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reflections

Feb 14, 2007 | 03:21 GMT

4 mins read

Bosnia-Herzegovina: Dodik Struts His Stuff

It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day. Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider what might happen tomorrow.
Milorad Dodik, prime minister of Bosnia-Herzegovina's autonomous region Republika Srpska, said Feb. 13 that he will not agree to reforms for Bosnia-Herzegovina's police forces by the U.N. deadline. The reforms, intended to create a unified police force, are among the last large roadblocks to EU membership for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The United Nations — which ultimately makes the decisions in Bosnia — has said that if its March 2 deadline for a police reform agreement is missed, it will postpone EU integration talks for another year. Dodik said he would rather see Bosnia-Herzegovina not join the European Union than accept the police reforms. Dodik's remarks come after the formation of a new Bosnian central government, which sealed Dodik's control over the offices — specifically, the premiership — he needs in order to prevent a settlement on any measure in Bosnia-Herzegovina that undercuts Republika Srpska's autonomy. Bosnia-Herzegovina is delicately pieced-together state made up of three ethnic groups: Muslims (often referred to as Bosniacs), Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. The mixture does not blend well religiously, ethnically or historically. Following the Balkan wars among the different ethnic groups that escalated into a genocidal war in the early 1990s, the factions created autonomous regions within Bosnia-Herzegovina. Under agreements organized by the international community in the Dayton Peace Accords, the Serb population created an autonomous region called Republika Srpska (Serb Republic) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was created under a joint Croat-Bosniac agreement. Each region has its own government, constitution and police force, though a central government has been formed under the United Nations and under the watch of a U.N. high representative. Essentially, Bosnia-Herzegovina is being held together by the United Nations.
This is all scheduled to change in several ways, both inside and outside of Bosnia. To begin with, a new Bosnian central government — comprising seven extremely nationalist parties — was formed Feb. 9. In the new government Cabinet, the Serbs took the office of prime minister and the economic and interior ministries; the Bosniacs took the foreign, security, defense and refugee ministries; and the Croats took the finance, justice and transport portfolios. Each of the ethnic Serb ministers is a devoted member of Dodik's party. Essentially, Dodik has control over the offices needed to keep negotiations from moving down a path he does not like. Dodik's main objective is to protect the ethnic Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina. To him, that means keeping Republika Srpska's institutions and police force autonomous. Dodik — whom the West considers highly unpredictable — will use his newfound clout to pursue that goal. In a situation such as this, the U.N. high representative normally would dismiss Dodik or the new government. However, the U.N. high representative is on his way out. U.N. High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina Christian Schwarz-Schilling has announced that he will resign from his post June 30. His announcement came after meetings with both U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and almost a year to the day after he took the position. The West has criticized and pressured Schwarz-Schilling to resolve Bosnia-Herzegovina's tense divisions so the country can become more unified. The West is willing to allow Republika Srpska a little autonomy, but it ultimately wants a unified Bosnian police force and eventually an abolishment of the autonomous regional governments. Schwarz-Schilling has been criticized for not sacking the politicians who are preventing the negotiations from moving forward. Specifically, he has come under fire for not using a heavy enough hand with Dodik, whom many governments and people in the West and the Balkans want to see fired. Rather than replace Schwarz-Schilling, the United Nations will close down its high representative's office in Bosnia to make room for a new office. Now called the "special representative," the office will be under EU control and will not have the power to dismiss government members. The move is a trial run to give Bosnia-Herzegovina a chance to assert more control over its own affairs. The West had planned to move out of Bosnia-Herzegovina entirely by mid-2006, but realized that the state is still far from being capable of operating without oversight. Instability in Bosnia's neighbor, Serbia, and Kosovo's search for independence are further escalating tensions in the region. If Kosovo gains independence, look for Dodik to revive his campaign for Republika Srpska to split from Bosnia-Herzegovina altogether.

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