Bosnia-Serb referendum to create divisions in International Community

Wed 24 Aug 2016

Bosnia-Serb referendum to create divisions in International Community

Republika Srpska (RS), Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) Serb-dominated entity, is determined to continue their planned referendum about its entities annual public holiday on the 25th of September despite Bosnian and international warnings. BiH’s constitutional court has already ruled the day as discriminatory and thus unconstitutional. This because it discriminates against non-Serb residents of RS. The referendum could destabilize the country especially with the local elections set for October.  The referendum will be discussed at a session of the Peace Implementation Council,  an ad-hoc group representing countries and international organizations overseeing BiH's peace agreement (Dayton 1995) and the work of the Office of the High Representative (OHR), which is responsible for its continued implementation.

Discriminatory public holiday

Bosnian Serbs want to celebrate their entities annual holiday on January 9 because it marks the anniversary of the establishment of Republika Srpska in 1992. But at the same time it’s also St Stephen day, an Orthodox religious Holiday, which is the reason why Bosnian Constitutional Court ruled it discriminatory against resident of the entity with other ethnic and religious affiliations. This decision from the constitutional court was strongly criticized by Bosnian Serbs political leadership. President Dodik (Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD) said that  “the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina is nothing but a Muslim court against Serbs and he called for a referendum. The decision to organize the referendum was supported by members of all Bosnian Serb parties in the RS Assembly.

 

OHR

Bosnia's international High Representative, Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, has the power to block the referendum as it goes against the Dayton Peace Agreement. It’s against the Dayton Peace agreement because "The Constitutional Court is an integral part of Annex 4 of the Dayton Peace Accord and the court’s decisions are final and binding and must be respected. However, it is questionable if Inzko will use this power as OHR is not eager to intervene in decision making processes by elected officials. Besides that the OHR finds itself in a difficult position, when failing to respond to the referendum it might mean the end of the OHR. If they impose sanctions and fail to make them happen, it might again mean the end of the OHR in Bosnia.

 

Split within the international community

The referendum issue has already created a split between the West and Russia. Whereas the West has called the referendum illegal, Russia has always supported Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity’s right to self-determination. But while the West criticizes the referendum they are also strongly against the use of the OHR’s powers. Some believe that after over 20 years of peace Bosnia has come to a point that it should no longer be managed by the international community. Additionally countries in the West question if any decision by the OHR could be implemented.

The future

Bosniak officials had hoped that US VP Biden would help out, but didn’t mention the referendum when visiting Serbia last week. Secondly, the officials from the Bosniak dominated Federation of BiH warn that this referendum could be a step in the direction of the independence of Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina. In case this happens they said they are willing to defend the territorial integrity of their country by all means necessary.

Sources: Balkaninsingt, oslobodjenje