A year ago, Bosnia-Herzegovina's Republika Srpska marked its 20th birthday with a spectacular display of economic potential, political strength, and indications of a bright future for all.
This January 9, the affair was much more modest -- no fireworks and 3-D displays this time around -- reflecting a gloomy economic situation, strikes, and charges of widespread crime, corruption, and nepotism.
Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik has increased the volume of his trademark nationalist rhetoric in recent weeks, but he appears more nervous than confident after almost seven years of undisputed -- and almost absolute -- rule.
In the space of just 10 days, Dodik -- who once looked like the West's preferred Serbian politician in the Balkans and was regarded as a great conciliator and reformer -- has offered to resettle Kosovo's Serbs in Republika Srpska, accused the West of devoting millions of dollars to helping foment a "spring" against him, and once again declared Bosnia a doomed and short-lived project for which Serbs will not shed a tear.
In a New Year's Eve interview with a Belgrade daily, Dodik said he had information that $10 million was to be distributed to the opposition, nongovernmental organizations, and media.
"Of course, there is only one goal," Dodik charged. "Remove Dodik. Bring marionettes. Empty the Republika Srpska. Take away all of its authorities."
But a more likely reason for the president's rhetorical offensive is an attempt to deflect growing public frustration with leadership that failed to deliver the promised economic prosperity and national consolidation, say Bosnian Serb opposition politicians and independent analysts, intellectuals, and commentators.
The first sign of trouble at Dodik's court were the results of local elections in October, when Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats was squarely beaten in an abrupt shift from the two general polls and one local election that they won overwhelmingly.
Dodik used to boast that Republika Srpska was the stronger and healthier half of Bosnia, in which the Bosniak-Croat federation was the other partner in a poorly functioning union forged as part of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.
But now he's hard-pressed to make such a case. The economy is in recession, the budget is in deficit for the fourth year in a row, public-sector salaries have been cut, and pension payments are regularly late. Moreover, the private sector is barely alive and 150,000 people are unemployed in a population of about 1.4 million.
Huge investments that were to follow the sale of major state enterprises never materialized, apart from a new government administrative center in Banja Luka that cost a whopping $150 million.
"It is important to compare these two days -- the one last year when everything was glowing and when everything seemed different -- with this one, when we faced reality in the most brutal way possible and realized that Republika Srpska was not, in fact, rock solid but in a catastrophic state," Aleksandar Trifunovic, the head of the independent Buka media project and Internet portal, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service about the anniversary.
More scaremongering is to be expected from Dodik concerning existential dangers that Republika Srpska faces because, as University of Banja Luka professor Djordje Vukovic told RFE/RL, the government has for the first time got something right.
"As it became clear that they cannot maintain single-mindedness...[and] that the people cannot tolerate the situation any more, they chose the old and tested recipe -- the disqualification of real and imagined enemies," Vukovic said.
Confrontational rhetoric has served Dodik well since 2006, when he returned to power on a nationalist ticket. Previously, he had ruled in 1998-2002 thanks to support from Bosniak and Croatian parties, with strong backing from the United States and other Western peace sponsors.
But although he has managed to essentially halt any kind of cooperation with the other part of Bosnia within a joint central government and freeze the country's European integration process, Dodik has failed at his stated goal of rolling back the transfer of authority that paved the way for the creation of the joint army, state courts, an indirect taxation authority, and law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Analysts and opposition politicians predict a hot political year.
"Republika Srpska has become a prisoner of one ideology, one policy, and one man," claims Dragan Cavic, the head of the minor opposition Democratic Party and a former president of Republika Srpska. "And the number of those realizing that it is being ruled by a regime grows by the day."
-- Nedim Dervisbegovic, based on reporting by Maja Bjelajac in Banja Luka