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Milorad Dodik -- One Foot In Bosnia, But His Heart In Serbia

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik: "We accept Bosnia because we must, and because it is part of the agreement we signed."
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik: "We accept Bosnia because we must, and because it is part of the agreement we signed."
BANJA LUKA -- Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serbian entity, has evolved from a onetime darling of the international community to one of its most voluble critics.

The 50-year-old Dodik, who once disappointed fellow Serbs by opposing former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, is now an unabashed Serbian nationalist and the greatest threat to Bosnia's fragile, multiethnic peace.

Ljudmila Cvetkovic of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service traveled to Banja Luka and spoke with the Republika Srpska prime minister about his views on Bosnia's future, his close ties to Serbia, and how the international community has failed the region.

RFE/RL: You've joined talks with Bosniak and Croatian officials on constitutional reform, which are generally seen as critical for any future bid by Bosnia-Herzegovina to join the European Union. But you've made it clear that you won't accept any changes to the constitution that seeks to centralize the federation at the expense of Republika Srpska's autonomy. Is there really a possibility for dialogue here?

Milorad Dodik:
The process of negotiations has resolved many difficult questions in Bosnia during the past few months, and we've even managed to jump-start the process of Euro-integration. The budget -- a long-standing problem -- and the future of the [self-governing] northern Bosnian town of Brcko are being resolved. There's no reason to think about constitutional changes. We [in Republika Srpska] took part in the process only because we think it's good to listen to others.

Our basic stance is that we don't want to change the constitutional position of Republika Srpska, and nobody can ask us to do so. When the right time comes, a new Bosnian constitution has to include all the democratic achievements of the modern world, including the UN charter that gives every people the right to self-determination and the right to separation.

RFE/RL: You support the idea of Bosnia as a loose federation. It wasn't possible to negotiate that framework before the Bosnian war in the 1990s. What makes you think it will be possible now?

Dodik:
An agreement isn't possible under pressure from the international community, but I believe that, left to our own devices, we can reach an agreement between ourselves here in Bosnia. However, that agreement would have to be based on a few crucial premises -- and they do not include the centralization of Bosnia.

We're not raising the question of the territorial disintegration of Bosnia, but simply the preservation of our autonomy and the 1995 Dayton agreement [breaking Bosnia into two entities, a Muslim-Croatian federation and a Serbian republic].

RFE/RL: How viable is Bosnia-Herzegovina, given the difficulties you allude to in reaching any sort of agreement?

Dodik:
We've seen excessive use of force in Bosnia. That will surely leave some sort of mark on the country. Paddy Ashdown [the international community's high representative in Bosnia in 2002-06] is directly responsible for this destabilization and for the growing dysfunction.

If Bosnia has any future, then its only chance for survival lies in the coming together of its domestic elements without any interference from the international community, whether it's Europe or the United States.

RFE/RL: You've described Bosnia-Herzegovina as an international protectorate where the Office of the High Representative rules by decree. Lately you've said you're going to take the initiative in terms of exerting pressure on the international community. How far do you plan to go in carrying through with that threat?

Dodik:
What I wanted to say was that we could no longer give in to outside pressure, and that it was high time for us to start applying some pressure of our own to further our own goals and ideas. That is both democratic and legitimate, and that's how my statement should be understood.

No Love For Bosnia

RFE/RL: You say that, as a man who respects law and order, you recognize the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But at the same time, you announced in Belgrade that Serbs from Republika Srpska only live in Bosnia, and consider Serbia to be their true homeland.

Dodik:
Of course.

RFE/RL: I've heard similar things from people here in Banja Luka. Why do Serbs in Republika Srpska find it so difficult to identify with Bosnia and feel at home within its borders?

Dodik:
Well, it's because of the policies of the international community, as well as Bosniak policies, which tend toward centralization and upholding the interests of the Muslim religious community, which plays a significant role in the Bosnian state and shapes much of Bosniak politics.

At the same time, there are fewer and fewer Serbs in Sarajevo. The president of the Bosnian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, who is himself a Bosniak, claims that Sarajevo is an ethnically clean city. Of course, I accept the Dayton agreement and Bosnia as such. But in terms of sentiment, it's natural that we Serbs think of Serbia as our homeland, and that we feel Serbia is part of us, much more than Bosnia-Herzegovina.

We accept Bosnia because we must, and because it is part of the agreement we signed. But that agreement says nothing about love, and if we're talking about love, it's an intimate feeling and I have the right to feel the way I do.

In other words, we will continue to support the Serbian football team, just as I rooted for Novak Djokovic in the finals in Monaco, and just as I celebrate every victory by [Belgrade's] FC Partizan. No one can deny me that right, because it's what I love.

RFE/RL: Some people may interpret such statements as a desire to break with Bosnia and unify with Serbia.

Dodik:
We want Serbia to sort itself out and become powerful, and we will always look to Serbia for understanding and consolation. It's not aimed against anything or anyone. Again, we respect the [Dayton] agreement, but we feel uncomfortable inside Bosnia because the role of Republika Srpska is constantly being diminished, and its authority undermined, as a result of Bosnian centralization. It's a state of permanent unease.

RFE/RL: But isn't it possible that all the talk about a referendum and ties with Serbia could provoke a sense of anxiety among Bosnia's other two ethnic groups?

Dodik:
If we both respect the Dayton agreement, there should be no problem. We're not the ones working to undermine Dayton or threatening the existence of Bosnia-Herzegovina in that way. We just want to be inside -- and nothing else. We don't want the Bosniaks and Croats to feel anxious.

In the last few years, no one has documented any ethnic violence in Republika Srpska. But relations within Bosnia as a whole are something else. The Bosniaks are good people. But this is not a matter of good or bad people, it's a matter of politics. And Bosniak politics are not the same thing as Bosniak people.

Kosovo Parallel

RFE/RL: When Kosovo declared independence last year, you refused to draw any parallels between it and Republika Srpska -- even though Vojislav Kostunica, who was then the prime minister of Serbia, frequently did. Is that analogy still a nonstarter for you? Might that change once the International Court of Justice rules on the legality of Kosovo's independence?

Dodik:
Kosovo was taken away from Serbia illegitimately. We don't have the right to start any similar adventures here. We're only interested in democratic and legitimate procedures. Whether the conditions will one day arise for Republika Srpska to make a decision like that remains to be seen. I personally believe that it will happen, that the time will come when the world will say the people have a right to choose.

RFE/RL: You seem to have a very close relationship with Serbian President Boris Tadic. How much support do you get from Belgrade?

Dodik:
I don't know. I just think that we have the right sort of relationship. As a country that also signed the Dayton peace accords, Serbia has respect for that document. There's no pressure, no special requests, coming from Belgrade. Nothing like that exists.

RFE/RL: And support?

Dodik:
I was a supporter of Tadic [in Serbia's 2008 presidential vote], and he was hosted by my political party here in Banja Luka. We share the same values, and we'll continue to do that.

RFE/RL: And that's all?

Dodik:
The relationship between Serbia and Republika Srpska has to develop further. We have to set common goals which are not in conflict with Dayton and not an obstacle to regional or any other kind of cooperation. And that is what we are doing.

RFE/RL: For someone who has been in politics as long as you have, you often allow yourself to be overcome with emotions, and make surprising statements. Why is that?

Dodik:
Because that's the kind of man I am.
This forum has been closed.
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by: Zoltan from: Hungary
April 28, 2009 17:18
The current state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is an artificial one and incapable of living. The war of the 1990ies was a sad and dirty phase of European history. <br /><br />Before those events Bosnia was an ethnically highly mixed country with no clear territories for each nation. Unfortunatelly after the bloody &quot;ethnic cleansings&quot; of the war current Bosnia have clearly separated territories inhabited with different nationalities. The partition of Bosnia is a real opportunity and worth to consider.<br /><br />Despite of the dirty events of the war we the European community should let serbs of Bosnia to determine their own future whether they want to seceed Bosnia and join Serbia or not. It is their undeniable right!<br /><br />To be honest if we let albanians of Kosovo to declare independence from Serbia then we have no moral or legal right to deny this from the serbs of Bosnia.<br /><br />Even for the rest of Bosnia this solution would be better while they could concentrate onto their own business.

by: Kenn
April 28, 2009 17:35
This proves he has no good intentions for bosnia at all whatsoever fact is that he wants the repulic to seperate because the &quot;republic&quot; was created 10 years ago over idiotic politicans. Fact is that Bosnia has been a self govern country for over a thousand of years but the war messed everything up and now just because so called &quot;bosnian-serbs&quot; make up about 60% of the population in the republic want independence... on what baises? thats like saying cause theres more black people then white in america new york should seperate... wtf? This guys an idiot, his racist and oh yeah his about to to get indited for corruption since this guy stole over 4,000,000 euro's from his own country..... REAL PATRIOT!

by: DefenderOfTruth
April 28, 2009 17:51
The Bosnian Serbs need to pick better leaders for themselves. Mr. Dodik is needlessly preventing the country from developing and integrating into the EU and NATO. It is hard for someone who lives in the West to understand why politicians like Mr. Dodik keep insisting that Serbs living in peace with other ethnic groups is an impossibility. He keeps talking about democracy but the very idea of wanting to have ethnically pure territories where &quot;outsiders&quot; are not welcome is precisely the opposite of democracy. If he truly cared about democracy then he would work towards forming a new constititution for Bosnia and Herzegovina that makes the country functional, providing protection and benefits to all of its citizens regardless of their ethnic group or religious affiliation.

by: Brazilian Man from: S&#227;o Paulo, Brazil
April 28, 2009 18:23
“We want Serbia to sort itself out and become powerful, and we will always look to Serbia for understanding and consolation.”<br /><br />“Kosovo was taken away from Serbia illegitimately.”<br /><br />Behind the beautiful words, Dodik has basically the same “Greater Serbia” expansionist agenda of Slobodan Milosevic, Arkan, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic that wanted to grab territories beyond the Drina to Belgrade. He pays lip service to EU and Western norms of accountability, democracy and human rights.

by: ABDULMAJID
April 28, 2009 21:22
Yeah, wonderful, let us legalize the land grab. Ethnic cleansing? Murder? Rape? Genocide? Destruction of priceless cultural heritage? With that the Bosnian Serbs have won their &quot;unalienable right&quot;! And as for the Bosniaks, lock them in a ghetto. A Bantustan. A Balkan version of the Gaza Strip. Dodik and Karadzic, what's the diference? That the latter is not (yet) considering to use outright violence against the Bosniaks. But if he felt that it would serve his purpose he would not hesitate. And he lies brazenly when he says that there is no violence against Bosniaks in the &quot;RS&quot;. And in the end the Bosniaks would be left with about 22% of the territory in several disconnected enclaves where they woudl be dependent of humanitarian aid forever, could be fenced in, would depend on the hostile Serbs and Croats for travelling between the enclaves or abroad; electric power, heat, water and humanitarian aid could be cut off to them at will; they would be turned into the Palestinians of Europe if they allow themselves to be treated like that. So NO! to a partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina, or else any genocidal little tyrant out there would feel compelled to do the same. And teh Bosniaks would be very well advised to prepare themselves for the day when Dodoik realla tries to pull off his evil little scheme, and to prevent the partition of their homeland with all and any means! And if they can pay back the Chetniks a little for the genocide the Serbs tried to commit against them, it will only be just. And I can already see the backbiting the apologists of Greater Serbia, of Karadzic and Mladic, and of the Greater Orthodox Serbian-Russian Co-Prosperity Sphere will spew! Let them stew in their self-righteous anger. THE CROSS WILL NEVER CHASE THE CRESCENT FROM THE BALKANS!

by: Diaspora from: Australia
April 29, 2009 05:51
If Yugoslavia could not exist because of ethnic tensions, how then can Bosnia exist which is only a mini Yugoslavia?<br />All the people of former Yugoslavia were given the right to secede and rule themselves except for the Serbs. They are forced to live in a country they have nothing in common with. I'm sure that Croats of Bosnia don't want Bosniak rule any longer as well.<br />No double standards any more. All or none.

by: E5 from: US
April 29, 2009 05:54
I agree Zoltan, but...<br /><br />Population by ethnic group of Bosnia:<br />Bosniak 48%, Serb 37.1%, Croat 14.3%, other 0.6% (2000)<br /><br />Yet...<br />Federation=51percent of land<br />Republika Srpska=49 percent of land.<br /><br />Let RS leave and join Serbia but you have to be fair and give:<br />62.9 percent of land=Federation<br />37.1 percent of land=Republika Srpska

by: Batorb
April 29, 2009 13:33
@ Kenn<br />For future reference, Bosnia has not been a country for thousands of years. Slavs only migrated down there c.600AD and even then there was no formal country of Bosnia. Bosniaks are the Slavs that converted to Islam under the Ottomans who came in the 1300s. What I'm trying to say is that Bosnia is a RELATIVELY new country. Also your claim that a serb majority in Bosnia want to separate and this shouldn't be allowed..what about Kosovo?? An Albanian ethnic majority claimed independence (illegaly) and this was OK'd by the west. Double standards I believe.

by: Brazilian Man from: S&#227;o Paulo - Brazil
April 29, 2009 14:51
Bosnia was never a “mini-Yugoslavia” — in fact, it was much more ancient than Yugoslavia itself.<br /><br />For centuries the Orthodox, the Catholics and the Muslim peoples of Bonia lived together, and in the same places: the current separation, caused by the brutal military methods commanded by Belgrade, are quite recent.<br /><br />The Orthodox Serb military, religious and familiar clans always controlled Yugoslavia and got the upper hand, as the same way Russian elites did in the times of Russian and Soviet empires. That’s why the Serb powerful clans are still so resentful of the loss of their mini-empire until today.

by: Zoltan from: Hungary
April 29, 2009 15:47
E5 territory and inhabitants do not go always hand in hand. Republika Srpska is inhabited by ethnic serbs. If this is a result of ethnic cleansings is not a question yet. This is the reality.<br /><br />So Republika Srpska is a self governed autonom territory of Bosnia therefore they HAVE the RIGHT to seceed and determine their own future whether it remains inside Bosnia or not.<br /><br />I totally agree with Diaspora that if Yugoslavia was unfunctionalbel then why do we expect the opposite from Bosnia? <br /><br />We should understand that multiethnic states are unfunctional in the Balkans.<br /><br />But why do we expect it to function while Belgium is also on the edge of splitting.<br /><br />Bosnia is an artificial state. In Dayton 1995. the only aim was to terminate the bloodshed. They did not care about the future of Bosnia. They did not want to solve the root of the problem there. It was an intermediate agreement which is proved to be an intermediate solution while Bosnia still do not operate as a state after 14 years of Dayton.<br />In Bosnia in reality two states live paralell.<br /><br />Let the serbs of Bosnia determine their future!<br /><br />Kosovo precedent!
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