Bosnia’s political crisis called worst since 1992-1995 war

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UNITED NATIONS — The top international official in Bosnia called the escalating political crisis in the country the most serious since the 1992-1995 war that saw 100,000 people die and warned in a report circulated Tuesday that its potential “to become a security crisis is very real.”

Christian Schmidt, the high representative overseeing implementation of the 1995 peace agreement that ended the devastating war, said leaders of the country’s Bosnian Serb-dominated entity have systematically challenged its provisions and intensified their activities aimed at usurping powers granted to the federal government.

The U.S.-brokered Dayton peace agreement established two separate entities in Bosnia — one run by Bosnia’s Serbs and another dominated by the country’s Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats. Both entities must support each other and be bound by the same central institution.

Schmidt said in the report to the U.N. Security Council that the actions by the Bosnian Serb entity, known as Republika Srpska, “not only erode the fundamentals of the agreement, but directly threaten to undo more than 25 years of progress in building up Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state firmly on the path towards European Union integration.”

The report was issued ahead of a council meeting on Bosnia on Wednesday at which Schmidt is expected to present the report. The council rejected Russia’s resolution last July. This would have removed the power of the international high rep and made it impossible to remove the post entirely within one year.

The high representative’s powers have come under criticism from Bosnian Serbs for not offering the possibility of appealing his decisions, which have immediate effect. Since its creation, the Office of the High Representative has fired dozens of civil servants, judges and parliament members. It also overturned previous actions.

Schmidt said Republika Srpska’s government and National Assembly have sought to chip away at state institutions by creating parallel bodies in the Bosnian Serb entity. He said that representatives of Republika Srpska who were elected to or appointed by the National Assembly or other state institutions don’t take part in decisions-making, or they block those not in Bosnian Serbs’ best interests.

“This has the effect of impeding the state’s ability to function and exercise its constitutional responsibilities,” Schmidt said.

He pointed to “non-existent” legislative output, stalled reforms required to advance toward EU membership, international agreements on hold, and the failure to adopt a state-level budget for the second year in a row.

On April 16, Schmidt suspended a law adopted by Republika Srpska that would have enabled the Bosnian Serbs to take over state-owned property on their territory, calling it unconstitutional. Milorad Dodik, the Bosnian Serb leader, stated in an interview that Schmidt’s action could not stop the law being implemented.

Another contentious issue has been the lack of agreement between Bosniaks and Croats in the federation on electoral reforms, which Schmidt said “has prompted Croat parties to cast doubt on the holding of the 2022 general elections, including by withholding financing for the elections.”

Bosnian Croats have claimed discrimination and demanded that the voting system be changed to make sure that Bosnian Croats alone choose Croat representatives. Schmidt said that Bosniak officials denied these claims and they have remained in talks about the reform of the electoral system.

Schmidt said the absence of an agreement “does not call into question in any way the 2022 general elections which will be held in the first week of October under the same rules as in 2018.”

On May 4, after the report was drafted, state election authorities scheduled the vote for Oct. 2.

Some 3.3 million voters will choose the three members of Bosnia’s multi-ethnic presidency, the central Bosnian parliament, the parliaments of the two entities, and the president and vice president of Republika Srpska.

“The continuously escalating political crisis, the most serious in the post-war period, has undoubtedly raised tensions in the country and poisoned the atmosphere, as evidenced by the multitude of interethnic incidents that occurred around the Orthodox holidays celebrated in January,” Schmidt said.

The high representative said he talked to protesters in January who were calling for the international community to react “to the continued destructive behavior of the authorities of the Republika Srpska.”

“They know from history that in the current dynamic the potential for a political crisis to become a security crisis is very real and the international community must respond appropriately,” Schmidt said.

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