Happy Birthday Republika Srpska!

Milorad Dodik, President of the Republika Srpska entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, held a ’20th birthday party’ for the entity on 9 January 2012. That was the date that Radovan Karadzic and the rest of the leadership of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) declared their intention to create a Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Pale in direct opposition to the Socialist Bosnian parliament of the time, a parliament elected in free elections in November 1990, which had declared Bosnia’s sovereignty and was contemplating a referendum on independence. The date, in other words, marks the declaration of a secessionist entity on Bosnian territory. What happened thereafter is a story of violence, murder and ethnic cleansing as this entity, re-named simply Republika Srpska, established itself across the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This process culminated in genocide against men and children in Srebrenica.

So how do you celebrate the birthday of an entity whose founders are either convicted war criminals or on trial for war crimes at the Hague? Well, one year ago I wrote a joint paper with my graduate student Adis Maksic on Milorad Dodik’s discourse about a possible RS referendum. Part of it was published as: G. Toal, A. Maksić, “Is Bosnia-Herzegovina Unsustainable? Republika Srpska Referendum Rhetoric and its Implications for the Balkans and European Union,” Eurasian Geography and Economics, 52, 2, 279-293.

The bulk of it was not. Instead I sent it to Nationalities Papers who, despite it being very long, were kind enough to review it and consider it for publication in a possible special issue on Bosnia today. The review process concluded in November and I spent the last month revising the paper for publication. In the course of finalizing the paper I looked up how Dodik framed the 20th anniversary. There are two very interesting sources, both translated by the BBC Monitoring Service. They are below and I reproduce them in order to give folks a sense of how the current president of the RS reasons about the past, and about Srebrenica. I have to say his use of Srebrenica as a verb – Srebrenize – was astounding, a truly amazing construction. I’ve italicized some of the sections I used in the revised version of the paper.

The first is an interview Dodik gave just after new year a week before the celebration:

Text of report by Bosnian Serb state RT RS Radio, on 2 January

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Serb Republic, [entity] President Milorad Dodik has said that preserving the Serb Republic has been the biggest challenge all these years. However, he added that fighting for it again might be even a bigger challenge. President Dodik underlined that the obligation to preserve the Serb Republic was not less important than the obligation that there was during the war; he added how many people naively thought that this story was over. In an interview with Srna [Serb news agency], Dodik warned against the careless complacency about what had been achieved, as that would allow the new attacks on the rights and autonomy of the Serb Republic.

President Milorad Dodik said that the Serb Republic would continue to strengthen its institutional capacities, the position at the regional and international level, and that it would certainly be the factor and the participant in the decisionmaking process. Dodik emphasized that the Serb Republic was the permanent and inviolable community and it could not be called into question based on the will of other people.

By using arguments, we have also changed the efforts of the international community to rearrange the Serb Republic; we prevented the situation where the Serb Republic would be stripped of more powers, and we have built its dignity. That was the way and it is the way to strengthen the Serb Republic, the republic president said. He also emphasized that the Serb Republic embraced all the values that the Serb people had nurtured for centuries: freedom, democracy, the respect for the other and the different.

President Dodik added that the Serb Republic had also built in its foundations the anti-fascist spirit of the Serb people, who, like no other nation in this part of Europe, paid the high price in the fight against fascism and Nazism. He thinks that we are still going through the time of misunderstanding, but that this was nothing new. What has, certainly, become deeply engrained and increasingly expressed is the fact that the people perceive the Serb Republic as their most important national goal and the condition for the survival here, President Dodik said. He emphasized how important it was to remember all those who suffered and laid down their lives for the Serb Republic and said that the Serbs knew who they were and they could be proud of their defence-liberation war between 1991 and 1995.

The people who took the leadership of the national movement at the time deserve our gratitude, because it took courage and vision to do such a thing, Dodik said.

Speaking about the Dayton agreement, Dodik emphasized that it established the new political system, which was the basis for bringing peace in Bosnia-Hercegovina, but it also, definitely, confirmed what was clear to everyone: Bosnia-Hercegovina did not exist all those years and its recognition was premature. It was clear that the premature recognition of Bosnia-Hercegovina was an unnecessary step and that it was necessary to enter a new design, which totally legitimized the Serb Republic at the international scale. That is the sign of justifying the commitment to form the Serb Republic on 9 January 1992, Dodik assessed. [sentence as heard]

The president said that Bosnia-Hercegovina did not exist if the Dayton agreement did not exist, because that agreement made Bosnia-Hercegovina of the Serb Republic and the B-H Federation. All those who insist on changing the agreement by force, or abolishing it altogether, must know that they are working on the abolition of Bosnia-Hercegovina, because the Serb Republic came to Dayton in 1995 with sovereignty, and it put its signature on all the annexes to the agreement as a party, and it will exist, with or without the Dayton agreement.

The Serb Republic president emphasized that one of the national priorities was to stop the attempts from Bosnia-Hercegovina, as well as from outside the country, to “Srebrenize” Bosnia-Hercegovina. Nobody in his right mind can deny that atrocities happened there, but what about our victims, who also require respect; our victims were also innocent. Their families never saw the processing of those who made them mourn. Look what happened in the world when a Scandinavian television station showed objectively the events in and around Srebrenica. The film that was showed is the best proof that truth can be hidden for some time, but, sooner or later, it will come to the surface, and we must do everything we can to have that truth reach all the world capitals.

Dodik underlined that he was, exclusively, interested in the Serb Republic, and he was interested in Bosnia-Hercegovina only in the sense of the few basic principles, which were connected with the respect of the original Dayton framework, and those principles were the territorial integrity and the international capacity.

In any variant, we must preserve peace here. We must consider the possibilities for Bosnia-Hercegovina to survive in this territorial sense and to be a certain loose confederation, or a federal state, or to split up peacefully. He said that he also understood well the messages that sometimes came from the leadership of the Islamic Community, and recently from the Party of Democratic Action, that all those who did not like it here, could leave, but could not take anything with them. Everyone who thinks that we will ever leave this place live in delusion. This is our house; this is our country. If anyone ever insists that we left this area, I can tell them that the Serbs will not be the passengers without luggage, the Serb Republic president stated.

In his comment on the past 20 years, President Dodik stated that the Serb Republic has matured in every sense. Look at the B-H Parliament today and the unity of all the representatives from the Serb Republic; that is called the political maturity and the national responsibility. The Serb Democratic Party is the opposition to us in the Serb Republic, so, we have a venue where to argue, but Sarajevo is not the place where a single group of the Serb Republic representatives should quarrel. There, the Serb Republic is defended with one voice, President Dodik stressed.

Source: Bosnian Serb radio, Banja Luka, in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian 1500 gmt 2 Jan 12

The second is Dodik’s speech at the celebration which was televised live by RS TV and went on for hours.

Text of report by Bosnian Serb state RT RS Radio, on 9 January

The special ceremony on the occasion of the 20th birthday of the Serb Republic began with the national anthem of the Serb Republic. In an appropriate speech, Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik has said that the Serb Republic introduced and kept its legality through the signing of the Dayton agreement. The president said that we did not have the right to be naive and careless and that the Serb Republic was invaluable for all the residents, because both the soldiers and the civilian victims build in their lives in its foundations.

[Dodik] No criminal killed for the sake of his nation; he killed, because he is a criminal degenerate [word as heard]. No criminal should be protected from the just punishment for as long as he lives, but there should be no selective justice there, no framed indictments, the forced confessions, as the B-H Prosecutor’s Office and the Court have been doing, so that the victims are only on one side, and the criminals only on the other side. This is the goal of those who declare the Serb Republic to be the genocidal creation. We will never agree to those lies and the alteration of the real events.

[Frank] President Dodik emphasized that the rights, which belonged to the Serb Republic based on the international agreement and the international law, were owned by all its citizens, and this was the reason why they were protected so strongly.

[Dodik] When we look at what has been done to the detriment of the Serb Republic, those rights become the obligation even more than just rights. We want and fight to preserve the status of the Serb Republic in the Dayton Bosnia-Hercegovina. This is why we say that our policy and our position can be summarized in only one sentence: the independent Serb Republic in Bosnia-Hercegovina as defined by the Dayton agreement. That is legal and legitimate. On the other hand, those who violate the Dayton agreement must ask themselves where that is leading. Bosnia-Hercegovina is not too tight for us. We want it, finally, to start functioning in accordance with the Dayton agreement, as a service for its entities, the cantons and the ethnic groups, and, of course, the people. We ask for this, so that Bosnia-Hercegovina would be accepted by everyone. The progress of the Serb Republic means progress for the entire Bosnia-Hercegovina. Nobody can expect from us to give up our autonomy.

About Dr Gerard Toal

Irish born academic living in Washington DC researching geopolitical competition and territorial conflicts in post-Communist Europe. Author of CRITICAL GEOPOLITICS (1996), BOSNIA REMADE (w C Dahlman) and NEAR ABROAD: PUTIN, THE WEST AND THE CONTEST OVER UKRAINE AND THE CAUCASUS (Oxford University Press, 2017).
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