Dodik's referendum – opening Pandora's box in the Balkans?”


The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. In view of the local election in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) which is to take place on 2 October 2016 IFIMES has prepared an analysis of the current political situation in that country. The most relevant parts from the analysis entitled BiH 2016 local election:Dodik's referendum – opening Pandora's box in the Balkans?are published below.


BiH 2016 local election:

Dodik's referendum – opening Pandora's box in the Balkans?”


Bosnia and Herzegovina will hold local election on 2 October 2016. There are 3,345,486 registered voters in the country. The number of voters who will vote by post at the forthcoming election has significantly increased to 65,111. About 30,000 candidates are competing for the positions in the future local government. Altogether 2,835 councillors will be elected, of which 1,687 in the Federation of  Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), 1,117 in Republika Srpska (RS) and 31 in the Brčko District, as well as 301 city council members of which 117 in FBiH and 184 in RS, 131 mayors of municipalities and 12 mayors of cities.


Election will be held in all local government units with the exception of the city of Mostar where no election has been held since 2008. The greatest responsibility for the situation in Mostar lies with two leading parties: the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and Croatian Democratic Union of BiH (HDZBiH). Despite their optimistic announcements regarding the agreement to be concluded on local elections in Mostar, the current political leadership has not reached any solution yet.


Local election marked by traditional political rivalries


The current election campaign in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been marked by traditional political rivalries.


As usually there are two political blocks in Republika Srpska: one coalition comprises Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Democratic People's Union  (DNS) and the Socialist Party (SP), while the other one (Union for Change) is a coalition between the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), the Party of Democratic Progress  (PDP) and Democratic People's Alliance (NDP). The Union for Change has lost much power due to collaboration between PDP leader and Serb Member of BiH Presidency Mladen Ivanić and SNSD leader and President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik. With PDP rapidly losing support among the electorate, Ivanić is using inappropriate rhetoric that creates further tensions in BiH in order to regain some of that support. This is a classic example of “political prostitution”, which is characteristic of Ivanić.


The SDA-SBB coalition (SBB - Union for a Better Future) is the absolute favourite of the upcoming local election. The Social Democratic Party (SDP) is on the defensive, trying to find its place within the opposition. The Democratic Front (DF) has been trying to present itself as the opposition party and a fierce critic of the government, in which it has partly succeeded due to numerous failures made by the incumbent government. It is becoming more and more obvious that in the SDA-SBB coalition SDA will gradually take over SBB's power. Judicial prosecution of SBB leader Fahrudin Radončić has left a heavy burden for the future of this party. Election of a new SBB leader could eventually prevent its decline and open the possibilities for the party to disengage from SDA's patronage.


Election in the Brčko District will be especially interesting. Brčko has become a training ground for measuring the power of political parties in RS and FBiH. All the largest parties have announced they will hold their main election rallies in Brčko, which will further aggravate the atmosphere in the District where considerable regression has been noticed in last years. The Brčko District is an administrative unit of BiH with probably the highest number of initiated and the lowest number of completed projects.


HDZBiH dominates in areas with predominantly Croatian population where it will be very difficult to undermine its position.


Of special concern will be the forthcoming local election in Srebrenica due to the genocide committed against the Bosniaks and since a large number of voters from Serbia have been illegally added to the electoral rollof the municipality of Srebrenica. In view of the above stated and other possible malpractices in the election process and at the election it will be of grave importance to carry out monitoring in Srebrenica.


While the higher state level is engaged by opposing political options, the local level thrives with numerous unprincipled coalitions and a large number of independent candidates and tickets.


Who does Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Janković support?


Although local elections are primarily an inner political issue, this is not the case in Bosnia in Herzegovina. Politicians from Serbia and, to a lesser degree, from Croatia actively interfere in BiH election campaigns, and it is not a rare case that even Turkish politicians are involved.  


The latest case of such international involvement in BiH election campaign was the Mayor of Ljubljana Zoran Janković whorecently supported the candidate for mayor Igor Radojičić from Dodik's SNSD in Banja Luka. In February 2008 the US administration imposed “tacit” sanctions against SNSD when three US agencies, including the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) ceased to provide aid to SNSD which is led by the President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik. The US Government decided to suspend the financing when it estimated that SNSD no longer fulfils the criteria for USAID programme. Namely the American administration does not provide financial or technical assistance to any political and/or national party in Bosnia and Herzegovina whose activities are based on some ethnic preferences or nationalism. The political programme of SNSD is not in line with Bosnia and Herzegovina's aspirations for Euro-Atlantic integration. The US administration established that the actions and statements made by SNSD have not contributed to the progress of Bosnia and Herzegovina, are not in line with the Dayton Peace Agreement and undermine the state institutions necessary for the realisation of BiH Euro-Atlantic integration. SNSD is burdened with criminal encumbrances and its leader Milorad Dodik is increasingly regarded as an exponent of Russian politics in BiH and a symbol of crime and corruption. Moreover, SNSD has been expelled from the Socialist International (SI) and from the Party of European Socialists (PES).


Ljubljana Mayor Janković went on to express his support also in the Brčko District where he supported BDP's (Brčko Democratic Movement) candidate for mayor Admir Nuković, the recently dismissed director of the “Komunalno Brčko” public utility company who is also burdened with certain past encumbrances and controversies that undermine his credibility and diminish his democratic capacity.


The International Monetary Fund has also interfered in BiH election campaign by paying a loan tranche on 12 September 2016 to the governments of FBiH and RS, thus expressing direct support to the incumbent leadership.


Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić has also participated in the election campaign by attending the opening ceremony of the Prnjavor-Doboj motorway, although this event has nothing to do with the Government of the Republic of Serbia. The motorway is named “9 January”, which is the date that was declared as unconstitutional for the National Day of Republika Srpska by the decision of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) was also involved in the whole story of the “9 January” motorway by financing the project with a loan of EUR 180 million, only to eventually see the motorway with a disputable and unconstitutional name.


Although this is only a local election, there are too many actors involved in the whole election process, many of them aggravating the already complicated and difficult situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The pre-election period reminds in certain aspects of the pre-war period in BiH 25 years ago and the smell of war can already be felt in the air.


Dodik's referendum – an introduction into new geopolitical changes


Current events in Bosnia and Herzegovina are further complicating the announced referendum in Republika Srpska scheduled for 25 September 2016, the aim of which is to annul the decision of the BiH Constitutional Court that 9 January is unconstitutional for celebrating the Day of Republika Srpska since it insults the feelings of the other two nations in the RS entity, the Bosniaks and the Croats, as it was proclaimed by only one nation, the Serbs.


The High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina (OHR) Valentin Inzko and the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) have estimated that the announced referendum on the National Day of Republika Srpska has an anti-Dayton character and threatens peace and stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.


Milorad Dodik is trying to force the Constitutional Court to revoke its decision or to revise its judgement. This is clearly a case of legal nonsense, since judgements of the Constitutional Court can not be not subject to revision – by submitting itself to revision the Constitutional Court would actually abolish itself, which is obviously Dodik's goal.


In his public appearances Dodik has been wise enough to stress that in Bosnia and Herzegovina decisions should be adopted with the consensus of all the three nations, while the decision on 9 January was only made by the representatives of one nation – the Serbs. The solution for this crisis would be to involve all the three nations, Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, in the decision-making on the National Day of Republika Srpska. However, it is obvious that Dodik lacks the democratic capacity, so he uses the instrumentalist approach and manipulates the feelings of his fellow Serbs in order to realise his one and only goal – to remain in power.  


Russia is strongly involved in the referendum situation in RS, and Serbia has also shown certain pretensions, although Aleksandar Vučić and Tomislav Nikolić stated they do not support the referendum, but they do not oppose it either. In fact this means tacit support – the connoisseurs of the political situation are fully aware that decisions on Republika Srpska are made in Belgrade, and the same goes for the present referendum.


Another proof of Russia's involvement is the announced Milorad Dodik's visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for 22 September 2016. In international relations it is inconceivable that Russia's President receives a president of some region of another country, except if the visitor is an exponent of Russia's politics in that region. In this case Dodik acts in Russian interests which are primarily focused on preventing BiH from gaining NATO full membership and eventually also on the dissolution of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  


The referendum that is to take place in Republika Srpska on 25 September 2016 is an introduction into new geopolitical turmoil and will open Pandora's box in the Balkans with unimaginable consequences. This may lead to large geopolitical changes in the region as well as globally, and the announcement of Dodik's referendum may stir the process of internal (re)organisation of BiH.


Analysts believe that if the referendum actually takes place on 25 September 2016, this may lead to a chain reaction and a series of new referenda in BiH and the region. Even Serbia will not be able to avoid this chain of referenda, with Albanians in the Preševo Valley (Preševo, Medveđa, Bujanovac), who believe they are the “Eastern Kosovo”, demanding annexation to Kosovo, followed by the secession tendencies of the Bosniaks in Sandžak – although most of Bosniak leaders are Vučić's followers, as well as Bulgarians in the region bordering Bulgaria and Vlachs in east Serbia, and possibly even a referendum in Vojvodina that will not be demanded by minority communities. The situation in Macedonia will be further destabilised and the Serbs in Montenegro, encouraged with the support from Moscow and Belgrade, will endeavour to create their own entity in that country. There are many aspects that will lead to destabilisation in the region due to Dodik's referendum. Any Serbia's escapade with Republika Srpska may cause it to lose Vojvodina. Even Russia warned Serbia of this danger a few years ago.


Analysts have estimated that the announced referendum in RS will lead to the process of changes in internal (re)organisation of BiH based on the shock doctrine. In democracy it is impossible to make any radically change in direction without some shock that would “allow” those who have staged that shock to organise the state according to their own principles and plans. In Dodik's case it is paradoxical that he is creating a shock in the interests of others, while he is being applauded for his “suicidal” action by almost all of his public.  


Analysts believe that participation of foreign judges in the BiH Constitutional Court still brings certain new quality, since it contributes to the reduction of politisation and provincialisation of such an important body.


Ljubljana, 17 September 2016