The Future of the Republika Srpska
I was standing on the pier in Cavtat last week when
the sea was calm and the sun shining. A line of sailboats
and small motorboats was moored peacefully along the
pier and suddenly they began to rock violently when
buffeted by strong, sharp waves. A large boat several
hundred meters away slowly exiting the harbor had
caused the turbulence. What the International Community
consistently has failed to understand, in fact has
refused to accept, is that the countries and areas
of this region are exactly like those sailboats along
the pier. Actions in this region are connected and
impact on each other with at times violent, damaging
The International Community has traditionally put
each problem in the region and each country in separate,
individual boxes and tried to resolve them one-by-one.
Despite around fifteen years of serious interaction
with the problems of this region, the fundamental
concept that an action which might be beneficial on
one particular issue could well have an extremely
damaging impact elsewhere seems still to elude them.
To give a few examples:
a) One small, but influential circle within the
U.S. government was so determined to oppose the International
Criminal Court that the United States has had a major
campaign to obtain separate Article 98 agreements
with each country in the world. These ensure that
the country would not extradite our citizens to the
International Criminal Court without our consent.
In pursuing this policy, we have put great pressure
on the governments of the region to sign and decreed
that none could have any military training or assistance
from the United States until they did. What we totally
failed to take into consideration was that at the
same time we were putting immense pressure on the
same governments to send their citizens to The Hague
in response to ICTY indictments. How could any government
explain to its electorate that it would send its citizens
to The Hague while signing pledges to not send our
citizens to a similar court? Moreover, the programs
of military assistance and training we could provide
could go a long way to improve the democratic, Western
orientation of the militaries of the region and cutting
it off reduced our ability to fulfill our number one
objective in the region: completing the process of
democratic transition and establishment of market-based
economies as quickly as possible.
b) Articles even this week in the American papers
talk of the "successful" Bosnian model of
entities, cantons, three armies, and a weak central
government as a potential solution for Iraq. At the
same time, the International Community has totally
rejected any of those concepts for Kosovo. In every
way, the International Community has handled Kosovo
and Bosnia totally differently, almost as if anything
done in Bosnia by definition was prohibited for Kosovo.
Meanwhile, the people on the ground see the differences
in policies and lose faith in the overall process.
c) Intent on arresting Mladic, the European Union
with strong U.S. support has suspended negotiations
with Serbia and Montenegro on a Stabilization and
Association Agreement until that happens. While it
may be the most effective way to encourage the Serbian
government to exert maximum efforts on Mladic, it
also had at least two unintended consequences. It
makes it far more likely that the pro-independence
Referendum will pass in Montenegro, as its proponents
can rightfully say that association with Serbia is
holding them back. And it was the catalyst, which
led to the resignation of Deputy Prime Minister Labus
and also his departure from the Presidency of G17+.
My focus now is what will be the impact in Serbia
proper and in the Republika Srpska of three cataclysmic
events which are now taking place: the eventual independence
of Kosovo, the likely independence of Montenegro,
and either the arrest/apprehension of Mladic and Karadzic
(which, depending on how they occur, can have major
consequences) or alternatively the continued freezing
of EU cooperation talks and reductions of U.S. assistance
ties if those arrests are not accomplished.
There continues to exist a feeling among the Serbian
people that "they should get something from all
this." The thoughtful among them warn that if
Serbia simply loses everything, it is bound to have
a strong counter-reaction. Some are focusing on a
partition of Kosovo (despite the fact that the International
Community has ruled it out as an option), but others
look at the Republika Srpska and its eventual independence
and/or incorporation into Serbia. No matter how fiercely
the International Community rules out this option,
we should be under no illusions that the objective
has gone away. A significant segment of the Bosnian
Serb population wants at least independence, if not
union with Serbia. It is for sure that at least until
now, many feel no real loyalty to the concept of Bosnia
and fear the consequences if left "unprotected"
at the mercies of the Croats and Bosniaks. While one
can debate the facts of the conflict, including who
was responsible and so on, it is an interesting phenomenon
that of the three ethnic groups, it is the Serbs who
are by far the most outspoken and most concerned about
the prospects of being somehow "ruled" by
the other ethnic groups.
There are three basic options for the Republika
Srpska. The first is to cooperate fully and extensively
with the other ethnic groups in significant revisions
of the Constitution, creation of a much stronger central
government, and voluntarily surrendering much of the
autonomy of the RS. This is by far the fastest way
to full Euro-Atlantic integration. The second is the
"Montenegrin Option," where the leading
parties simply start to treat the Bosnian national
government and the Federation exactly the same as
Montenegro treated Serbia for the past three years.
The point would be to look to a date in the future
for a Referendum on the future of the Republika Srpska.
This argument would be considerably strengthened by
the declaration of an independent Kosovo, an area
of Serbia, which never had the status of Republic.
This would, at least in the eyes of many Serbs, set
a precedent for the RS. The third option would be
to continue the status quo, which means to continue
to fight to maintain significant autonomy for the
RS as specified under the Dayton Agreement despite
efforts by the EU and others to reduce it.
Which of these policies is ultimately pursued depends
in turn on the fundamental conflict now underway in
the RS between two radically different principles.
The first is the siren song of Nationalism. The second
is the desire to be a "normal country,"
to be part of Europe, to have the economic advantages
and travel opportunities, which most Europeans, take
for granted. This is the true battle now underway
in the Republika Srpska. What seems hard for many
to accept is that one cannot have both.
It has now been more than a decade since the fighting
stopped and the Dayton Agreement implemented. By now,
absent other factors, one would have expected the
pull of the EU to be gaining significant strength.
It hasn't happened for a number of reasons. The first
is the Dayton Agreement itself, which put in place
an unworkable system with strong powers to the two
entities. The second is the deep-rooted hostility
of Serbs anywhere in the Balkans to live as a minority.
The third is that oftentimes, the actions of the International
Community in trying to combat what it perceived as
anti-Dayton blockages, took actions, which to the
local Serbs only strengthened nationalist sentiment.
Every RS official removed for being anti-Dayton, for
example, actually was a symbolic victory for nationalist,
anti-democratic forces and the replacement invariably
was cut from the same cloth. Finally, the reality
of membership in the Euro-Atlantic Institutions seems
far off. The United States, for example, will not
even let Bosnia into the Partnership for Peace because
of the lack of full cooperation with the ICTY.
With this backdrop, I am increasingly concerned
that the "waves" coming from Serbia over
the next year will have a sharp and negative influence
on this battle over competing visions and principles
in the Republika Srpska. There is no question that
a percentage of Bosnian Serbs realize that the future
lies with Europe and want to bring it about. We all
need to think how to best support that effort.