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Tensions flared in Republika Srpska amid alleged vote-rigging in presidential election, prompting street protests and ballot recount.
Bosnians 2 Oct headed to polls to vote in general elections, including presidential vote in Republika Srpska (RS), for which main contenders were Serb leader Milorad Dodik and Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) VP Jelena Trivic. Tensions began rising in RS after preliminary results 3 Oct showed Dodik on verge of electoral victory despite Trivic claiming victory night before, reportedly based on preliminary ballot count from number of polling stations. Amid reports of “irregularities”, Trivic alongside opposition parties Serbian Democratic Party and List for Justice and Order 5 Oct formally called for ballot recount. Meanwhile, opposition supporters 6, 9 Oct held protests in Banja Luka city, denouncing vote-rigging. Central Electoral Commission 10 Oct ordered recount in all polling stations in Serb entity; move escalated tensions further, with thousands of Dodik supporters 25 Oct taking to streets and demanding end to recount, during which Dodik reiterated his “belief in the idea of an independent Republika Srpska”. Electoral Commission 27 Oct declared Dodik winner.
German govt promised military reinforcements for EU mission to support country’s stability, while tensions over bid for EU candidacy status flared. In first troop contribution in ten years to Operation Althea (EU-led military mission overseeing 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement), German govt 15 June approved deployment of up to 50 soldiers to join operation amid concerns over country’s stability; deployment, which awaits parliamentary approval, would last until 30 June 2023. Following European Commission’s decision 17 June to back Ukraine and Moldova for EU candidate status, Slovenia 20 June said it would seek same offer for Bosnia during EU leaders summit 23-24 June in Belgian capital Brussels to “reaffirm the EU’s commitment to the Western Balkans”; statement followed comments made by Croatian President Milanović during Prespa Dialogue Forum in North Macedonia 16-18 June that “constant postponement is destroying that country”. Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik 22 June threatened to pull out of agreement made 12 June between top Bosnian politicians to work together toward EU membership if country did not receive candidate status. EU leaders, however, did not grant candidate status and said country must first implement commitments set out in agreement and finalise constitutional and electoral reform; Dodik 24 June accused some EU leaders of seeing “Bosnia and Herzegovina as a colony”.
Concerns over secession continued as Republika Srpska (RS) moved to establish independent judicial body. Republika Srpska’s parliament 1 Feb adopted resolution to reverse Bosnian Serb representatives’ boycott of federal institutions imposed in July 2021, yet required representatives to follow RS policy. In further provocative measure and challenge to state’s central authority, Republika Srpska assembly 10 Feb approved draft law to establish entity’s own High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council to oversee appointment of judges and prosecutors; draft bill will undergo period of public consultation. Move immediately triggered international condemnation. Peace Implementation Council, international body established to oversee implementation of 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, 10 Feb said such law would create “unconstitutional body, jeopardizing fundamental legal rights of all Bosnia-Herzegovina citizens”. U.S. embassy in Sarajevo same day said move would “allow criminals to prosper and corruption to flourish”. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell 11 Feb urged Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three main leaders to resume “serious and meaningful dialogue” and 20 Feb warned “situation in Bosnia is more worrying than ever”. Croatian National Parliament 19 Feb threatened to boycott Oct elections and start process of forming autonomous region unless electoral law is amended to strengthen Croat representation and comply with court rulings. EU’s peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina 24 Feb added 500 troops as a “precautionary measure” citing risks of spreading “instability to Bosnia and Herzegovina” amid threats to European security (see Ukraine).
Republika Srpska held controversial celebrations marking 30th anniversary of its creation, while Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik indicated possible return to federal institutions. Following moves toward separatism in recent months, U.S. Treasury Dept 5 Jan imposed new sanctions on Milorad Dodik, Dodik-linked media outlet Alternativna Televizija, and two other officials for “significant corruption and destabilizing activities”. Bosnian Serbs 9 Jan celebrated 30th anniversary of Republika Srpska’s creation in 1992 in defiance of international pressure and two Constitutional Court rulings declaring holiday unconstitutional. During celebrations, which counted guests from Russia, China, Serbia and France’s National Rally far-right party, police parade marched through Banja Luka town; reports surfaced of riots, Bosnian Serbs singing nationalist and Islamophobic songs as well as gunfire near mosques. In response, EU 10 Jan condemned leaders’ “negative, divisive and inflammatory rhetoric” and threatened possible sanctions; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe 12 Jan warned against “all acts that carry the potential to incite conflict”, while UN high commissioner for human rights 14 Jan said UN was “deeply concerned”. After Dodik met Serbian President Vučić 14 Jan, who urged him to participate in state institutions, Dodik announced that Republika Srpska National Assembly would consider return to institutions next month. Vučić and Turkish President Erdoğan 18 Jan agreed to broker Bosnian talks after Serbia’s April election. Separately, protesters 10 Jan rallied in 35 cities across 14 countries demanding international community prevent Bosnia’s break up.
Republika Srpska National Assembly passed controversial resolution in step toward secession, raising tensions and provoking international condemnation. Despite warnings from international community and opposition boycotts, 49 of 83 Republika Srpska (RS) National Assembly MPs 10 Dec approved resolution – backed by Bosnian Serb state-level presidency leader Milorad Dodik and RS President Željka Cvijanović – to withdraw from Bosnian army, security services, tax system and judiciary; decision entails transferring powers away from central institutions and leaves six-month period to draft new laws on armed forces, judiciary and tax system. In response, opposition Serb Democratic Party leader Mirko Sarovic described move as “direct threat to peace” that would lead RS “into the spiral of war”. Western govts – namely Germany, UK, U.S., France, Italy – and EU labelled resolution “a further escalatory step” and threatened new sanctions; German FM Annalena Baerbock 13 Dec called for EU to impose sanctions on Dodik, but Dodik showed indifference and said sanctions would lead them to their “true friends”. Bosnian NGO Žene žrtve rata and Institute for Research of Genocide Canada 14 Dec filed charge against Dodik at State Prosecutor’s Office for “undermining the constitutional order and jeopardising the country’s territorial integrity” as well as for mutiny and illegal formation of military forces.
High representative warned of Bosnia’s possible break-up, while U.S. and Germany threatened sanctions in bid to forestall separatist moves. In report submitted to UN Security Council on 2 Nov, High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt warned that Bosnia could face biggest “existential threat of the post-war period” and that “prospect of further division and conflict are very real”; Schmidt 6 Nov warned situation in Bosnia threatened unrest in region and that “there is a risk that the country will break apart”. UN Security Council 3 Nov unanimously renewed mandate of 600-strong EU-led peacekeeping force EUFOR to Bosnia and Herzegovina for one year. Hungarian PM Orban and FM Peter Szijjarto same day met Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik and Republika Srpska PM Radovan Viskovic to discuss “current situation in Bosnia”. Dodik 8 Nov met U.S. Deputy Assistant Sec State Gabriel Escobar, who said parties agreed “there will be no war”. German FM Heiko Maas 12 Nov threatened to suspend financial support for Bosnia and said Germany would consider “individual measures against those who question the territorial integrity” of country. Likewise, U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 16 Nov announced U.S. may impose sanctions for “moves to unilaterally withdraw from state-level institutions or otherwise destabilize” Dayton Peace Agreement; Dodik reacted saying: “We are sticking with our policy” and that Bosnian Serbs “no longer cared” about threats.
Republika Srpska leadership took steps to undermine federal institutions, sparking worst political crisis in 20 years and raising prospect of secession. In moves threatening collapse of 1995 Dayton Peace Accords, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik 8 Oct said Bosnian Serb-run entity Republika Srpska would pull out of Bosnian armed forces, top judiciary body and tax administration; 12 Oct announced Bosnian judiciary, security and intelligence agencies would be banned from operating in Republika Srpska and “Serb only” institutions would replace them by end of Nov, announcing he was “openly working on the project of an independent Republika Srpska” but stopping short of calling for secession. Republika Srpska President Zeljka Cvijanovic signed law which came into force 13 Oct to reverse ban on genocide denial introduced by previous High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko in July. Dodik 14 Oct announced intention to unravel further Bosnian state institutions, including state court, prosecution, and constitutional court. Prosecutors subsequently launched investigation of Dodik for “undermining the constitutional order”. National Assembly of Republika Srpska 20 Oct adopted law creating independent medicine procurement agency, undermining federal Agency for Medical Equipment and Drugs; EU and U.S. same day expressed concerns over “divisive rhetoric” and called for respect of institutions. Bosnia’s Serb police 22 Oct held “anti-terrorist” drill in Mount Jahorina, outside capital Sarajevo and in Mrkonjic Grad in move seen by Bosnian Croat and Bosniak leadership as “a clear provocation”. EU and U.S. 29 Oct reaffirmed support for unified Bosnia and said they were working with Bosnian officials to solve political crisis.
International High Representative for Bosnia imposed ban on genocide denial, prompting Bosnian Serb representatives to announce boycott of state institutions. In one of his final acts in office, outgoing head of Bosnia’s Office of the High Representative (OHR), Austrian diplomat Valentin Inzko, 23 July imposed change in Bosnian criminal law, outlawing denial of 1995 Srebrenica genocide and imposing up to five years imprisonment for genocide denial and glorification of war criminals; OHR is mandated with implementation of 1995 Dayton peace agreement and empowered to enact laws and remove elected officials. Bosnian Serb leader and member of joint presidency Milorad Dodik same day rejected decree and reportedly threatened “dissolution” of Bosnia. Bosnian Serb political representatives from all political parties in Republika Srpska’s National Assembly 27 July began boycott of joint presidency, parliament and govt until withdrawal of decision. Republika Srpska parliament 30 July passed laws blocking approval of Inzko’s decision and permitting up to 15 years imprisonment for “violating the reputation of the Republika Srpska”. Previously, Russia in draft resolution co-sponsored by China called for UN Security Council to abolish OHR by July 2022; resolution 22 July failed to pass. Meanwhile, police 14 July arrested intelligence chief Osman Mehmedagic for alleged money laundering, abuse of office and document forgery; hundreds next day protested in front of State Prosecutor’s Office in capital Sarajevo in show of support for Mehmedagic.
International body implementing Dayton Peace Accord appointed new high representative. Steering Board of Peace Implementation Council, international body established to oversee implementation of 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, 27 May named German politician Christian Schmidt as high representative with term starting 1 August; Russia dissented from decision and its embassy same day said Schmidt would not be legitimate without UN Security Council approval; Republika Srpska also denied legitimacy of appointment.
Political tensions grew after memo promoting country’s partition circulated publicly. Leaked memo advocating partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina along ethnic lines 12 April surfaced in Slovenian press; memo allegedly originated from office of Slovenian PM Janez Janša and was reportedly sent to EU Council President Charles Michel in Feb; in response, Janša and Slovenian President Borut Pahor 12 April denied role in writing memo. EU delegation in Bosnia and Herzegovina 15 April said EU “unequivocally committed to the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity” of country. In response to leak, Bakir Izetbegović, leader of largest Bosniak political party, Party of Democratic Action, 20 April told media he was “not sure that there would be no war”. Leader of Republika Srpska entity Milorand Dodik same day announced initiative to formally discuss country’s future with Croat and Bosniak counterparts; proposal followed videos previous days from Dodik calling for “peaceful break-up” of country. International partners expressed opposition to leaked memo’s proposals. U.S. ambassador to country 28 April warned that “sanctions for destabilizing the[Dayton Peace Agreement]and for corruption are on the table” while German FM Heiko Mass 22 April said redrawing borders “is not only unrealistic, but it is dangerous to even initiate this discussion”.
Mostar held first elections in over decade. Mostar, city in south, 20 Dec held first elections in 12 years after EU, U.S. and UK-sponsored agreement in June broke deadlock between major Croat and Bosniak political parties, Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA); central election commission revealed HDZ and SDA won largest vote shares of 35-member city council but fell short of outright majority.
Ruling parties lost ground in local elections as country marked 25 years since Dayton peace accord. Local elections 15 Nov took place amid low turnout, at around 50 per cent; three ruling parties – Bosnian Serb Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, Bosnjak Party of Democratic Action and Croat Democrat Union – lost some municipalities and key mayoral positions in largest cities while winning majority of municipalities across country. Gunman 9 Nov killed convicted war criminal Marko Radic in southern town of Mostar, suspect same day detained by police; Radic had been released from 21-year prison sentence in Dec 2018, following controversial sentence reduction by Croatian court of initial conviction by Bosnian state court in 2011 for crimes against humanity against Bosniaks in Mostar area. Tensions 25 Nov publicly surfaced between Valentin Inzko, high representative of international body overseeing Dayton peace accord, and Bosnian Serb chair of Bosnian presidency Milorad Dodik during UN roundtable event to mark 25th anniversary of peace accord; Inzko reportedly accused Dodik of abusing accord and denying past war crimes.
July saw progress towards organising local election in Mostar and meeting priorities for EU membership application. Following June signing of landmark deal on new statute to govern Mostar city, House of Representatives 7 July adopted amendments to Election Law agreement allowing local elections to proceed in Nov; EU delegation 8 July welcomed move. COVID-19 cases significantly increased in Republika Srpska and Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina entities throughout July with over 300 new cases per day and total of 10,766 cases as of 29 July; 3,000 frontline medical workers 8 July went on strike in Sarajevo demanding pay supplement for overtime; govt 16 July decided to open borders unilaterally to EU citizens. Parliament 22 July agreed on rules of procedure for EU-Bosnia Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee, ending five-year standstill and fulfilling one of 14 priorities for EU membership application.
Bosniak and Croat party leaders overcame longstanding political impasse to reach power-sharing agreement in Mostar, ending years of political paralysis in city. In line with 2010 Constitutional Court ruling and 2019 European Court of Human Rights ruling, Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) 17 June signed landmark deal on new statute to govern Mostar, ending decade-long dispute in southern city divided between Bosniaks and Croats and paving way for first local elections there since 2008, scheduled for Nov. Following detention of PM of Federation entity Fadil Novalic and two alleged accomplices in late May-early June as part of investigation into corruption charges over purchase of defective respirators from China in response to COVID-19 outbreak, opposition parliamentary deputies in Federation entity 1 June called for govt’s dismissal in no-confidence motion.
Central Election Commission (CIK) 23 May postponed local elections from 4 Oct to 15 Nov due to disagreement over 2020 budget; Mostar, southern town divided between Bosniaks and Croats that has not held vote since 2008, not included in decision as govt has yet to amend election law in line with 2010 Constitutional Court ruling and Oct 2019 European Court of Human Rights decision; Serbian member of presidency same day called CIK decision “illegitimate”. NGO Transparency International 21 May filed criminal complaint with prosecutor’s office against Milorad Dodik, Serb member of state trilateral presidency, after he told parliamentarians in Republika Srpska that he regularly listened into telephone conversations between opposition politicians; Dodik dismissed charge. Following transfer in April of $361mn in International Monetary Fund emergency assistance to support COVID-19 response, authorities reportedly unable to reach agreement on distribution of money between various levels of govt within Bosniak- and Croat-majority entity of Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Following declaration of state of disaster in Republika Srpska (RS) entity in March due to COVID-19 outbreak, RS President Željka Cvijanović 7 April announced controversial measures including ban on actions that cause panic or disorder, and fines for individuals or companies that spread fake news through media or social networks. NGO Transparency International 8 April called on RS to withdraw decree, stating that according to RS Constitution president “cannot suspend the right to freedom of opinion and expression”. International Monetary Fund (IMF) 20 April approved $361mn in emergency assistance to govt in response to COVID-19 outbreak; payment made despite reports that FM and three other Bosniak ministers had not approved request to borrow IMF funds.
In response to COVID-19 outbreak, Federation entity and Republika Srpska (RS) 16 March separately declared state of disaster, enabling emergency measures to slow spread of virus; state-level PM Tegeltija 17 March declared nationwide state of emergency for coordination of emergency activities. State-level presidency 18 March adopted decision on engagement of domestic armed forces to assist civilian authorities in preventing spread of COVID-19 for 30 days. RS People’s Assembly 28 March voted to impose state of emergency but Bosniak delegates in Council of Peoples blocked decision.
Clash between lawmakers from mainly Serb territorial entity Republika Srpska (RS) and Constitutional Court led Serb representatives to walk out of state-level institutions. Constitutional Court 7 Feb ruled that Law on Agricultural Land passed by RS was unconstitutional; law stipulated that public agricultural land formerly owned by Yugoslav state should be RS property. In reaction, representatives of all Serb parties 12 Feb walked out of state-level institutions, suspending most govt work; they objected to presence of three foreign judges in Constitutional Court and called for adoption of Constitutional Court law which excludes foreign judges. Bosniak leaders condemned Serb representatives’ actions, saying that disrespect for Constitutional Court’s decisions constituted violation of 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement. Serb member of three-person Bosnian presidency Milorad Dodik 13 Feb said RS was heading toward “leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina [...] because we believe that the Dayton agreement has been broken, primarily by the intervention of an international factor”. In Banja Luka, de facto capital of RS, Serb lawmakers 17 Feb voted (72 votes to two) to formally suspend work of RS representatives in state-level institutions; gave govt sixty days to reform Constitutional Court and end foreign judges’ mandates. Dodik 20 Feb voted against all items on state-level presidential agenda, blocking decision-making in govt.
Despite condemnation from Bosniak leaders and ban imposed by Constitutional Court, over 2,400 participants including Serbian PM 9 Jan took part in celebration of disputed Day of Republika Srpska in Banja Luka city marking 28th anniversary of founding of Republika Srpska in 1992. Trial of former Chief Prosecutor Salihović 27 Jan opened for alleged abuse of office.
Parliament 5 Dec approved Zoran Tegeltija as new PM; Tegeltija told parliament his govt will focus on reforms needed for EU membership and “catch up on lost time” with 2020 budget and reactivating frozen investments. Tegeltija 17 Dec finalised cabinet, which contains nine ministers from three largest ethnic parties and two ministers from junior partners; parliament approved new govt 23 Dec, ending fourteen-month stalemate. Several thousand 26 Dec gathered in Banja Luka, administrative centre of majority Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS), some demonstrated in support of RS authorities, and others against them, after RS parliament’s heated session over Reform Program that sets out Bosnia’s future relations with NATO. An expert report on the rule of law presented to EU and Bosnian officials 5 Dec said criminal justice system “failing to combat serious crime and corruption”, called on “systemic reforms in important rule of law areas”. NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Dec called on govt to reform “discriminatory” constitution to end “second-class status” of Jews, Roma, and other minorities who are not allowed to run for president or parliament.
Members of country’s tripartite Presidency agreed on new PM, paving way for new govt thirteen months after Oct 2018 elections. Tripartite presidency members 19 Nov agreed to nominate Zoran Tegeltija, Bosnian Serb ally of Serb Presidency member Milorad Dodik, as new Chair of Council of Ministers, while Dodik agreed to allow submission of Reform Program for NATO Annual National Plan, despite his longstanding opposition to Bosnia’s NATO Membership Action Plan. Appointment of Tegeltija, first nominated by Dodik after 2018 elections, must be confirmed by parliament. EU and U.S. welcomed end of deadlock on new govt; EU called for progress on EU-oriented reforms including on judiciary, anti-corruption and organised crime. Earlier in month, parliament of country’s majority Serb entity Republika Srpska 12 Nov adopted resolutions reaffirming entity’s right to referendums on self-determination and NATO membership, and rejecting wide-ranging “Bonn Powers” of Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement; opposition politicians noted resolutions carry no legal weight.
With formation of state-level govt still stalled twelve months after Oct 2018 elections, Bosnia’s international partners including U.S., EU and Turkey reiterated calls for members of tri-partite presidency to end deadlock. European Court of Human Rights 29 Oct ruled that govt must amend electoral law in line with 2010 Constitutional Court ruling to allow municipal elections in Mostar, which has not held vote since 2008.
Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS)’s creation of new gendarmerie police unit prompted concerns, while state-level govt formation remains stalled. RS govt 24 Sept unveiled new gendarmerie police unit, prompting criticism from Bosniak politicians. During unveiling ceremony, Bosnian Serb member of tripartite state presidency Milorad Dodik said in statement perceived as controversial that establishing reservist police force was best way to “protect and defend” territory. State-level govt formation still in deadlock a year after Oct 2018 elections, despite 5 Sept deadline set in Aug between three main parties. Bosniak Party of Democratic Action congress mid-Sept adopted pledge to reorganise country based on economic regions, prompting criticism from Croat and Serb parties and high representative for Bosnia Valentin Inzko and U.S. embassy.
Three main nationalist parties representing ethnic political blocs (Bosnian Croat, Bosniak and Bosnian Serb) failed to break political deadlock that has prevented govt formation since Oct 2018 elections. Party leaders 5 Aug agreed to form new cabinet within 30 days. But talks between three leaders in tripartite presidency representing each bloc broke down 20 Aug reportedly over whether or not to activate NATO Membership Action Plan that would prepare for possible membership of alliance; party of Milorad Dodik, Bosnian Serb member of presidency, opposed activation while Croat and Bosniak blocs were in favour. Dodik 27 Aug cancelled extraordinary session of tripartite presidency to discuss appointment of new chairman of Council of Ministers, new deadline for talks set for 5 Sept. Dodik 13 Aug said that unless govt was formed soon, majority Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) would withdraw from several reforms, including formation of joint armed forces, creation of state prosecutor court and joint tax policy. U.S. Deputy Assistant Sec State Matthew Palmer mid-Aug expressed concern over Dodik’s comments and urged him to stop “hardline rhetoric”.
Netherlands Supreme Court 19 July ruled that, due to failure by Dutch UN peacekeepers to adequately protect 350 Bosnian Muslims killed in 1995 Srebrenica massacre, state was liable for 10% of damages suffered by surviving relatives; decision reduced different court’s previous assessment of 30% responsibility, disappointing victims’ organisation which sued for compensation. Bosnian who joined Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 charged for terrorism 15 July.
Tensions continued between majority Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) and Bosniak-Croat Federation entity over RS parliament’s proposed bill to form reserve police force. In response to new RS parliamentary discussions over draft legislation in RS parliament 11 June, Federation entity announced plans to introduce its own reserve police force. RS 24 June withdrew bill under international pressure, including reportedly from U.S. envoys; instead interior ministry announced it would form gendarmerie that would include young police recruits. In response, lawmakers from Federation entity dropped plans for its own force. Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement, and several European embassies 7 June released joint statement condemning alleged misconduct of president of High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council who faces accusations of bribery.
Briefing UN Security Council 8 May, Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement, expressed concern over continuing deadlock over appointments to state-level and federal govt posts seven months after Oct 2018 elections, and criticised Republika Srpska (RS) authorities’ rejection of judgements of state and constitutional courts. Bosnian Serb member of presidency Milorad Dodik during ceremony in RS capital Banja Luka 12 May suggested that Serb regiment in Bosnian army should wear uniform of wartime Bosnian Serb Army at future ceremony, prompting condemnation from other members of state presidency.
Amid ongoing failure to form state-level govt, tensions grew over draft legislation in majority Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) to establish its own reserve police force, and murder of prominent businessman and govt critic in entity. RS Parliament 18 April adopted Draft Law on Amendments to Law on Police and Internal Affairs which would establish new reserve police force; move came despite concerns from Bosniak-Croat Federation entity, which signalled possible response with similar step. Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement, criticised RS draft law and expressed concern over “negative spiral of mistrust” undermining stability, urging RS not to proceed with legislation. Amendments also ban photos of public servants including police performing their duties, prompting concerns from media and international partners. Three main political parties’ leaders continued efforts to form new state-level govt following Oct 2018 elections, reportedly agreeing on ministries, but disagreements continued over activation of NATO Membership Action Plan to help prepare for possible future membership of alliance, which party of Bosnian Serb member of presidency Milorad Dodik opposes. Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly 8 April announced it had suspended Bosnia due to its failure to appoint new delegation. Main political parties in RS 2 April signed declaration condemning 29 March constitutional court ruling that again banned annual RS “statehood day” celebrations. Prominent Bosnian Serb businessman and critic of ruling Bosnian Serb nationalist party Slaviša Krunić shot dead in his car near his home north of RS capital Banja Luka 22 April; bodyguard and suspected attacker also killed in subsequent shoot-out. Media watchdog NGO Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 World Press Freedom Index noted hostile environment for press freedom in Bosnia.
Leaders of country’s three main nationalist parties agreed to talks to form new govt following Oct 2018 elections; during 28 March visit, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn urged members of tripartite presidency to form new govt quickly to resume reforms. Court in The Hague upheld genocide conviction of former Bosnian-Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadžić and extended his prison sentence to life.
Federation entity 20 Feb formed its upper chamber of parliament, four months after Oct 2018 elections, allowing it to adopt delayed 2019 budget and appoint delegates to state-level House of Peoples. U.S. embassy and Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement, criticised Republika Srpska (RS) entity’s 7 Feb announcement that it has set up controversial commission to investigate 1992-1995 wartime crimes in Srebrenica, which international and domestic courts have ruled a genocide; RS Aug 2018 annulled previous report into Srebrenica massacre.
Republika Srpska (RS) entity 9 Jan celebrated its annual “RS statehood day” which included parade by police, fire fighters, civil protection force and pro-Putin Russian motorbike club, attended by Serbian PM Brnabić and Russian ambassador to Bosnia. Bosniak and Bosnian Croat leaders again condemned celebration, which Constitutional Court banned in 2015 declaring it unconstitutional. Main Bosniak Party of Democratic Action 23 Jan said it would challenge name of RS, which it claims has been used to discriminate against non-Serbs, at constitutional court, in move criticised by Office of the High Representative, international overseer of implementation of 1995 peace agreement that ended the war as “irresponsible and counterproductive”.
North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) foreign ministers 5 Dec agreed to activate Bosnia’s Membership Action Plan – initially offered in 2010 but delayed due to unmet conditions – and invited govt to submit its first Annual National Program of reforms needed to bring it in line with NATO standards, despite ongoing opposition from Serb member of tripartite presidency Milorad Dodik to joining NATO. Central Election Commission 18 Dec adopted controversial decision to fix election law, enabling establishment of new govt in country’s Federation entity and adoption of budget, although Bosniak political parties said they would appeal against it at Constitutional Court. In Republika Srpska (RS) entity, months-long protests against RS govt, prompted by unsolved death of young man in March and increasingly decrying alleged police interference in case, corruption and weak rule of law, gained in momentum, with thousands rallying peacefully in capital Banja Luka 30 Dec demanding resignation of RS interior minister.
Republika Srpska entity set up new “Council for the Protection of Constitutional Order” to monitor threats to its constitution and jurisdiction, seen by some as a move toward creating an entity-level security and intelligence service.
Observers of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) criticised campaign for 7 Oct presidential and parliamentary elections at state and entity levels for deficiencies in legal framework, biased media coverage, focus on fearmongering, as well as inadequate transparency and accountability of campaign finances, while victory of Serb nationalist Milorad Dodik (outgoing president of Republika Srpska (RS) entity) in race for Serb seat on three-member state presidency prompted concerns among Western officials citing his calls for RS secession from Bosnia, alleged ties to Russia and announcement, on winning, that his priority would be “to work above all and only for the interests of Serbs”. Dodik 9 Oct told Russian newspaper he would launch initiative for Bosnia to recognise Ukraine’s annexed Crimean peninsula as part of Russia, and prevent activities implementing Bosnia’s NATO Membership Action Plan. Sefik Dzaferovic from main Bosniak party SDA and ally of outgoing Bosniak president Bakir Izetbegovic won Bosniak presidency seat, and moderate Zeljko Komsic (Democratic Front) won Croat seat, beating incumbent Dragan Covic, leader of main Croat party HDZ. Thousands of Bosnian Croat supporters of defeated Covic gathered in Mostar 11 Oct to protest Komsic’s victory, claiming he won with Bosniak votes. Dodik ally Zeljka Cvijanovic won race for RS presidency, although opposition claimed fraud. In vote for state and Federation entity parliament, largest parties maintained their seats, however ongoing dispute on electoral law means they cannot form govt at entity or state level. Election turnout reportedly 53.36%; anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International alleged abuses during campaign period included “direct threats and attacks, pressure on voters and vote-buying, which in the past had been somehow subtle, [but which] have become fully transparent”.
Campaigning began 7 Sept for 7 Oct presidential, parliamentary (state and entity level) and cantonal (for Federation entity) elections. Russian FM Sergey Lavrov visited Bosnia 21 Sept; meeting with tripartite state presidency in Sarajevo, said Russia supports Bosnia’s territorial integrity and constitution and denied interfering in elections; also visited Republika Srpska (RS) capital Banja Luka, where he met with RS President Dodik (who is running for tripartite state presidency) and Serbian PM Dacic, and opened new Russian church and cultural centre; Dodik visited Russia late month, met with President Putin 30 Sept.
Republika Srpska (RS) parliament 14 Aug voted to annul 2004 report produced by special govt commission on 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which acknowledged that Bosnian Serb forces killed thousands of Bosniaks in serious violation of international law; RS President Dodik said document contained “false data” and was produced under international pressure; parliament also ordered RS govt to form new commission and report, to include suffering of Serbs. U.S., UN and Bosniak politicians decried move. Journalist returning from reporting on anti-govt protest in RS capital Banja Luka was beaten by two unknown assailants 26 Aug; Bosnian journalists’ association said Dodik’s campaign against independent media had made journalists “open targets”, while Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe called for end to negative rhetoric against media.
Announcement by Croat member of tripartite presidency Dragan Čović 24 June that Bosnia’s Croat-majority cantons will open joint representative office in Brussels prompted criticism that move could undermine state institutions. European Commission early June said it would provide €1.5mn aid to help deal with anticipated influx of migrants.
Govt’s decision to allow Turkish President Erdoğan to stage re-election rally in Sarajevo, after several European countries barred him from holding similar rallies, prompted criticism from some observers; some 12,000 people reportedly attended rally, 10,000 watched it outside venue. Erdoğan also met with Bosnian tripartite President Izetbegović while in Sarajevo to discuss economic cooperation.
Visiting Sarajevo 10 April, PM of Bulgaria – currently holding presidency of the Council of the EU – warned that Bosnia faces political paralysis if ethnic political blocs fail to agree on electoral reform ahead of general elections due in Oct, required to form new govt at state and federation level. Upper chamber of parliament cannot be established without new law after Constitutional Court Dec 2016 ruled previous electoral mechanism unconstitutional, and subsequently invalidated those parts of law. Senior U.S. diplomat warned U.S. congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs of destabilising consequences of potential ensuing crisis. Speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament visited capital Sarajevo 23 April, gave speech criticising NATO enlargement in Balkans; next day visited Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka, met with Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik and reiterated Moscow’s support for entity. Police arrested two people in two anti-terror raids in Sarajevo 10 April, found weapons, bombs, ammunition and Islamic State (ISIS) flags.
EU 6 Feb launched new enlargement strategy for Western Balkans, calling on countries to “urgently redouble their efforts, address vital reforms and complete their political, economic and social transformation”. Said Bosnia could become a candidate for accession “with sustained effort and engagement”, will start considering its application on receipt of answers to its questionnaire, which Bosnian leaders delivered 28 Feb. Purchase by majority Serb entity Republika Srpska (RS) of 2,500 automatic rifles from Serbia for Bosnian Serb police, and planned opening early April of new police training centre, with some reports suggesting it would be staffed by Russian trainers, prompted expressions of concern among Bosnian and international officials. RS authorities said arms needed for defence against terrorist attacks. Bosniak deputy VP of RS, Ramiz Salkic, 13 Feb also expressed concern, suggested RS President Dodik attempting to establish “some kind of armed formations”; Dodik called remarks “notorious falsehoods”. Dodik 15 Feb confirmed he will run as candidate for elections to tripartite state-level presidency in elections due Oct; said he would work to reduce size of national army from 16,000 to 3,500. RS late Feb announced that elementary schools in entity will adopt unified curriculum with Serbia for four “national” subjects including language and history, prompting criticism from Bosniak politicians.
Republika Srpska (RS) entity marked controversial “Statehood Day” 9 Jan with largest celebration to date, including parade of almost 2,000 people including police; speaking at celebration, RS President Dodik called for more autonomy. RS’s Statehood Day has previously been condemned by Bosnian state, U.S. and EU; Serbian defence and interior ministers attended event. Georgia lodged protest with Bosnia after de facto leader of its breakaway republic South Ossetia, Antoly Bibilov, also attended and signed cooperation agreement with RS; Bosnian foreign ministry said it had not received official announcement of visit. Russian embassy and Dodik’s office dismissed 12 Jan report of Russian-trained Bosnian Serb paramilitary units being formed.
Parliament 15 Dec passed long-delayed laws on road tolls and excise taxes, prompting IMF and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to unblock major loan disbursements. President of Republika Srpska (RS) entity Milorad Dodik 14 Dec said RS will not engage in activities to implement country’s NATO Membership Action Plan, citing entity’s Oct declaration on military neutrality; state-level officials said Dodik has no jurisdiction over the issue, work is done at state level, not by entities, thus his statements have no consequences for activities undertaken by defence ministry.
Republika Srpska entity parliament 7 Nov voted to suspend July 2015 decision to hold referendum on powers of state judiciary. Following four-year trial, International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, Netherlands, 22 Nov convicted former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladić of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for crimes committed during 1992-1995 war including July 1995 Srebrenica massacre. Former Bosnian Croat Commander Slobodan Praljak 29 Nov died after drinking poison in ICTY courtroom just after judge confirmed his twenty-year jail sentence for crimes including murder, persecution and deportation.
EU foreign ministers meeting 16 Oct reiterated commitment to Bosnia’s EU perspective, but urged it to step up reform efforts. Lawmakers in Republika Srpska entity 18 Oct passed non-binding resolution insisting on entity’s military neutrality, in expression of opposition to potential Bosnian NATO membership.
During two-day visit to Bosnia early Sept – first visit by a Serbian president in six years – Serbian President Vučić reaffirmed Serbia’s “respect for the territorial integrity of Bosnia”, said Bosnia “has a true friend in Serbia”. President of Republika Srpska (RS) entity Milorad Dodik 19 Sept said his party no longer pushing for controversial referendum on jurisdiction of state courts over RS courts, citing lack of political consensus and pressure from international community.
Constitutional Court (CC) 6 July rejected appeal from Republika Srpska (RS) legislature which claimed that state public holidays violate constitution since they are not recognised by RS, in move prompted by CC’s rejection of RS’s own national day celebration. Having previously reiterated threat of RS secession if CC rejected appeal, RS President Dodik criticised CC decision, saying it violated ethnic Serb interests; called on Serb representatives to withdraw from court. CC also removed parts of election law which it had previously ruled violated constitution, after deadline for state parliament to amend law expired. Ruling coalition of two leading Bosniak political parties broke up 21 July, following months of tensions.
President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik told Politico he will not call referendum on secession for entity in 2018, but implied it could happen in future.
International Court of Justice 9 March rejected Feb request for review of its 2007 ruling which cleared Serbia of direct responsibility for 1995 Srebrenica genocide, saying request had not come from Bosnian state. Bosnian Serb party National Democratic Movement 13 March said it would file criminal complaint against Bosniak member of presidency and legal counsel who submitted request to ICJ. Appeal hearing opened 20 March for six Bosnian Croat wartime leaders convicted by Hague Tribunal in 2013 of committing war crimes in joint criminal enterprise led by Croatian wartime leadership, link refuted by Croatia.
Bosniak member of tripartite presidency Bakir Izetbegović 17 Feb said country will lodge appeal to ICJ to revise its 2007 ruling which exonerated Serbia of direct responsibility for 1995 Srebrenica genocide. Bosnian Serb member of presidency Mladen Ivanić warned such a move would exacerbate ethnic tensions, could provoke crisis; MPs from country’s two largest Serb parties 16 Feb boycotted parliament in protest. Ivanić and President of Republika Srpska (RS) entity Milorad Dodik met with Serbian PM Vučić and President Nikolić in Belgrade 22 Feb; Nikolić said Belgrade “will always stand by the Serbs in Bosnia”, Dodik called ICJ appeal “act of hatred” toward Serbs. Speaking day after official filing of request with ICJ 23 Feb, Ivanic spoke of “serious crisis” and said he will tell ICJ that presidency did not agree on move. RS National Assembly special session late month voted to “reject and strongly condemn” appeal bid, invited Serb representatives in state-level bodies to prevent decision-making. Russian ambassador 12 Feb said RS authorities “fully committed to implementing the Dayton agreement”, reiterated Russian support for Bosnia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.