News 06 Feb 17

Bosnian Serb Opposition Demands Probe Into US Lobbying

The Serbian Democratic Party, the main opposition party in Republika Srpska, has called for an investigation into entity’s spending on lobbying in the US, which many say did little good.

Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Banja Luka
Milorad Dodik, the President of Republika Srpska. Photo: Anadolu

Vukota Govedarica, head of the main opposition party in the Bosnian Serb-led entity, the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, said his party was demanding an investigation into how much money Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik has spent on US lobbying firms and what their effect was.

"It's time to seriously question where this money was spent, in whose pockets the money ended up and how the RS has benefited from such lobbying, or whether someone may have privately benefited from this kind of lobbying," Govedarica told BIRN.

Last week, the media outlet Voice of America reported that the Republika Srpska government had paid almost 30 million US dollars over the years to nine US firms to lobby on a number of issues, such as closure of the Office of the High Representative, OHR, and to create a better image for the Republika Srpska.

Opposition parties, as well as many experts and media organizations, claim the results of this lobbying seem meager.

Not only does the OHR remain open but the RS has retained a mostly negative image abroad. In addition, the US recently imposed financial sanctions against Dodik.

On January 17, the US Treasury Department placed Dodik on its "black list" for obstructing implementation of Bosnia's peace accord. This means that Dodik has no more access to any property or assets that are under US jurisdiction.

Despite Dodik’s hopes that the new US administration under President Donald Trump would abolish these sanctions, the US confirmed the decision on February 2.

The same day, Dodik said "it was possible" that the government's cumulative payments to US lobbying firms in past years amounted to the mentioned amount.

"It is public knowledge that for the past 10 years we have had contacts with certain agencies," Dodik said, adding that their work had contributed to "the good standing of Republika Srpska in the past".

He added: “That’s not a lot of money if you consider the time over which it was spent.”

His words drew fresh criticism as well as mockery. “I can’t even think what would have happened to Dodik, or what kind of sanctions he could have got if he hadn’t spent all that money on lobbying,” Srdjan Puhalo, a political analyst from Banja Luka, told BIRN.

Puhalo added that in the light of Dodik's controversial actions and statements in recent years, it would take a lot more than lobbying to change American attitudes towards him.

Once praised as a democratic reformer, his relationship with the US and the EU has deteriorated since he started threatening to push for the Serb-led entity's independence from Bosnia. At the same time, he has advocated closer political and economic relations with Russia.

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