News 20 Apr 17

Bosnian Leaders Row Over Right to Address Troops

The Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency expressed anger after the Defence Ministry questioned whether the Bosnian Serb president is entitled to address members of the country’s armed forces.

Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Banja Luka
Mladen Ivanic with Bosnian Army troops on the disputed Day on Republika Srpska on January 9. Photo: Anadolu.

The Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, said on Wednesday that there should be no dispute about whether the Bosnian Serbs’ political leader has the right to address Serb members of the country’s armed forces.

Ivanic made his statement after Bosnia’s Defence Ministry sent a letter to the presidency, asking for its official position on Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik’s plan to address the Serb-majority Third Infantry Regiment during its annual celebration on May 12.

The Third Infantry Regiment was originally formed out of the now-defunct Bosnian Serb Army, the VRS, and is mainly made up of soldiers from Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska, which Dodik leads.

“I do not know [what was] the meaning of putting into question things that have happened normally since the formation of the armed forces,” Ivanic said.

He insisted that the Bosnian Serb president “must have the right to speak to soldiers who continue the tradition of the Army of Republika Srpska [VRS]”.

The Defence Ministry approved the plan for the celebrations of the Day of the Third Regiment, including the planned Dodik speech, but it also asked for the presidency’s opinion.

“Bearing in mind the constitutional and legal jurisdiction of the presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the exercise of the supreme command of control over the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the fact that it is a specific military ceremony, as well as the fact that the protocol of the ceremony requires addressing a person who is not in the chain of command and control over the Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina [Dodik], we ask for the opinion of the presidency,” the ministry said in its letter on Friday.

Dodik’s planned address to the Third Regiment is seen by some as problematic because he has no jurisdiction over the state Armed Forces, nor is he a part of their chain of command, and because he has repeatedly questioned whether Bosnia and Herzegovina should continue to exist as a state and challenged its institutions’ legitimacy.

“The Bosnian Armed Forces are less and less armed forces of all the people in Bosnia,” Dodik told media on Wednesday.

The ministry’s letter came after a dispute in January when members of the Third Infantry Regiment lined up in Republika Srpska’s main town of Banja Luka on January 9 during celebrations of the Day of Republika Srpska, which went ahead despite having been banned by the state-level Constitutional Court.

After the ceremony, Bosniak and Serb politicians quarrelled over whether the fact that the Third Regiment handed over a report to the Serb member of the state presidency meant that they participated in the disputed celebrations or not.

The Third Regiment however did not take part in the subsequent parade through the town.

Experts also believe that the ministry decided to ask the presidency about the Dodik speech because the Third Infantry Regiment celebrates annually on the same day as the VRS, which was formed on May 12, 1992 and existed until January 1, 2006, when it was integrated into the joint Armed Forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina along with the predominately Bosniak Bosnian Army and the Croatian Defence Council.

Dodik said on Wednesday that in future, Republika Srpska will celebrate the VRS’s legacy separately from the Third Regiment on May 12 each year.

“I’m not asking any charity, especially not from the [state level]. In the future, we will mark VRS Day in a special way, outside the barracks,” he said.

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