Why Bosnia; Exodus; protests; Scandal. Report 2:
Impunity, manipulation, activism. Report 3:
Aluminij conglomerate; Corruption at Gikil. Report 4:
Political charades; militarization of police. Report 5:
Pride in Sarajevo. Report 6:
Migrants stuck in BiH on the way to Europe.
To contact Peter
in response to these reports or any of his articles,
If you try to observe the chaos and dysfunction of
Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state—and all you can do is try—you will
probably first notice two things. One is that even though the
nationwide parliamentary elections at all levels (state, canton, and
entity) were held back in October of 2018, now, a year later, the
state-level government has not been formed. Nor have most of the
different levels of government in the Bosniak/Croat-led entity, the
Federation. Caretaker governments leftover from 2018 continue to
Secondly, you'll notice that the leaders of the three ethnic elites
don't appear to get along well. Every month or two there's a new
"crisis," in which rhetorical rocket-propelled grenades fly back and
forth across inter-ethnic borderlines, much ink is spilled,
international officials get nervous, Dodik threatens a referendum,
and ordinary people continue to look for visas. It looks like
there's a new crisis. But in fact, it's the crisis created in
November of 1995, and it's called the Dayton arrangement. The ethnic
elites perform to the Dayton score with symphonic accord.
Hoping not to belabor the scenario—though it's all a bit laborious—I
will try to describe some of its manifestations here.
When I was visiting Bosnia in July, I asked everyone what was
holding back the formation of a new government. I got a lot of
partial answers, with nothing leading to a clear picture. Some
people said that there was disagreement about patronage, that is,
who would inherit the directorships of the big state-controlled
companies. This is plausible. Others said there was disagreement
about how to "go to Europe," i.e., how to join the EU. This is
But these and the rest of the roadblocks are abstract. I'm inclined
to conclude that there's no new government because, among other
things, the present situation works just fine for the elite. Their
rhetorical wars are just part of a kind of dynamic equilibrium
wherein they appear to be fighting, and the vision of this conflict
keeps their respective constituencies herded up in ideological
corrals where the only people they can support are their own corrupt
The static nature of Bosnian politics thus reminds me of the very
sarcastic slogan uttered here and there by activists: "Ako ti je
dobro, onda ništa"—"If everything is ok for you, then never mind."
Well, pretty much nothing is ok for the ordinary honest citizens of
Bosnia-Herzegovina, so the message is that they should mobilize. But
everything is pretty much ok for the elite, so...nothing changes.
In early August the heads of the three most powerful
ethno-nationalist parties met and came up with a plan to form the
new state-level Council of Ministers, equivalent to a governing
cabinet. The three were Milorad Dodik, Serb member of the
state-level presidency and head of the Serb nationalist SNSD; Bakir
Izetbegović, Bosniak member of the state-level presidency and leader
of the Muslim nationalist SDA; and Dragan Čović, head of the Croat
nationalist HDZ. While there are other contending ethno-nationalist
parties, these are by far the strongest ones.
The plan, set to be implemented by September 5th, comprised a dozen
points that included election reform, anti-discrimination measures,
aligning domestic laws with EU regulations and, critically,
"advancing" Bosnia-Herzegovina's relationship with NATO. This
immediately proved to be a stumbling block, because Izetbegović and
Croat member of the state-level presidency Željko Komšić called for
the submission to NATO of an Annual National Program (ANP), a
requirement for joining NATO. Well, the Serb nationalist leaders of
the RS reject the idea of joining NATO—even though they had earlier
approved this idea, but they changed their minds. Although the RS
politicians oppose joining, they do not reject collaborating with
NATO in Bosnia, which has already taken place.
Politicians for and against submission of the ANP argued militantly
over the next few weeks. Those in favor noted that submission of the
ANP was not equivalent to joining NATO, and those opposed disagreed.
It became clear that September 5 would come and go with no progress,
just the customarily heightened sense of mutual grievance.
It's worth noting that the Republika Srpska adheres to neighboring
Serbia's policies faithfully—and Serbia practices close
collaboration with NATO. In several ways, Dodik's expression of
nationalism on behalf of his Serb constituency is, at least in
appearance, more zealous than that of Serbia's leaders. Dodik
travels to Russia and visits Putin more often than does Serbian
president Vučić. It is Dodik's habit to appear more pro-Russian than
For that matter, it has been noted with great irony that Dodik is
probably the only president of a state who argues for the abolition
of his own state. Dodik regularly finds occasion to promise that the
RS will one day break away from Bosnia and become independent. He
calls his entity—deceptively named a "Republic"—a "state," and in
April he proclaimed that "the RS is already separate; it has just
not been declared as such." There are numerous examples of Dodik's
rhetorical and concrete moves to assert the RS's independence and,
at times, to cleave to Serbia. In May he announced that he opposed
the formation of a Bosnian state-level military academy, and
declared that his officers would be trained in Serbia. Around that
time he also announced that soldiers in one army unit based in the
RS would wear the uniforms of the former RS army, which was
disbanded when the entities' armed forces unified into an
all-Bosnian army in 2005.
The RS also moved closer to Serbia in the educational sphere in
July, when the respective ministers of education signed an agreement
about joint activities. Going behind the backs of Bosnia's
state-level ministries, the agreement promised mutual recognition of
accreditation of institutions of higher education between the RS and
Serbia, as well as cooperation in development of curriculum. And in
high school curriculum, it was also announced in July that in the
coming school year RS schoolbooks would teach the same wartime
history as is taught in Serbia.
In April, Dodik engendered a great deal of sustained
hyperventilating in the media and on the part of politicians in the
Federation when the RS Parliament voted to form a reserve police
force with more than a thousand members. The draft law also gave
police the ability to arrest people without a warrant. In response,
Federation officials declared that they would add 2,500 members to
that entity's police department. A rhetorical arms race was thus
Analyst Jasmin Mujanović noted that the RS was already setting up
"random checkpoints" along the soft border between the two entities,
and has run "provocative war games" in cooperation with Serbian
police units. Meanwhile, a Sarajevo-based journalist pointed out
that the RS in fact lacked the funding to support an increased
police budget—and that in recent years hundreds of RS police have
been leaving the force. But in June, the RS police force added two
APCs (armored personnel carriers) to its arsenal—this, after having
purchased over 2,000 rifles for the force last year.
Neighboring Serbia is participating in a manner of one-sided arms
race as well, with the help of Russia and China. In recent months it
acquired 30 tanks and 30 APCs from Russia. Russia attempted to ship
these vehicles through Romania, but the EU member turned them back.
Then Hungary, also an EU member, allowed them through. Russia and
Belarus also donated 14 MIG-29 fighter jets to Serbia. This month,
China has promised to sell Serbia nine armed drones. And Serbia has
declared interest in joining Putin's answer to the EU, the Eurasian
Economic Union (an economic alliance including Russia, Belarus,
Kazakhstan, and others). While Serbian officials assert that
membership would not pose an obstacle to joining the EU—their
professed goal—the EU's executive commission warned Serbia that it
would have to cancel trade agreements with the bloc if it joined
I mention these developments in Serbia because, as a supporter of
the RS, Serbia's policies resonate in the RS and exert influence.
Both actors profess the goal of joining the EU—with which both the
RS and Serbia have far greater trade than with Russia—but both flirt
with Russia, as a way of gaining gifts and benefits. Russia has its
own designs on the Balkans, seeking ways to meddle and exert
influence wherever they can. That's another whole story, though an
important one in the long term.
The controversy over the RS's plan to add a reserve police force
lasted through June, with reproaches and recriminations flying back
and forth between Banja Luka and Sarajevo. The RS police force
purchased new flak jackets and helmets. The SDA noted that
developments in the RS were similar to those in 1991 and 1992
leading up to the war. RS spokespersons justified their buildup
saying that they needed to beef up security in the face of an influx
of migrants from the Middle East, and such a buildup was no threat
to anyone's security. But it seemed more apparent that, among other
things, the buildup was part of increased repression in Banja Luka
against protestors in the "Justice for David" movement that was so
turbulent about a year ago.
One member of the Federation parliament characterized the RS's moves
as the transformation of the police into a military formation,
changing the balance of arms in Bosnia. This, he noted, was a direct
violation of the Dayton agreement.
Around the time of the announced buildup of RS police reserves,
Dodik also announced in an interview that the RS would, one day, be
in one state together with Serbia. He added that "a little of
Montenegro" would also be included, and that this was "a natural
thing, that some kind of integration must exist." Coming from Dodik,
this was not a new approach, but it added a sense of dire threat to
the tempest going on around the police buildup, with Željko Komšić
repeating the warning that the Federation would add officers to its
police force. The international community weighed in as well with
mild criticism, saying that the reason for the creation of a reserve
police force was "unclear" and that it "does not contribute to peace
and stability..." Meanwhile, ordinary Bosnians who had been the
victim of war crimes by Serb reservist police during the 1990s war
were suffering a re-traumatization.
Ultimately, in the face of increasing criticism from abroad, in late
June the RS withdrew plans to create the reserve force, saying that
it would cost too much and take too long. The Federation canceled
similar plans in response. The RS announced that it would create a
"gendarmerie," without defining this body.
Fears were expressed that it would constitute a form of military
police—in other words, the same thing that had just been cancelled.
On the other hand, it was speculated that the announcement of a
gendarmerie was just a "climbdown."
One Sarajevo journalist speculated that the SDA and the SNSD, and
Izetbegović and Dodik, have a secret agreement about the continued
maintenance of instability and fear among their own people, so that
their constituents would be distracted from the worsening living
conditions for which the two leaders themselves are responsible. But
leaders do not need to have a secret agreement in order to
understand that this is the effect of their policies and
After a three-month pause, with no news about the gendarmerie, it
turned out that the new police body was indeed formed and it lined
up for a formal manifestation in front of the RS's high officials
just the other day, on September 24. News reports did not specify
how many police were on display, but the appearance of the new body
was heralded by RS politicians as a mobile force that was prepared
to enhance the security of the entity's citizens.
RS opposition figures mocked the gendarmerie as merely a
reassignment of policemen in a new format—with new uniforms—in order
to fool the citizens and to compensate for the failure to form a
robust reserve police body. An opposition politician also said it
would be a waste if the police force spent its time harassing old
women selling untaxed cigarettes on the street, when they really
needed to be arresting more formidable criminals and Mafiosi.
In a comment that revealed just how backward the opposition is, one
politician complained that Dodik should be sending the gendarmerie
to the hills near Banja Luka to block military exercises that NATO
was conducting, inside of the RS, right at that moment. Meanwhile,
Bosniak officials within the RS and in the Federation criticized the
establishment of the gendarmerie as a development that threatened
escalation to violence and that re-traumatized wartime victims.
After the early August announcement of the SNSD-HDZ-SDA agreement on
formation of the government, the nationalist opposition in the RS
criticized Dodik for "capitulating" to the pro-NATO Croat and
Bosniak politicians. Dodik rebuffed this criticism, saying that he
did not have to justify his behavior to the ("disloyal") opposition,
and that all elements of the agreement were in harmony with the
interests of the RS. He recalled that the RS parliament had earlier
enacted a resolution about military neutrality, and that in any case
there was no chance that he would allow Bosnia to join NATO. Dodik
declared that he would not allow Bosnia to send an ANP to NATO—while
Komšić declared that if the ANP were not produced, the Council of
Ministers would not be formed.
The three ethnicities take turns as president of the Council of
Ministers, and the next Council president—equivalent to a prime
minister—is due to be a Serb. Dodik was proposing Zoran Tegeltija,
no relation to the ill-reputed Milan Tegeltija of the previously
mentioned High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council. No relation, that
is, other than corruption: Right around the time he was nominated to
be head of the Council of Ministers, Zoran Tegeltija was sentenced
to five months in jail for corruption. As head of the Banja Luka
customs administration, he had intervened against the Bosnian import
company Kondor-šped, which had somehow garnered his disapproval, and
caused the company to be prohibited from operating.
Bosnian law has it that if an official is sentenced to nine months
or more for a crime, he or she is barred from holding office. But
since Tegeltija's sentence was less than nine months, his
eligibility was not in question. However, it followed that in the
course of some conflicts within Dodik's party, Tegeltija found
himself in disfavor with Dodik, and his name was dropped.
As August wore on Dodik began to threaten that if the Council of
Ministers were not formed by the set date of September 5, he would
urge the RS parliament to withdraw Serb troops from the Bosnian
army. He also threatened to withdraw from the state-level tax
administration and, for that matter, from the High Judicial and
Prosecutorial Council. These and some 80 other state-level
functions, according to Dodik, were competencies that the
international community, in the person of the High Representative,
had transferred from the entities to the state level in earlier
years after the end of the war.
Dodik regularly asserts that these transfers were violations of the
Dayton agreement. In the midst of his threats in August, he also
warned that the RS would redraft its entity constitution along the
lines of what he called the "original Dayton." Meanwhile, Dragan
Čović warned that if the Council of Ministers were not formed,
Bosnia would be facing a new "constitutional crisis" of
"incomprehensible proportions." He blamed the Bosniaks for stalling
the formation because they did not want to agree to the appointment
of a Serb prime minister.
September 5 came and went, without any of Dodik's threats enacted.
He would certainly have liked to establish the new government,
gaining power by replacing the old opposition Serb officials with
members of his own party. But it is clear that he appreciated the
opportunity to rehearse the story of "stolen competencies," to
emphasize the victimization of the RS, and to pander to his own
constituency. President Dodik's colleagues President Komšić and
President Džaferović took advantage of the same opportunity.
And so it goes. The most recent "crisis" kicked off with the Bosniak
nationalist SDA's mid-September 7th Congress, during which members
selected party officials and unanimously reaffirmed Bakir
Izetbegović as head of the party. In addition, the party adopted a
declaration whose sentiments are in harmony with those of the most
progressive institutions of Europe, and which nevertheless (or
therefore) set off the next round of rhetorical warfare between
Bosnia's political parties.
SDA's declaration named as long-term goals a change of the country's
name to the "Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina," the "affirmation
of a ‘Bosnian language’ as the ‘common identity of all of Bosnia’s
citizens,’" a reform of the police force, and establishment of a
supreme court. The declaration identified as party goals the
adoption of a new constitution that would define Bosnia-Herzegovina
as a "democratic, regionalized, legal and social state with three
levels of government: state, regional, and local."
In other words, the declaration espouses the abolition of the Dayton
straitjacket and the establishment of a civic state with a structure
that would at least have a chance of functioning. So far, so good.
Now, why would SDA, a powerful ethno-nationalist party that has
thrived through ministry to its own ethnic corral of constituents,
propose to shoot itself in the foot like this, advocating an
arrangement that would banish the kind of ethnic-based
infrastructure that has worked so well for the profiteers ever since
It is hard to say, but I would propose to look at what the parties
do and what they say. Because the SDA declaration is only that, an
abstract proposal for the future; no one is doing anything
differently, but everyone is saying a lot. For example, President
Dodik immediately responded to the declaration by saying that the
SDA has an "illusion" that they can set up "some kind of Islamic
state in which they are supposed to be the majority, so they can
introduce sharia law." Looking at the actual declaration, this
sounds like Dodik is hallucinating, but he knows what he's doing:
he's taking advantage of the opportunity handed to him by the SDA.
He added, "Bosnia was set up as a disfigured state which should
never have survived the year 1996."
A few days after the SDA declaration, Dodik announced that the RS
will "seek affirmation of the right to self-determination" (meaning
secession), as if his "original Dayton" granted this right. He again
threatened to propose that the RS withdraw from the Bosnian army and
to annul other state-level competencies.
Prime Minister of Serbia Ana Brnabić weighed in saying that the SDA
declaration was "very dangerous, opening yet another Pandora's box."
The Office of the High Representative declared, "Every change in the
internal organization of Bosnia requires broad support," as if this
essential function of Dayton were not already clear to everyone. The
Russian ambassador to Bosnia declared that the SDA's initiative was
a "dangerous thing that could destroy the system of ethnic balance."
HDZ leader Dragan Čović asserted that the civic state model that SDA
proposed proposing was "absolutely inapplicable.” He called the
SDA's intentions a "game based on numerousness in order to secure
the domination of one nation."
One commentator, Đorđe Krajišnik, wrote, "It didn't take long for
the insane machinery of idiocy to start percolating again. It is
time to start chopping up rationality again and to pull on the masks
of ethno-nationalist lunacy."
Journalist/editor Vildana Selimbegović responded to Serb and Croat
comments that the SDA program advocated violations of the Dayton
constitution. She pointed out the various occasions in which the RS
parliament threatened to call a referendum for secession, and she
mentioned the times when Bosnian Croat representatives rejected
decisions of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia (ICTY) that did not go in the Croats' favor. Selimbegović
evaluated the SDA's goal as garnering the votes of Bosniaks in next
year's local elections, and in this way, compared the SDA's behavior
with that of the Serb and Croat nationalist parties. She lamented
the fact that the leftist parties of Bosnia-Herzegovina—the real
anti-fascists in Bosnian politics—are so divided and
self-confounding as to be unable to provide an answer to all this
Journalist Gojko Berić was easier on the SDA, saying that "everyone
has the right to think deeply and to express their vision of
Bosnia-Herzegovina, and this is just one of those. And nothing
more...If there were wisdom and political culture, which there is
not, the SDA declaration would be studied with a cool head and then
left in the shadow of a series of more pressing problems,"
mentioning the construction of roads, unemployment, bringing
electrical connections to returnees, repairing flood damage, and
more. He concluded, "If nothing else, we have confirmed that the
boogeyman called the civil state drives the Serb and Croat
In an example of what is either a delusional state among RS
politicians, or ordinary scare-mongering, Dodik proclaimed, "We can
say with certainty that the Democratic Action Party's (SDA)
programme declaration is aimed at destroying the Republika Srpska
(RS) entity and that they have some support from foreigners."
In a telling development, Dodik and several other high RS officials
traveled to Belgrade last weekend (September 21) to discuss the
purported threat to the Serb-controlled entity. Dodik employed
rhetoric alluding to an attack by Bosniaks against the Republika
Srpska, speaking of the need for Serbia to stand by in defense of
the RS and to supply it with weapons.
In an unusual turn, Serbian president Vučić responded that they
"must do everything to preserve peace and stability in the region,"
and that "any conflict would mean economic collapse and the end of
us all.” Commentators described Vučić's reception of Dodik as "the
coldest ever," and that Dodik is behaving like someone who has lost
his mind and who is prepared to trigger conflict not only in
Bosnia-Herzegovina, but to involve the entire region in his
It is early to analyze thıs at length, but Dodik has problems. The
above-mentioned friction within his SNSD party is a new thing. One
Federation politician commented, "Dodik has become an isolated
phenomenon on whom even his closest collaborators are turning their
backs," and "The policies that Dodik is implementing stem from a
complete loss of rationality." As if to prove this point, Dodik
recently announced, "I will call on Serbs in the US to vote for
Trump. Trump is realistic and rational, a great leader who has
returned economic stability to the US and who has the greatest
growth of popularity.
As of early autumn, Dodik has failed to establish a Council of
Ministers with his own man at the top, and his closest confederates
are teaming up against him. Dodik could falter at this point. But he
has been in a weak position before, and as arguably the most skilled
politician in the country, he has prevailed. So there's no
percentage in predicting what is going to happen with Dodik. But one
thing is certain: that there will be more political charades between
the three leading ethno-nationalist parties, and those charades will
only serve to protect their power and position.