from Russia—or at least, he is interested in appearing to have support from that country. In a statement after a meeting with a Russian delegation on December 11, Dodik praised Russia for its "support in the implementation of the Dayton agreement." And, having very recently testified in The Hague for the defense of indicted war criminal Ratko Mladić, Dodik also found it pertinent to thank the Russian Duma (Parliament) for its support of Mladić.

The SDS, which was headed by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić and which led the war of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, has led the Republika Srpska opposition to President Dodik for the last ten-odd years. For the most part it has headed up a loyal opposition that collaborated in a more or less united front against the Federation and the state of Bosnia, but in the recent couple of years, sensing a gradual weakening of Dodik's power, it has led its coalition into a different mode: that of ongoing frontal opposition to the president.

The opposition coalition won the Serb position in the state-level presidency last year by a close vote, and this was a blow to Dodik's hegemony over the Bosnian Serb constituency. Since then, SDS and friends have consistently hammered away at Dodik. One point of attack has been, of course, the corruption of Dodik and his cronies. (Presumably, the sincere underlying sentiment involved here is jealousy, but never mind.) And there has been a greater element of cooperation with pro-Bosnia forces in the Federation, which leads to the accusation by Dodik that the opposition is composed of "traitors to the RS."

The Banja Luka-based journalist Gordana Katana evaluated the opposition's behavior thus: "Now, after a decade of standstill, wherein the national interest is interpreted as more important than life, at the state level some different people are representing the RS. Those who have replaced the quarrels and defiance with dialogue and who are slowly but surely leading BiH out of the mire of isolation and poverty. So, this is the route by which one builds and respects regulations and on which the general good becomes more important than the individual. Which does not allow room for the corruption, nepotism, and lawlessness in which the RS has sunk."

Editor of the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje Vildana Selimbegović has filled out the description of the behavior of the RS opposition, writing that it "is not giving up on Srpska nor on Serbs nor on Serbia, but its ambition is to arrive at its goals via the European route. [Its leaders] are not opposed to erasing the border with Serbia, but between saber-rattling and war threats, from which Belgrade has turned away, and the European Union, they choose the latter, giving priority to the struggle for a stronger economy and a fatter wallet."

Corruption in the RS

For quite some months now the Republika Srpska opposition has been escalating its focus on the corruption of Dodik's regime. Every successive accusation is accompanied by the characterization of Dodik's referendum as a distraction and a trick to garner support for his party in the nationwide municipal elections scheduled for fall 2016.

It is always tempting to write off the RS opposition's accusations of corruption on the part of the ruling party in that entity as a political maneuver calculated to tip the scales of power. On the other hand, on average, in Bosnia-Herzegovina any accusation of corruption leveled in any direction is going to have at least an element of truth to it. In the case of the RS opposition's discussion of corruption, both aspects apply: they have been part of the opposition's power ploy, and they have been true. Many of the cases brought up by the opposition are already widely known. The present round of discussions is simply an opportunity to air the scandals publicly again.

One of the prominent corruption cases involving Dodik's ruling party, the SNSD, pertains to the Bijeljina-based bank, Bobar Banka. In late July of this year the state-level Bosnian Attorney filed charges against four bank officials for embezzlement of 5 million euros. A report on the bank scandal that led to these charges related that "the bank made huge loans to people close to the government, 'on the basis of purely personal considerations.' Those loans had now become 'bad debts: these people acted on the basis of the belief that the bank was theirs to do as they pleased.'" (See this article.)

This kind of predatory activity sounds scandalous, but it has been standard behavior in many banks in both Bosnian entities over the years. It happens that banks are created with a fund of capital: then that capital disappears, and some high political functionary buys a mansion in Belgrade or in an elite neighborhood of Sarajevo.

In the case of Bobar Banka, about a year ago the government of the Republika Srpska attempted to recapitalize the depleted bank by compelling state-owned corporations controlled by the RS to make hefty deposits in the bank. This maneuver failed and the bank froze more than 40,000 accounts, including those of small holders—but also those of Brčko District, Trebinje, and Elektroprivreda RS, the entity's electrical distribution company.

With some 250 million KM having disappeared in the case of Bobar Banka and a similar sum embezzled from the Balkan Investment Bank (another RS institution), the accusation that Dodik's referendum campaign is calculated to distract the public is an unavoidable one. And the bank scandals are merely two of a rather long list of cases involving embezzlement: Lithuanian investors pillaged and ruined the Birač aluminum factory; the pipe factory in Derventa and the Boska department store in Banja Luka were privatized under suspicious circumstances, as was the land used for a building site next to the Agricultural Department of the university at Banja Luka. All these rip-offs amounted to more than a billion KM in losses for the RS.

There's much more to this story, particularly connected to crooked privatization, but suffice it to say that it is something like the "natural order" of political power arrangements in Bosnia that the ruling party gets the right to enrich its functionaries by decimating those parts of the economy that fall under its purview.

While the RS opposition pounds away at the corruption of Dodik and his party cronies, Dodik calls the leaders of the opposition parties "traitors" because they are in a political alliance with their counterparts in the Federation at the state level. That is, they are behaving as if Bosnia-Herzegovina is a state. In light of this, Gordana Katana has characterized Dodik's resistance thus: "The whole story about traitorous politics is not merely due to regret that the SNSD is no longer part of the state government. The problem is deeper and it reflects an obvious fear that, while for years the investigative and judicial authorities of the RS have not done so, investigation of numerous financial and economic scandals could be undertaken by the state authorities."

In the course of leveling a series of accusations against Dodik, in the spring of 2015 president of the SDS Mladen Bosić called Dodik a thief, saying that he had stolen millions of KM over the years. In response to this, Dodik filed a lawsuit against Bosić for libel. Bosić took this as an invitation to present hundreds of pages of documentation to the RS Basic Court, saying that the documents would prove that Dodik had damaged the entity budget for hundreds of millions of KM. Bosić also announced that he would call some twenty witnesses to testify.

But the Basic Court judge refused to allow any live witness testimony. In response, one of Bosić's witnesses immediately released information to the media about Dodik's corruption. This was Gordan Milinić, former Bosnian Ambassador to Russia. Milinić recalled the wartime days of Dodik's smuggling of cigarettes, for which Dodik is still sometimes called "Mile Ronhill." (Mile is a nickname for Milorad, and Ronhill is a popular brand of cigarettes.) At one point during Dodik's smuggling career, wartime army commander Ratko Mladić confiscated a truckload of Dodik's cigarettes and distributed them to his soldiers. Milinić relates that Dodik "walked around like a fly without its head," saying, "How can they take away my truckload, I'm a [RS parliamentary] representative!" Milinić also related that the RS wartime government was preparing to arrest Dodik, but that he came under the protection of Momčilo Krajišnik, Serb separatist leader and eventual war crimes convict.

Milinić also recalled an incident where a contractor gave Dodik a kilo of gold in return for being illegally awarded exploitation rights to a coal mine near Bosanski Novi. Regarding his various accusations, Milinić said, "I call on him [Dodik] and I say that he has two choices: to resign, or to go with me to take a polygraph test, but Dodik will still have to resign."

The state-level prosecutor offered Milinić protected witness status for his testimony, but he declined, saying that he did not need a pseudonym, "it is known who Gordan Milinić is." Milinić also commented that there was no use in pursuing corruption charges against Dodik in the RS entity court, as he had "installed many of his own people" there.

More recently, in mid-November officials from the state-level police agency SIPA (State Investigation and Protection Agency) raided another Bijeljina-based bank,
Pavlović Banka. The raid occurred at the same time that Mladen Bosić announced that he was going to file charges against Dodik for corruption related to the bank. Bosić alleged that the owner of the bank had paid for a mansion in Belgrade on behalf of Dodik. In return, Dodik commented that the raid was a case of "political abuse."

Amidst all the accusations and counter-charges, the RS government has had to take measures to cover its drastic budget shortfall. Since loans from foreign governments are in short supply, and since it is not so easy to find new state-owned properties to sell off in short order, Dodik resorted to an ever more common solution practiced at many levels of government in Bosnia-Herzegovina: taking a private loan. In this case, in October of this year Dodik borrowed $300 million from a shadowy US-based investment fund. The loan is supposed to cover shortfalls in 2015 and 2016, and to pay hefty government employee salaries and pensions. But a proposal for the loan was not submitted to the RS Parliament for consideration. Journalist Boris Mrkela asserts that this fishy loan is another reason that Dodik is promoting the referendum.

In early November Dodik, in a bit of political theater, filed a lawsuit against himself with the RS and state-level prosecutorial offices. He explained that he took this measure in order to bring the campaign of accusations against him to a head, and as prosecution witnesses he named Mladen Bosić and other leading opposition figures. Commenting that Dodik's move was not at all funny, opposition campaigners promised to deliver plentiful evidence in support of their accusations. One asked, "Why are pensions so small, why are there no new jobs, why is the living standard of the RS so low, and so on? We consider that the answer is in the enormous outflow of money and public resources."

Turbulent events in December heighten conflicts between Dodik and opposition

The campaign against Dodik and his corrupt practices carried on thus throughout the fall. Then, something happened that temporarily took the wind out of the opposition's sails. In late November, the state-level Constitutional Court made a decision that caused the opposition and Dodik's coalition to circle their wagons together, and to make a united front against Bosnian state institutions. The Court found that January 9th, celebrated as "Republika Srpska Statehood Day," was unconstitutional because it did not represent all of the citizens of the entity, and discriminated against some of them.

January 9 was the day in 1992 when Bosnian Serb separatists declared the Republika Srpska a state, shortly before the beginning of the war. It never legally became a state but, through war and war crimes, it achieved entity status. Given this, the victims of those war crimes who have returned to the RS have nothing to celebrate on that day. A few years ago, member of the state-level three-part presidency Bakir Izetbegović filed a complaint about the date of the holiday with the Constitutional Court, which finally agreed last month that it was discriminatory—among other reasons, because the date falls on a Serbian Orthodox saint's day. The Court required that the RS find another date on which to celebrate its founding.

The decision was like Christmas in November for Dodik, as it forced RS opposition leaders to join him in condemning the Constitutional Court and its finding. Those who had been attacking Dodik two days before had to participate in calling for a reorganization of the Court without foreign judges. RS leaders refused to change the date of their holiday, saying that they would celebrate it "even more massively."

They also threatened to hold yet another referendum within four months if the Constitutional Court were not revamped, this one inquiring whether the voters of the RS support the observation of their statehood day on January 9.

One high official in Dodik's SNSD stated, “We already know the position of our citizens on this topic but we want to mark it officially.” It is probably true that a majority of Serb citizens of the Republika Srpska support Dodik's policies and are loyal to their entity above all, even though the corrupt practices of Dodik and his fellows have, as mentioned above, only led to greater economic difficulties for Serbs and all others in the entity alike. This faithfulness on the part of most of the Serbs speaks to Sudbin Musić's assertion (mentioned in report #3, on Prijedor) that the population of the RS is being groomed to be loyal only to that entity.

Banja Luka-based commentator Srđan Šušnica provided a forceful analysis of loyalty and political amnesia in a column published in late September, when he stated that "all Bosnian-Bosniak, Catholic–Croat, and Jewish narratives, texts, and symbols are being forgotten in the city [Banja Luka] and are being replaced with some neo-Serb or pan-Serb symbols. In the name of a unifying construct of 'Serbdom' all of the true indigenous regional ethnography of the Krajišniks [natives of the Krajina], the Herzegovinans, the Posavinans, the Semberians is being destroyed."

Šušnica went on to describe political amnesia, saying that "Serbs are still being fed the story that those who seceded from Belgrade started the war, rather than Belgrade, which responded to the secession with weapons, national homogenization, and genocide."

Šušnica came to the conclusion, "Here we have a conflict between the ethno-national-based and the citizen-based society. As long as the Republika Srpska exists, Bosnia-Herzegovina will not stand on its own feet as a citizens' state. It will only subsist as some combination of three ethno-nationalist constructs…The RS exists only thanks to a very catastrophic fact—the fact of genocide. At that moment when the RS disappears, I think that then the Serbs will be able to start breathing as a modern political nation." (See Šušnica's article here—in Bosnian only)

This is, of course, a radical notion for a citizen of the RS and, as Šušnica points out, those who share his opinion are unwilling to speak about it publicly. And meanwhile, the leaders of the RS continue to raise tensions in their entity, exacerbating problems between the RS and the Bosnian state.

Another incident put yet more wind in Dodik's sails to further his separatist agenda. On December 10, SIPA carried out a police action, raiding a police station and two other official buildings in the RS city of Bosanski Novi. On instructions from the state prosecutor's office, SIPA arrested five local Serbs on suspicion of having participated in crimes against humanity during the 1990s war. Nearly all the Bosniaks in that municipality had been expelled during the war, and 27 were murdered.

Republika Srpska officials denounced the action, saying that it was an "attack on the constitutional order" and a "serious violation" of cooperation between police agencies at different governmental levels. In response, SIPA emphasized that it had acted within its jurisdiction in conducting the raids, and noted its concern that local police authorities could have been inclined to destroy evidence of war crimes, had they been alerted of the raids in advance.

A prosecution spokesperson explained that "there was evidence that the police and civilian protection forces in Bosanski Novi were actively and directly involved in the process of removing and hiding the bodies and mortal remains of 27 victims" from villages during the war. And a high official in the state-level interior ministry said that the authority of SIPA is "clearly and precisely defined and…it will carry out its duties correctly and in harmony with the law that defines its authorities."

The logic of legality was pushed aside as Dodik and his colleagues seized the opportunity to further their divisive agenda, judging that the time was right. SIPA has conducted raids before in both entities without opposition; it appears that the recent raid has simply been taken as a convenient pretext for separatist escalation.

In response to the raids, the RS government announced that it would cease all cooperation with SIPA and the state prosecution. Calling the raids "humiliating and provocative," RS Minister of the Interior Dragan Lukač also ordered his employees to prevent prosecutors or officials from SIPA from entering into any municipal or entity offices in the Serb-controlled entity.

Separatist rhetoric against the state and international authorities flourished. Dodik stated that "SIPA has decided to ignore the institutions of the Republika Srpska," and added that the raid of the police station in Bosanski Novi could have provoked an armed conflict.

On the same day as the raid, the RS Parliament met to deliberate on RS Bosniaks' legal objection to the proposed referendum on the Constitutional Court, wherein Bosniak representatives in the RS Parliament had exercised their right to claim that the referendum would violate their "vital national interest." The Parliamentary commission easily decided that there was no such violation implied; only 43 out of 82 members of Parliamentthe bare majority needed to fulfill Dodik's agendawere present at the vote. One journalist referred to the 43 as "Dodik's fan club." The decision paves the way to carry out the referendum.

As in every society, Bosnian-Herzegovinan legal institutions exert their jurisdiction from the top down, rather than the reverse. That is, a municipal or entity authority cannot bring into question the powers of the state. Therein lies the legal weakness in the idea of an entity-based referendum, and likewise in RS authorities' objection to SIPA's perfectly legal use of its powers.

On December 11, the Constitutional Court issued a statement saying that the Court and SIPA had not acted contrary to the constitution, and that the decisions of entity governments are not binding upon institutions at the state level. The statement read, in part, "The State-level law enforcement and judicial authorities have jurisdiction to operate fully throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and this jurisdiction must not be challenged and should be fully and unconditionally respected."

Speaking of the Republika Srpska decision to block any further action by SIPA, Democratic Front president Željko Komšić declared the decision a "coup d'état." And president of Naša Stranka Predrag Kojović asked when the international community, in the person of the High Representative, was going to use its powers to prevent an escalation to real violence.

In this context, Dodik warned, "They shouldn't test our determination." But the flare-up was but a variant on Dodik's own manner of testing that he has employed ever since he came to power. That is, he foments an episode in his conflict with the state, and continues to push the boundary of his destabilizing behavior. Thus, a test was underway with Dodik, on December 12, announcing that his police forces would use firearms—if SIPA were to use them first in any raid.


A friend of mine living in the eastern part of the RS put out a message:

  I feel worried, most of all because of those who are yelling about how they are protecting 'our' interests, because that can automatically be understood to mean that someone (else) will be protecting 'their' [the others'] interests…to the extent that they will work to outwit each other and raise tensions to the boiling point, regardless of the results (because they won't feel them).
   I don't want any of that, I don't expect anything, and I don't wish anything…I am not part of the enraged hordes!
   I despise the insistence on divisions, on terrifying each other, on idealizing oneself, on glorifying one's 'own,' on domination, demonstrations of force, and manipulation; I share the same interests as all people who wish for a carefree future and peaceful environment for our children.


While ordinary, intelligent mothers like my friend were worrying about the artificial heightening of tensions in the country, the RS opposition found its voice again and addressed the decision to bar state authorities from entering RS institutions. A statement by members of the opposition declared that "investigations on the basis of suspicions about crimes connected with the Bobar and Pavlović Banks [and various crooked privatization schemes], after yesterday's decision, will not be able to be completed, and those responsible will not be tried. Based on the false expression of concern about Serbs who are being investigated for war crimes, yesterday's decision temporarily ensures that criminals and tycoons from the ranks of the governing regime will be secure."

The opposition thus continues to focus on the corruption of Dodik's machinery. Soon after the Bosanski Novi arrests, one of the opposition parties posted a report about nepotism as practiced by members of the RS government. Some of the details released were as follows:
-- Željka Cvijanović, RS prime minister: her husband was general director of the Banja Luka Bureau of Construction; her son was employed at the Bosnian electrical power transmission company.
-- Nikola Špirić, former prime minister of Bosnia and former finance minister as well: his wife was assistant minister for trade and tourism in the RS government, and his son-in-law was employed in the Bosnian electrical power transmission company.
-- Dušanka Majkić, RS Parliamentary representative: her son is assistant director of the RS tax administration.
…these are all members of Dodik's SNSD. The list goes on and on and on.

The opposition's statement also noted that over the years, SIPA had raided ten police stations and four municipal buildings, without protest from the RS governmentthese actions had taken place, after all, while members of Dodik's party were at the head of SIPA. And for that matter, as the statement pointed out, the RS Ministry of the Interior itself had participated in more than 300 war crimes investigations in just the past two years.

At the same time that all this drama was taking place, during the second weekend of December, President Dodik announced that there was a plan afoot, titled "Plan Spring 2016," to destroy RS government institutions one by one. Some Internet portals published scanty details about the plan; whether this was news to Dodik is unclear, but he worked with it, saying that the plan focused on five RS institutions: the presidency; the government; the Parliament; the police department; and Radio-Television RS. I suppose it is a coincidence that these institutions of the government are all in the pocket of Dodik's party, the SNSD.

Dodik interpreted the recent SIPA raid on the Bosanski Novi police station as an attack on the entire institution of the police. He also ominously noted that "some foreign embassies are participating in this, we know which ones, as well as the so-called non-governmental sectorinternational and domesticand part of the political forces of the Republika Srpska."

With his explanation of the plot against him, in one stroke Dodik set the stage for further entrenchment, terrorizing, and manipulation, at the same time rhetorically setting up foreign and domestic demons as suitable objects to attack. These tactics are nothing new, but the escalation was brought to a higher pitch than before.

By the middle of that same weekend, however, there was a climb-down that was visible in a quick succession of position shifts. First, Dodik called for an examination of procedures for cooperation between security agencies of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for the establishment of new guidelines for that cooperation.

This was a significant lessening of the fervor in comparison to the declaration that firearms could come into play.

The first response from the state level to this overture was from Dragan Mektić, state-level Minister of Security. He angrily stated, "No, this will not come under consideration, because the procedures exist and they are implemented in the most correct way possible, and if I were to consent to a discussion, then I would be directly admitting that such procedures do not exist, and that we did something without the knowledge of the RS Ministry of the Interior, and that simply is not true."

Referring to investigations into Dodik's criminality, Mektić rhetorically wondered how Dodik was going to protect himself and prevent investigation into any criminal acts. Echoing what the opposition leaders had said, Mektić stated, "His actions have no relationship to the protection of people suspected of war crimes…the problem [for Dodik] is that we can enter into the institutions, and take certain documentation, which will be proof of robbery…the president of the Republika Srpska has mounted such a political harangue because it can serve him as a political motive to pretend that he is defending the RS institutions, but in fact he has worked to defend himself from some upcoming legal processes that will very quickly show that there have been massive crimes."

Oslobodjenje editor Vildana Selimbegović filled out this picture, noting that Mektić announced that the Bosnian state prosecutor was working on "serious investigations into embezzlement and theft of enormous sums of public funds, and that what has been removed, must be returned." Selimbegović added, "Through informal sources, no one other than Milorad Dodik is at the center of those investigations." Selimbegović expressed surprise at this revelation, but I'm pretty sure she was being facetious.

Given that word is out that state authorities are investigating Dodik, a reporter asked him what would happen if SIPA knocked on his door. He responded, "They won't knock. Where are they going to knock? Let them knock, they won't be able to enter. I am protected. I am the president. Do you know what
'president' means to Serbs? Are you crazy?"

It seems to me that the veil over Mektić's threat to Dodik was thinner than a butterfly's wings. This would, at the very least, constitute leverage to de-escalate the saber-rattling, wouldn't it? And that is what happened: a meeting was announced in Banja Luka between Dragan Mektić (Bosnia's Minister of Security), Dragan Lukač (RS Minister of Interior, i.e., head cop), the director of SIPA, and the director of the RS police. The meeting led to an agreement to update the existing protocols for cooperation between security agenciesthis, after Mektić had just said that the existing protocols were fine.

There are different versions of the story about how this all came about, but the one from Mektić has him explaining to Lukač "all the damage and complexity of the problems [that could arise] if the entity institutions would not collaborate with those at the state level." He continued, "I told him concretely how the damage could be manifested. He told me that he would find a way to continue collaboration." It sounds like Mektić made Lukač an offer he couldn't refuse.

The agreement was signed a few days after the meeting, and by then, the whole incident had subsided, leaving nerves rattled on all sides. Looking back, the incident of the arrests in Bosanski Novi may not justify my filling so many pages with details, save for one thing: it all provides an outstanding illustration of the dynamics at work in Dodik's decade of manipulation and corruption.

The stakes in this game have gotten higher and higher for Dodik, and thus for the entire country, for a couple of reasons. One is that Dodik is in the weakest political position he has been in since 2006, and the other is that, apparently, higher authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina are closing in on him. Indeed, in mid-December more specific information was released about Bosnian prosecutorial investigations into his corruption, pertaining to his shady purchase of a mansion in the elite Belgrade neighborhood of Dedinje.

In 2007, Slobodan Pavlović, owner of Pavlović Banka, transferred 750,000 euros to a Belgrade bank that owned the mansion in question. This completed a transaction that gave Dodik ownership of the mansion. The lawsuit filed by RS opposition figures in November of this year alleges that the funds involved were paid by an "organized group" involved in abuse of position (Bosnian parlance for corruption); giving and receiving bribes, and joint criminal activities. The payoff to Dodik is alleged to be for "return favors."

While these allegations are quite believable to those familiar with the ethical environment in Bosnian politics, they are, of course, not yet proven. The Bosnian office of the prosecution is working on it.

All this makes Dodik that much more dangerous, and we have just seen that the threat of violence looms larger. However, it is hard to know whether that threat is real or a testand maybe Dodik himself does not know the answer to that question. The answer will be in the behavior of all sides in any given moment. In this recent moment, we can see that all sides decided that it was better to resolve things a different way.

In a post-script to the episode, just a few days after the flare-up and before the dust had settled, SIPA arrested a half-dozen people on suspicion of war crimes committed in the summer of Sanski Most in 1992. The suspects were arrested in the Republika Srpska towns of LaktašiDodik's hometownand Gradiška. There was no inflamed response from RS authorities. Perhaps this was a case of the Bosnian state authorities emphatically showing their muscle.


I'll wrap up this story about Dodik's corruption and his efforts to remain in power with a comment about some of the overviews of Bosnian-Herzegovinan affairs provided by international commentators. To steal a phrase from my brother, the preponderance of analysis is "like Hershey's chocolate; there's a lot of it, and it's not very good."

Just to choose one of the more dodgy articles, I'll focus on "Is War About to Break Out in the Balkans?" by Dr. James Lyons, published in Foreign Policy magazine (click here). The following is not meant to be a personal criticism of Dr. Lyons, who has paid his dues and is respected by a lot of people.

I will forgive the title right off, as it was not necessarily drafted by Lyons but, more likely, by the editors. Like Donald Trump, they know what grabs attention.

But here is a series of statements which, as they say in Bosnian, "pas masno ne bi pojeo"a dog couldn't swallow this even if you greased it up:

1. "In Dayton, Ohio, U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke achieved a major diplomatic victory that ended the conflict and established the foundations of a viable state."

2. "To this day, Bosnia is a rare success story in post-conflict state-building. The anniversary should be a time for celebration."

3. "The EU abandoned a functioning model of international oversight that had created a stable peace and substantial state-building achievements, just as democratic reforms were taking root."

4. "If it [the international community] chooses to renege on Dayton, then Republika Srpska legally loses all legitimacy and becomes a rogue entity founded on genocide."

5. "The international community should then act accordingly and abolish Republika Srpska, which, while extreme, would be enforceable via administrative and financial means."

I'll address these howlers all together, thus:

1. Anyone who thinks that Bosnia-Herzegovina is a viable state should just take a better look. It is hardly a state, and if viability means safeguarding the security of its citizens and enabling their pursuit of improvements in their lives, well, Bosnia is only a state with regard to its corrupt leaders.

2. Bosnia is a failure in post-conflict state-building, and you would be hard put to find anyone truly interested in celebrating the anniversary.

3. The model of oversight abandoned by the EU held at bay some of the worst aspects of domestic government, but it did not resolve any of the problems enshrined in Dayton.

4. The RS was created through employment of genocide, and not just at Srebrenica. Just for one example, it's worth taking a look at what happened in Prijedor municipality at the beginning of the war (see previous report). Nothing the international community does or does not do can change that history.

5. The international community is not going to abolish the RS; this may remotely be possible, but they don't care. According to the Dayton constitution, such a change can only be brought about via an agreement among the ethnicities in Bosnia. A lot of people fantasize about the idea, but it's not likely to happen without a war. Therefore, people interested in improvement should think about other optionsand they are available.

To wrap up: for part of that weekend when Dodik and his colleagues seemed to be threatening violence against state-level Bosnian institutions, I wavered in my belief that there is not going to be another war there in the foreseeable future. But I believe that I was right in the first place, and that subsequent events confirm that. The 1990s war was waged so that the new ethno-nationalist elite could entrench and enrich itself. That has been achieved, and the politician-profiteers have their glass buildings. They can continue the plunder through less violent means.

Secondly, the war in the 1990s required active engagement by Bosnia's neighbors, Serbia and Croatia. That is why it is called "aggression." Now the leaders of those two countries have accepted Bosnia's existence as one state. They have other fish to fry.

What happens in the long term, beyond that "foreseeable future," is another story. Even the fake stability that now reigns is dependent on the stability of the European Union which, while not looking well, is far from moribund.

Next report: Srebrenica


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