North Carolina Journal of International Law

"Connecting North Carolina to the World of International Law"

As Tensions Rise in Bosnia, Dodik Continues to Provoke

By: Ben Hukill

The state of disrepair in Bosnia and Herzegovina (“BiH”) is probably Europe’s worst-kept secret. Scars from the Bosnian War have yet to heal in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which becomes evident upon seeing the bombed out buildings lining the main road from Sarajevo’s only airport into the city center. Though a dark reminder of the devastation that struck the region not much more than two decades ago, all is not lost. BiH has a path to recovery: accession to the European Union (EU).

Signing of the Dayton Accords

Incentives to join the EU would include new jobs, lower tariffs, and access to a new consumer base. As an EU member, BiH could also seek aid similar to that given Cyprus following its financial crisis in 2013, or Greece after its economy tanked in the late 2000s.

BiH, as it is today, was created by the Dayton Accords. The Dayton Accords created the Inter-Entity Boundary Line,[1] a border separating Republika Srpska, which is majority Serb, from the rest of BiH (the “Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina”), which is majority Bosniak/Bosnian Croat.[2] The Republika Srpska is led by President Milorad Dodik, a Serb nationalist who openly calls for secession from greater BiH. Though President Dodik has long called for secession, his feud with BiH took a perilous turn when he proclaimed January 9 as “Day of Republika Srpska.”[3] When BiH’s higher court ordered a banned observance of that day, he ignored the order.[4] Observance of the holiday was controversial because it celebrated the birthday of the Republika Srpska; on January 9, 1992 Republika Srpska declared itself autonomous from the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Not long after, Serb aggression against Bosniaks began. In the scope of the current unrest facing the Balkans today, what Dodik did in refusing to follow the Court’s order is akin to adding jet fuel to a campfire.

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, tension between ethnic factions in the Balkan region developed into aggression against Bosnian Muslims (“Bosniaks”), and eventually genocide[5] in the form of the Bosnian War. The war lasted three bloody years and finally ended with the Dayton Accords, a peace agreement signed in 1995. Parties to the agreement included Bosniak and Bosnian Serb leaders in Bosnia and Serbian President Slobodan Milošević.

The Stabilisation and Association process is the EU’s special accession policy for Western Balkan states, including BiH. BiH has applied for EU membership,[6] but under that policy must now demonstrate that it is capable of “promoting regional cooperation,”[7] all while the leader of its minority Serb population publicly announces his intent to destroy what unity exists within BiH.

The Republika Srpska’s wishes to secede draw parallels to pre-Bosnian War anti-Muslim sentiments, vocalized then by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and now by Dodik, as champion of “Day of Republika Srpska.”

When reflecting on the current political climate of Europe, as well as sentiments from those within BiH, it is clear that what Dodik wants will not improve the lives of the people he leads. While he wants autonomy from BiH, the economic realities facing Republika Srpska make this goal unrealistic. Republika Srpska is simply not prepared to function autonomously without significant foreign aid.[8]

On January 1st the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Dodik for “actively obstructing” the Dayton Accords.[9] Sanctions

Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska

will punish “persons who provide material support to persons designated under this Executive Order, including Dodik.”[10] The chances of a country that values good relations with the U.S. supporting Dodik must be considered minute, at best. Throw in Republika Srpska’s poor record of unpaid debts, and the chances of getting support from any nation outside of Russia drop to near zero.

Considering then that Dodik’s hopes for secession would likely result in a failed autonomous Serb state and a destabilized Balkan region, it is in the best interest of BiH—including the Republika Srpska—for Dodik to stop provoking and work to prepare BiH for secession into the EU. Unfortunately, if his track record tells us anything, it tells us that he will carry on exactly as he is.


[1] The General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina art. 1, Nov. 21, 1995.

[2] Rodolfo Toe, Census Reveals Bosnia’s Changed Demography, Balkan Insight (June 30, 2016), http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/new-demographic-picture-of-bosnia-finally-revealed-06-30-2016 [https://perma.cc/NZ3X-VPS6].

[3] A Referendum by Serbs Threatens Yet More Trouble for Bosnia, The Economist (Sep. 27, 2016), http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21707877-banned-vote-separate-bosnian-serb-national-day-has-some-people-talking-war-referendum [https://perma.cc/5SAK-46Y9].

[4] Id.

[5] Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosn. & Herz. v. Serb. & Montenegro), Judgment, I.C.J. Rep. 2007, ¶ 297 Feb. 26).

[6] EU Accepts Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Membership Application, Deutsche Welle (Sep. 20, 2016), http://www.dw.com/en/eu-accepts-bosnia-and-herzegovinas-membership-application/a-19563808 [https://perma.cc/GAX5-4KB2].

[7] Steps Towards Joining, European Commission (Dec. 6, 2016), https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/policy/steps-towards-joining_en [https://perma.cc/CJV3-ZUS4].

[8] See, e.g., Bosnian Serb Leader Hunts for Cash in China, Balkan Insight (Nov. 4, 2016), http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/bosnian-serb-leader-hunts-for-cash-in-china-11-04-2016 [https://perma.cc/F75R-4HJU].

[9] Press Release, U.S. Dep’t of the Treasury, Treasury Sanctions Republika Srpska Official for Actively Obstructing The Dayton Accords (Jan. 17, 2017) (available at https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0708.aspx) [https://perma.cc/QYY7-Q3S3].

[10] Id.

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