Report #4—Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption
By Peter Lippman
2015 Report index
Introduction/overview, Sarajevo, activism. Report 2:
Prospects for activism. Report 3:
Prijedor. Report 4:
Dodik's referendum, Dodik's corruption. Report 5:
Srebrenica. Report 6:
Tuzla, Mostar, and activism. Report 7:
The wave of
refugees coming into Europe.
To contact Peter
in response to these reports or any of his articles,
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 Dodik—and his Croat and Bosniak counterparts—maintain 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 custody—in 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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 Parliament—the bare majority needed
to fulfill Dodik's agenda—were 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
A friend of mine living in the eastern part of the RS put out a
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
-- 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
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 government—these 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 sector—international and domestic—and 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
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
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
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 agencies—this, 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
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
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 test—and 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
Laktaši—Dodik's hometown—and 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
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
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
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
options—and 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.