Milorad Dodik: Basketball Star, Politician….Destroyer of Bosnia?
Few weeks pass without Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik making comments designed to titillate his Serb constituents while shocking non-Serbs. His long-term policy seems clear: peaceful secession of the Serb province, much like Milo Djukanovic achieved in Montenegro. For now, he tears strips off the fledgling Bosnian state, blocking key EU-required state-level legislation while transferring powers to his provincial capital.
His latest move was to have the entity’s parliament declare as void all past transfers of power from the Republika Srpska to the Bosnian state. Most of the alleged transfers were imaginary; others, however, were necessary to make the country eligible for NATO’s Partnership for Peace and to progress along the path to EU accession.
Torn between a desire to relinquish the interventionist apparatus bequeathed by the Dayton Peace Accords – including the Office of the High Representative (OHR) – and the EU’s inability to take robust action when confronted by local intransigence, international reaction to Dodik’s behavior was initially muted. Finally, in late June, High Representative Valentin Inzko acted by nullifying the offending declarations of the Republika Srpska National Assembly.
Yet despite Inzko’s 11th hour action, the underlying problems remain. The discordance over how to respond to these RSNA declarations has exposed the international community’s weakness.
Turning EU Weakness into Strength
The EU has come out of the affair looking bad. Inzko’s action was supposedly undertaken against the wishes of his nominal boss, EU "foreign policy czar" Javier Solana. Though the Spaniard is likely to step down if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified, his views are shared by many in Brussels and beyond, including the current holder of the EU Presidency, Sweden. These divisions matter. In the Balkans, division means weakness.
So what should the EU do? First, it must focus on a strategic aim. This cannot be Bosnia’s European integration. With the recent pain caused by the financial crisis, rising anti-enlargement sentiment, and seemingly unsolvable problems between Croatia and Slovenia, Bosnia’s European accession is many years away. An interim plan is needed.
Put simply: the EU should focus on building a viable Bosnian state. Bosnia’s constitution was designed to stop a war, not to run a country. Piecemeal reforms, mostly of a technical variety, have not changed any of the underlying problems. Constitutional reforms are needed now. To help draft these, the EU should explicitly lay out the state functions it believes are necessary for Bosnia to comply with the acquis communautaire. The EU cannot impose constitutional reforms, but Brussels ought to make clear what will be required of Bosnia for eventual accession.
The Brussels Initiative
The EU could also sponsor something similar to the Geneva Initiative, which is a non-governmental process to draft an unofficial peace proposal to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Bosnian version, perhaps run in Brussels, could provide a road map of what moderate politicians see as a way forward.
Then, the EU should move its conditions beyond the technocratic. If Bosnia wants to join the EU, it will not only have to be ready administratively, but also politically. As long as politicians like Dodik continue behaving the way they have been – encouraging ethnically-based divisions, inflaming the political atmosphere, contravening the spirit and the law of the Dayton Peace Accords – the EU should make it clear that Bosnia is not politically ready.
A new EU Bosnia Set-up
Finally, the problem of the OHR must be solved. OHR could be closed in favor of a European envoy, but only if the post maintains many of the same authorities or if some of the powers of the Enlargement Commissioner are delegated. The establishment of European External Action Service, as part of the Lisbon Treaty, should afford the opportunity for some creative institutional tinkering.
The Balkans may look like a generally positive story, but Bosnia remains a black spot both for the region and for the EU. Clear thinking will be required to make matters right and for the EU to bridge the chasm between its lofty foreign policy ambitions and the breakdown in its own backyard.
Daniel Korski is a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. A former British official, he was a senior advisor in the US State Department, and then led the Basra Reconstruction Team.
Previous Balkan Week articles on Atlantic Community:
Tomorrow: Elizabeth Pond: Kosovo: Balkan Success Story and Future EU Member?