Leader of the Bosnian Serbs: Putin and China will help if the West imposes sanctions | Bosnia and herzegovina

The leader of the Bosnian Serbs accused of risking war by continuing the break-up of Bosnia-Herzegovina dismissed the threat of Western sanctions and hinted at an impending summit with Vladimir Putin, declaring: “I was not elected. to be a coward ”.

In an interview with the Guardian, Milorad Dodik, the Serbian member of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s tripartite leadership, said he would not be put off by the outcry from London, Washington, Berlin and Brussels.

Dodik, 62, a key figure in Bosnian politics for 30 years who was once a favorite of the West, insisted that his plans should not lead to the end of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sanctions and cuts to EU funding would only force him to accept investment offers from China, Dodik said, and he expected to see the Russian leader “very soon”.

“And I even think I like it,” Dodik said. “When I go to Putin, there are no requests. He just says, ‘how can I help?’. Whatever I have discussed with him, I have never been cheated on it. I don’t know what else to base trust on other than this. With [China’s leader] Xi Jinping, he also said, ‘if there is anything I can help, I am here’.

Dodik has been widely condemned in recent weeks for his stated intention to withdraw the Serbian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina from state institutions, such as the tax administration, justice, intelligence services and even the national army, in order to create a Serbian force. .

The proposal was described in a report to the UN as tantamount to “secession” and a dangerous risk for the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement, which ended the civil war that claimed the lives of around 100 000 people after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

This peace agreement established a state, Bosnia and Herzegovina, composed of two entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, composed mainly of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, and the Serbian Republika Srpska. The three-member Bosnian presidency is held by representatives of these three main ethnic groups.

Under the so-called Bonn Powers of 1997, substantial legislative powers were also granted to the Office of the High Representative (OHR) responsible for the implementation of the agreement. These powers were widely used by former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown, during his tenure as high representative, to centralize the administration of the country.

Most recently, Valentin Inzko, who left his post this summer, used the office to ban genocide denial, in response to attempts by some to downplay the scale of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. This led to Dodik in July to withdraw the representatives of Republika Srpska from central institutions, and in October to propose the resumption of powers and the transfer of lands belonging to the central state.

Milorad Dodik (left) and Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin in 2016. “He simply says:” How can I help? “” Dodik said of Putin. Photograph: Alexei Nikolsky / Sputnik / Kremlin / EPA

Dodik, who has long argued against alleged changes in the balance of power in Bosnia, said he continued to believe in Dayton but was usurped by “an unelected foreigner” imposing around 140 laws by through the post of high representative, without a democratic mandate. “All the shit here was done by four unelected foreigners,” he said. “The high representatives and three judges [appointed by the European court of human rights], foreigners, before the Constitutional Court. They are acting as a coordinated criminal enterprise against the constitutional arrangement.

Since 2017, Dodik has been banned from traveling to the United States or accessing assets under his jurisdiction, after challenging the Bosnian constitutional court by holding a referendum on the celebration of Republika Srpska Day, marking the date in 1992 when the Bosnian Serbs declared their own state in Bosnia. .

He recently told Gabriel Escobar, the Assistant Under Secretary of the United States, that he “didn’t care” about his threat of further action. Germany’s suggestions for financial sanctions would not deter him either, Dodik said. “Of course, I am not indifferent but I was not elected to be a coward,” he said, speaking in his offices in the administrative center of Republika Srpska, Banja Luka.

The plans to take over power will be on the agenda of a session of the Parliament of Republika Srpska on December 10, with Dodik underlining his determination to see them through after another six-month period of talks. He described his vision of the new arrangement as not being heavier than the Belgian federal state.

A Bosnian Muslim woman walks between gravestones at the Potocari Memorial Cemetery, where many victims of the 1995 massacre are buried.
A Bosnian Muslim woman walks between gravestones near Srebrenica, where many victims of the 1995 massacre are buried. Photograph: Elvis Barukcic / AFP / Getty Images

However, he refined his public position on the most controversial suggestion – of a new Serbian army – by offering other options. The first, he said, would be to halve the current national army. “If you do not wish to, we will have no choice but to adopt, in accordance with the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the formation of the army of Republika Srpska, or to declare the Republika Srpska a demilitarized republic, “he said.” So there are three options. “

Dodik dismissed as a failed joke his recent suggestion that he would surround the national army barracks with Serbian forces to drive them out, and that anonymous “friends” would rally to his aid if NATO forces intervened.

Once described by then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as a “breath of fresh air” for his support for Dayton, Dodik said he was mistakenly portrayed as wanting conflict.

He didn’t want Bosnia and Herzegovina to fail, but the “delicate balance” of the deal had been upset, he said, calling Ashdown the “worst” offender. “No, I don’t want him to collapse. I only want it to exist on the basis of its constitution. If it can’t work that way, then why should it work at all? “

Dodik questioned whether genocide had been committed in Srebrenica, where 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered in July 1995. He said he would not challenge court verdicts on individuals. “No one denies that there was crime there,” he said. “But it is also true that the story that has been told is not the whole truth. Almost identical numbers of Bosnian Muslims and Serbs were killed. There is no ruling there that says the genocide was committed by the Serbian people.

Dodik says he still wants to join the EU, despite constant rejection from countries like France and the Netherlands. He met Olivér Várhelyi, the EU’s enlargement commissioner, three times this week, and was warned of a potential loss of funds. “We are supposed to act as if we think there will be enlargement even though we know there will not be,” Dodik said. “In the meantime, they offer some programs and we appreciate it – we are grateful. But if you want to bring us closer, then they should stop imposing these conditions on me. “

“I don’t think I’m a bad guy,” Dodik said of the recent fury over the current high representative, Christian Schmidt, warning of an existential threat to Bosnia and Herzegovina. “I think I am very realistic.

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