Dragana Trifkovic: Serbia – what is essential is Kosovo, not the union with Republika Srpska

It is regrettable that the idea of uniting Republika Srpska and Serbia is based on the misfortune of the Serbian people living in Kosovo and Metohija

Dragana Trifkovic (Source: Center for geostrategic studies)

With the recent statement by Milorad Dodik that Republika Srpska has embarked on a path out of Bosnia and Herzegovina with no return, this issue has once again received media attention. He began his speech to the Republika Srpska Assembly on February 17 with the words „Goodbye Bosnia and Herzegovina, welcome RS exit“.

Milorad Dodik also said that „no one will be able to prevent the exit of Republika Srpska from Bosnia and Herzegovina, not even the United States, because they believe that the Dayton Agreement has been broken, mainly by the intervention of an international factor“. However, this is not the first time that Dodik has uttered these strong words, so it may be thought that this is a threat. Admittedly, the situation with Bosnia and Herzegovina is more than complicated. This country is defined on such a basis that it cannot function without the control of an external factor. In addition, persistent inter-ethnic tensions between Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims are a major problem.

The Dayton Agreement put an end to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and divided the country into two entities (Bosnia and Herzegovina 51% and Republika Srpska 49%). However, in the post-war period, a number of competences that belonged to the entities covered by the agreement were transferred to the state level.

The Serbian member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina believes that the most devastating transfer of competences took place from 2001 to 2006 when the policy was administered by Mladen Ivanic, since the Armed Forces, the Indirect Taxation Authority and the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council were established during that period. On the other hand, the Party for Democratic Progress [Partija Demokratskog Progresa], founded by Mladen Ivanic, lists no less than 37 elements of devolution of competencies and institution-building in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which the Party of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats [Savez nezavisnih socijaldemokrata] of Milorad Dodik participated. Throwing stones at each other between the parties can certainly not help to solve the accumulated problems.

The starting point for the analysis of the situation with Bosnia and Herzegovina should certainly be the complexity of the problems, which includes the external factor and the resulting pressures, the inter-ethnic tensions of the three constituent peoples and the competition at the level of the two entities, as well as the internal problems of each entity separately.

The Republika Srpska is under strong pressure from the top and, in many cases, Milorad Dodik is using the subject of the referendum as a platform to counter this pressure. This is particularly true concerning his opposition to the jurisdiction of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The last claim that Republika Srpska was leaving the Federation was precisely a reaction to the decision of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina on the Law on Agricultural Land of Republika Srpska. Specifically, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared unconstitutional an article of law concerning the ownership of agricultural land by Republika Srpska.

For the opposition in Republika Srpska, the reform agenda, which defined Bosnia and Herzegovina’s integration into NATO, was a far more important cause for confrontation. Opposition parties accused Dodik in December of agreeing to push Bosnia and Herzegovina towards NATO, although there is no consensus on this.

The question is: is that perhaps the reason why the referendum on the independence of Republika Srpska has come back to the forefront, in order to divert attention from the issues raised by the opposition?

On the other hand, the region is shaken by the crisis in Montenegro, triggered by the decision of the Montenegrin authorities to adopt the law on freedom of religion, which claims ownership of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Milo Djukanovic in particular is happy that the problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina overshadow events in Montenegro, which he cannot control. And the third factor is the question of the resolution of the Kosovo problem, which is in its final stage, with pressure from the Western powers to put an end to it as soon as possible with a comprehensive peace agreement between Belgrade and Pristina, which would involve recognition of the alleged independence of Kosovo by Serbia.

Previously, Milorad Dodik had linked the issue of resolving the Kosovo problem to the idea of uniting Republika Srpska with Serbia. He had in fact presented a plan for the integration of Republika Srpska into Serbia and northern Kosovo, thereby supporting the idea of a so-called partition of Kosovo. It was crucial for Aleksandar Vucic to obtain support for a partition plan, which essentially means an adjustment of the borders, because the Western powers do not want to discuss any kind of partition. For them, the Kosovo problem has been solved long ago and they are simply looking for a way to implement it (Ahtisaari’s Kosovo independence plan). Correcting the borders would allow Aleksandar Vucic to present the signed agreement not as a capitulation, but as a compromise in which the Serbian side has also received something. The demarcation is a dangerous idea because Serbia would give up more than 15% of its territory, which would endanger the entire state border of the Republic of Serbia.

However, linking the resolution of the Kosovo problem to the idea of integrating Republika Srpska into Serbia is an even more dangerous idea. First of all, such a solution is devastating for Serbian interests because it turns the facts completely upside down. Namely, under international law and under the current United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, the territory of Kosovo and Metohija is an integral part of the Republic of Serbia. If the State of Serbia itself renounces its territory, which would probably be an unrecorded case in history (we are talking in terms of peace, not war), it would lose the right to claim this territory. The Western powers would accept it with approval. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, on the other hand, they support the transfer of competences to the state level and the unitarisation of the state, with the weakening of the Serbian factor. There is no logic under such conditions for the Western powers to approve the change of the internationally recognized border of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the exit of the Serbian entity from the Federation. It is also illogical and naive to think that Serbia could give away the territory of Kosovo and Metohija, which belongs to it under international law, and in turn obtain a territory belonging to another sovereign State under international law. The fact is that the West is challenging Serbia over what belongs to it, and it is naive to expect the West to give Serbia something that does not de facto belong to it. Moreover, it is regrettable that the idea of uniting Republika Srpska and Serbia is based on the misfortune of the Serbian people living in Kosovo and Metohija.

Of course, Milorad Dodik does not have the capacity to stand up to the Western powers that have total control over the region, nor can he expect the support of the Serbian leadership, which always emphasizes that Serbia, as a signatory to the Dayton Agreement, has an obligation to be the guarantor of it.

However, the announcement of a referendum on independence seems rather like a threat. Republika Srpska has no mechanism to change the internationally recognized borders on its own without the consent of the other two constituent peoples and the support of the international community, in particular of the countries that have participated in the implementation of the peace agreement. So far, the constituent peoples of Bosnia and Herzegovina have not been able to agree on a single issue, while the international community is not interested in reinvesting resources to reconstruct this already complicated community. On a global scale, there are now much more important, serious and urgent problems, and updating the Bosnian question cannot bring anything positive at the moment, especially not for the Serbian side. That is why Bosnia and Herzegovina, although impossible to survive in the long term, must survive as such, because there is neither the internal or external will (currently not even the capacity) to change it.

The particular question that arises is how this community could be improved to become functional.

For the Serbian people living in a fragmented state after the break-up of Yugoslavia, the idea of unification certainly has a positive context. The idea of unifying the areas inhabited by Serbs has been widespread since the time of the Ottoman occupation and the beginning of the liberation.

The first such program is known as Nacertanije, a secret program of Serbian domestic and foreign policy. It was drafted by the Interior Minister Ilija Garasanin in 1844 on the basis of the ideas of the Czech Frantisek Zach, who advocated the creation of a large Slavic country independent of Austria and Russia. However, Garasanin did not fully accept such ideas and stuck to his foreign policy plan. Nacertanije involved the liberation of all Serbs and the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and northern Albania (which included former Serbia, i.e. Kosovo and Metohija and present-day Macedonia) – to Serbia. This idea later evolved into the Yugoslav idea, and Ilija Garasanin himself went in that direction. Serbia, following the public disclosure of this document, was condemned for the ideas of Greater Serbia and the plan to create a „Greater Serbia“ because of Nacertanije. The Yugoslav idea was finally realized with the great merit and efforts of the Serbian people, but after the Second World War, Croatia played a decisive role in it, which allowed the Western powers to control Serbian influence.

In preparation for the break-up of Yugoslavia, another document was again used to condemn the so-called ideas of Greater Serbia. This was a memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU), published in 1986, which was condemned by the state leaders for promoting national ideas. The document itself does not describe a plan for the creation of a „Greater Serbia“, but sets out the problems that the Serbs were facing in Yugoslavia. Many participants in the Yugoslav conflict still claim today that the document was the cause of the break-up of Yugoslavia, and even that the document provoked a war, which makes no sense.

At the time of the break-up of Yugoslavia, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) and its president, Vojislav Seselj, formulated a party program on the idea of a „Greater Serbia“, while the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), which came from the same nucleus as the SRS, also supported the renewal of the national idea. Vojislav Seselj, Aleksandar Vucic and other SRS leaders then presented the slogan „Karlobag-Ogulin-Karlovac-Virovitica“, i.e. they described the geographical line of the „Greater Serbia“ for which they advocated. Vuk Draskovic, President of the SPO, formed paramilitary units and made inflammatory and belligerent speeches. These ideas and speeches served the Western powers as proof of the existence of a Serbian policy of aggression, although during all that time, the Serbian people were being expelled from Croatia and this was also the case in other regions.

In conclusion, the Western powers are not in favor of the ideas of Serbian unification, but they are politically in favor of the partition and fragmentation of the Serbian factor, which they consider disturbing in the Balkans. The Serbs have a long tradition of state-building and they had a strong medieval state. The main thing is that the western powers view Serbia through a paradigm of Russian influence, which is not at all convenient for them.

For all these reasons, it is dangerous to play with the idea of Serbian unification, especially if there are no resources, mechanisms or international support for the realization of such an idea. It is particularly illogical that the idea of unification is linked to support for the alienation of the territory of Kosovo and Metohija from Serbia.

It would be much smarter for Serbian leaders to work responsibly for the economic and cultural integration of the Serbian-populated regions and to build social consensus and unity among the Serbian people. Such an initiative should certainly come from Serbia itself, as the Serbian state of origin. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and we are faced with good cooperation between the political leaders of Serbia, Montenegro and Republika Srpska, which is in conflict with responsible national politics and state-building interests.

Translated by: Svetlana Maksovic

(Center for geostrategic studies, 6.3.2020)

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