Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Everyone in Former Yugoslavia Is Worried about Bosnia and Herzegovina

Adelina Marini, September 1, 2016

The Balkans have again turned into a zone of tension and geopolitical competition, so starting today (September 1st) euinside begins doing a media review in the countries of former Yugoslavia. 

Aleksandar Vučić is again facing a choice – with Russia, or with the EU

Starting this week everyone in the region is watching with tension and concern the way events are developing in Bosnia and Herzegovina with the leader of the Serbian entity in the country – Milorad Dodik - not ceasing to demand that a referendum is held on September 25 which is to approve or reject the proposal that January 9th is named official national holiday of Republika Srpska (RS), despite the ruling of the BiH’s Constitutional Court of last year and despite the appeal of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) that the vote is not held.    

The subject has been a leading one in Croatia for several days now. In a commentary [in Croatian] for Jutarnji list Robert Bajruši explains that the biggest problem in this case is Dodik, who practically does not recognise BiH as a state. Dodik is doing everything possible to stay in power, having in mind the upcoming local elections on October 2.

All eyes are now fixed on Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić, who initially refused to interfere, but following the PIC ruling announced he is organising an emergency meeting (today) with the authorities in Republika Srpska. Serbian media announced today that Mr Vučić no longer sees the point in such a meeting, for authorities in the entity have already announced that despite the resistance, the referendum stays. “I am not violating our agreements. I am not speaking publicly what my policy is. I cannot stand easy and populist decisions, that the people love”, Vučić is quoted [in Serbian] by the Serbian National Television RTS. Blic newspaper came out [in Serbian] today with a thorough analysis of legal possibilities, titled “Can anyone stop the holding of the referendum in RS?” The answer to this question, according to the newspaper, is rather a negative one. “Neither the Peace Implementation Council, nor the High Representative of the international community in BiH have the power to stop the referendum." 

Danas published [in Serbian] an interview with the Serbian representative in the BiH presidency Mladen Ivanić, according to whom a possible ban on the referendum will just add fuel to the fire. “Only the RS Parliament could change the decision for the referendum”, he thinks, but this would be the peak of the political crisis. In his opinion, the Constitutional court of BiH is made up mainly of Bosniaks (members of the Muslim community). The same newspaper also reports that the EC is currently awaiting Vučić’s response to Milorad Dodik. The newspaper quotes its own sources, according to whom there will at the end be a dismissal of the referendum. Diplomatic sources have told Danas that the West has for a long time been expecting Vučić to interfere in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state by pointing out to Dodik all negative consequences from the holding of the referendum not just to RS, but to Serbia as well, which, should it back the referendum, would stand directly alongside Moscow, and Russia is refraining from support for the PIC declaration. 

Bosnian newspaper Dnevni Avaz published an interview with Bosnian intellectual Muhamed Filipović, who feels that only simpletons could believe that Serbia is not interfering in RS politics. “It is folly to think that this is just a part of the pre-election masquerade. RS was established by the Dayton agreement. This fact, as much as being fundamental to its existence, is also a threshold, for it is a part of a temporary agreement, whose aim was to stop the bloodshed that was conducted by the Serbs. They need this day [January 9] in order to validate the existence of RS outside and in spite of Dayton. This is why it is so serious. If anyone recognises this referendum, it would mean that RS exists outside Dayton and this would give grounds for a referendum on secession [from BiH]”, says Academic Filipović, president of the Bosnian Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

Tension between Serbia and Croatia continues

It is curious, however, whether Vučić’s decision will be influenced by another subject, which has been exciting Serbian and Croatian media today as well. Word is of the letter, which the PM sent to EU leaders in the beginning of August, including to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker (Luxembourg, EPP), in which he complains about Croatia’s behaviour and more specifically about the reinstatement of sympathies for the Ustaša regime, continuous slandering of Serbia and the Serbian people, and the fact that war crime convicts keep walking free. All media in both countries report on Mr Juncker’s reply, which was qualified as being “cool” on both sides of the border. In his reply the EC boss demands that these problems be resolved in the framework of bilateral relations. 

Croatian Jutarnji quotes [in Croatian] Juncker’s reply that the EC “within its powers, strongly advocates respect for victims and commemoration of war crimes in Europe. European law condemns hate crimes based on national origin, as well as calls to violence or hate”, says the letter. Serbia’s reaction is one of disappointment. Most Croatian media quote Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dačić, according to whom “enough is enough”. He accuses the EC for double standards. Serbian national television as well as all other Serbian media quote Prime Minister Vučić, who stated that he has enormous respect for Juncker, but does not wish to comment the letter. “I cannot stand it when everything is made level and when false symmetries and balances are made. I believe this is difficult to bear for all honest people”, said Vučić. 

Tension between Kosovo and Montenegro

The Montenegro – Kosovo border demarcation agreement is causing aggravated protests in Priština, where a large opposition rally is expected today. Montenegrin national television reports that it is still unclear whether the ruling coalition will manage to ensure a two-thirds majority in the Kosovar parliament for the ratification of the agreement. Several MPs of the ruling coalition are yet to make a decision. By all accounts the Serbian list too is yet undecided on their vote. It is quite possible that the vote will again be postponed, comments the TV channel. 

Merkel is furious with Tsipras

The other most popular daily in Croatia Večernji list reveals details of the last week meeting of several leaders, among which Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Migrants amass in Serbia, Hungary reinforces its border with Serbia, the EU agreement with Turkey has feet of clay, for it is an illusion to expect that the EU will lift the visas for Turkish nationals. The number of migrants arriving in Greece is once more growing after the quiet-down that began in April – they are now 500 per day”, says the newspaper and points out that Greece is proving an extremely weak link in the chain which aggravates Mrs Merkel very much, claims the daily, quoting well informed sources.

According to these sources, the German Chancellor said that Greece perhaps should not be in Schengen and that she no longer has the patience to talk to Greek PM Alexis Tsipras. Večernji also reports that Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov complained to Merkel that “after the end of Communism he knocked down walls” and asked whether he should start rebuilding them. The newspaper reminds that recently the Bulgarian PM had an informal semi-private meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He was the first European statesman to meet him after the failed coup d'état in Turkey, writes Večernji.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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