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EU Threatens Bosnian Serb Leaders With Sanctions Over Secessionist Bid, 'Inflammatory Rhetoric'

Police forces in the Serb-dominated entity parade for celebrations marking Republika Srpska Day, in Banja Luka, January 9, 2022.
Police forces in the Serb-dominated entity parade for celebrations marking Republika Srpska Day, in Banja Luka, January 9, 2022.

The European Union has threatened Bosnia-Herzegovina's Serb-dominated entity with sanctions and a reduction in assistance if its leadership continues to fuel political paralysis and division in the Balkan country.

“Should the situation further deteriorate, the EU disposes of a wide toolbox, including the existing EU sanctions framework, and a review of the overall EU assistance,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a January 10 statement.

The stern warning comes as a protracted political crisis deepens over secessionist moves by Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, reviving fears that the peace deal which ended a 1992-95 war could unravel and threaten regional stability.

In the latest provocative act, the Serb-dominated entity on January 9 celebrated what its leaders call their “national day” holiday but what the country’s top court has declared unconstitutional.

The holiday, Republika Srpska Day, marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared their own state in Bosnia, triggering a devastating four-year war that killed over 100,000 people and left millions homeless.

The EU condemns the “negative, divisive and inflammatory rhetoric” used by Republika Srpska leaders during the celebrations, Stano said.

The Serbian entity’s leadership “should contribute to ending a worrying trend of hatred and intolerance. This must include putting an end to glorification of war criminals and to denying or glorifying their crimes,” he said.

The Bosnian War ended in 1995 with the U.S.-brokered Dayton peace accords which created two highly autonomous entities that share some joint institutions: Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation.

The country is governed and administered along ethnic lines established by the agreement, with a weak and often dysfunctional central government.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the Serbian representative in Bosnia's tripartite presidency, has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from state-level institutions. He has described Bosnia as “an experiment by the international community” and an “impossible, imposed country.”

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik (file photo)
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik (file photo)

Most recently, he led a campaign that saw Serb lawmakers vote on December 10 to start a procedure for Republika Srpska to withdraw from the Bosnian Army, security services, tax system, and judiciary.

Lawmakers also voted on a declaration that calls for the drafting of a new constitution for the entity intended to cast aside the powers of the international Office of the High Representative.

Dodik's separatist push gained momentum last summer when the Western-appointed high representative imposed a series of laws prohibiting the denial of genocide, war crimes, and the glorification of those convicted of such crimes before international or local courts.

The office is responsible for overseeing and coordinating the implementation of the Dayton agreement, but its sweeping powers have made it the target of criticism.

Dodik has repeatedly said the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were slaughtered by Bosnian Serb forces “did not take place.” The massacre has been deemed genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice.

“The continued blockade of Bosnia-Herzegovina institutions, the complete lack of constructive dialogue and the use of inflammatory rhetoric in public only lead to instability and delays in achieving reforms, which are important for the country and better life of its people,” the EU said.

On January 5, the United States imposed new sanctions on Dodik for corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia.

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