Analysis 27 Feb 17

Bosnian Serbs Mull Retaliation for Genocide Case Appeal

Politicians in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity Republika Srpska are debating their response to Sarajevo’s genocide case appeal against Serbia, which threatens to turn into one of the biggest crises since the war.

Danijel Kovacevic BIRN Banja Luka
MPs in the Republika Srpska parliament. Photo: NSRS.

Bosnian Serb leaders from ruling and opposition parties are holding a series of urgent meetings on Monday, including an extraordinary session of Republika Srpska's National Assembly, to debate their possible responses to the genocide appeal case launched last week at the International Court of Justice, ICJ.

While some Bosnian Serb politicians are calling for the withdrawal of Bosnian Serb parties from the ruling coalition at the state level, others are demanding a walkout of all RS officials from all state institutions.

“I think it [the RS National Assembly session] will be a show for the public, but essentially nothing will change. The crisis in Bosnia is permanent,” Banja Luka-based analyst Srdjan Puhalo told BIRN.

The appeal, which was submitted last Thursday, requested a review of the ICJ’s 2007 judgment which cleared Serbia of responsibility for committing genocide in Srebrenica in 1995.

Most Bosnian Serb politicians see the appeal against the verdict either as a threat to Serbia and RS, or as an attempt by the Bosniak leadership - which initiated the process - to use state institutions for their own interests, or both.

Some Bosniak politicians and academics claimed the appeal was aimed at establishing the truth about what happened in Srebrenica when it fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995 in order to finally bring peace and justice to the victims and their families.

They argued that it was within the mandate of Sakib Softic - the Bosnian lawyer who handled the original case at the ICJ - to launch the appeal for the review of the ruling, and accused Serbian and Bosnian Serb officials of politicising the issue.

But many local experts and foreign diplomats think that Bosniak leadership has ignored the procedural requirements and political implications of the case, and that all sides have then used it to draw public attention away from the country’s catastrophic economic situation.

The EU and other international officials have warned leaders of all three ethnic groups against making any unilateral moves.

United front

Because of the dispute, the work of all three main state institutions - the presidency, the parliament and the government, or Council of Ministers, was blocked last week.

The appeal has temporarily united the deeply divided Bosnian Serb ruling and opposition parties, yet many of them have different views on how RS should respond to the situation.

Vukota Govedarica, the president of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), the largest party in the Alliance for Change (the main opposition bloc in RS which is a part of the ruling coalition at the state level with other Bosniak and Croat parties) said that the state government can only continue working in some sort of technical regime.

But his party colleague, who is also the Bosnian Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations, Mirko Sarovic, said the party will not block the work of parliament.

“We will not run away from the institution, we will not deepen this crisis, we will not simply block institutions because we do not want to respond in an irresponsible and unconstitutional way,” Sarovic told media on Friday.

In the state parliament, the country's complicated decision-making system - designed to protect each main ethnic group’s interests - stipulates that each decision must be supported by at least one-third of MPs from each of the two entities - Republika Srpska and the Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation.

Momcilo Novakovic, an MP from the National Democratic Movement (NDP) which is also part of the ruling coalition, has announced that the Alliance for Change’s legal team is already preparing criminal charges against Sakib Softic for wrongly acting as as Bosnia's agent at the ICJ. The charged could be filed this week.

Meanwhile RS's ruling coalition, led by RS President Milorad Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, is pushing for the complete withdrawal of all RS officials from state institutions.

“We should wait for Monday and the RS parliament session, but it seems to me that the Alliance for Change has already decided that they will return to Bosnian institutions,” Dusanka Majkic, an SNSD MP, told the media on Friday.

Political blockade

Puhalo said that if it comes to a vote, the SNSD has sufficient numbers in the RS National Assembly to secure backing for an initiative for all RS representatives to leave state institutions, thus completely blocking the entire country’s political process.

But he said that “the Alliance for Change is unlikely to accept that”.

The Bosniak member of the tripartite state presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic, who launched the appeal initiative, said that it will take some time for the situation to calm down.

“I understand my colleagues from the Serb side, but their reaction is exaggerated. There is no reason for a crisis in the state,” Izetbegovic told BHRT on Friday.

Some Western diplomats have expressed frustration at Izetbegovic’s move, saying that he did not think through all the possible political or even security implications of the genocide appeal.

“With this initiative, Izetbegovic did what no one has managed to do in the past three decades: he united the divided Serb and RS ruling and opposition parties,” one diplomat told BIRN.

The Croat member of the tripartite presidency, Dragan Covic, said however that the crisis would not escalate into an armed conflict but that it was a mistake.

“One cannot conduct negotiations and advocate for the views of one [ethnic group] on behalf of Bosnia and Herzegovina. By doing so, we are making an unbelievable political mistake,” Covic said on Friday.

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