SARAJEVO -- Milorad Dodik, the irascible prime minister of Republika Srpska, has made no secret of his disdain for the unified state of Bosnia-Herzegovina -- or the international community that helped preserve it after three years of war.
Dodik, whose loyalties appear to lie closer to Belgrade than Sarajevo, has repeatedly threatened to hold a referendum on whether or not his entity should secede from Bosnia in favor of a liaison with Serbia.
In recent days, he has heated up the rhetoric even further, proposing twin referendums on two issues of great personal vexation: Bosnia's NATO bid, and the presence of foreign judges in the country's courts.
"The Dayton peace agreement still stands, regardless of Republika Srpska's rights and Republika Srpska's role as a constituent element of Bosnia-Herzegovina," Dodik said last week, ahead of today's 14th anniversary of the Dayton signing. "There have been many attempts to prevent us from even thinking about asking about special status."
The Dayton accords, signed December 14, 1995 in Paris, ended the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war and laid the groundwork for the civilian implementation of the peace agreement. WATCH: U.S. diplomatic and military efforts helped put an end to the bloodshed in Bosnia 14 years ago. Reuters video.
But many in Bosnia -- particularly in Republika Srpska -- have begun to chafe under the continued presence of international administrators, saying that Bosnia is capable of minding its own affairs.
Of particular irritation to Dodik is the presence of foreign judges and lawyers who, since 2005, have been brought in to prosecute war crimes and organized crime at Bosnia's State Court.
The mandate of the foreign judges and prosecutors was due to expire on December 31, but today was granted a last-minute reprieve.
Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, the international community's high representative to Bosnia, announced he was extending the mandates of war-crimes judges and prosecutors by three years. Those currently in charge of corruption and organized crime would also stay on, as advisers to local staff.
Explaining his decision today, Inzko said the move should not prevent Bosnian officials from pursuing "without delay" the reforms needed to transition to a strictly national court system.
High Representative Valentin Inzko near Sarajevo in October
"I need to let the country and its institutions take full ownership here," Inzko said. "The local professionals are serious and capable people, and they can do anything the internationals can -- and can do it many times even much better."
He vowed that "the international community will...continue to support these institutions in a non-executive manner."
Dodik responded to the move angrily, saying the Bosnian Serb parliament would act to schedule a referendum on the issue.
"The National Assembly will ask the people to say whether they support it," Dodik said. Profitable Business?
Serb politicians have complained that prosecutors have used the State Court to crack down on Bosnian Serbs across the board. Dodik, who has been accused of using a powerful investment fund in Republika Srpska to grant preferential loans, is currently under investigation by one of the foreign prosecutors.
But Dragan Cavic, the head of the Serb Republic's opposition Democratic Party, suggested that Dodik may be opposed to the court because he himself is under investigation by one of the foreign prosecutors.
"When they're gaining enormous wealth, then there's no referendum," Cavic said. "There wasn't a referendum about who would be getting loans
from the Republika Srpska Investment-Development Bank. This is hiding behind the public and irresponsible politics."
Dodik had hoped that Inzko would fail to drum up support among his international partners for an extension on the judges' mandates.
Now that Inzko has spoken, however, it remains to be seen whether Dodik will proceed with his threat to hold a referendum on the issue.
The same holds for NATO. Bosnia is nominally in favor of joining the military alliance, while Serbia -- and, by extension, Republika Srpska -- is decidedly opposed. NATO's failure to offer Bosnia a Membership Action Plan during an expansion meeting earlier this month has only further stoked resentment, and may goad Dodik into holding a second referendum. 'Right' To Referendum
Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serbian member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, defended the decision to hold a referendum as a "democratic right."
"We will show that these citizens know what democracy is and that a referendum is the most democratic right," Radmanovic said. "If people elsewhere can express their views on rivers, watersheds and minarets, then we can also do the same about crucial issues."
Neither vote would be legal. Republika Srpska, as a constituent entity of Bosnia, does not have the power to call a referendum. But there are worries the exercise, legitimate or no, could give voice to private resentment felt by many Serbs and destabilize an already shaky situation in the multiethnic state.
Bozo Ljubic, the head of Bosnia's Croatian Democratic Community party (HDZ 1990), said even the threat to hold a referendum could be enough to undo a country where ethnic tensions have simmered for years.
"That kind of action can represent a serious threat to the stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina and maintaining internal order, as well as peace," Ljubic said. "The inflammatory rhetoric alone is a threat to the stability of Bosnia-Herzegovina and our internal order."
High Representative Inzko in late November delivered a grim status report to the UN Security Council on Bosnia's lack of democratic progress. During his remarks, he reserved particular criticism for "a small group of confused individuals" in the Republika Srpska leadership.
"The RS leadership," he said, "has failed to grasp that the state and entity authorities have separate and clearly defined mandates and that each must do its work without interference from the other."