Some Bosnian Serbs voice disquiet over separatist moves by political leader Milorad Dodik, fearing a relapse into chaos and even conflict as they struggle just to make ends meet in a country still scarred by the 1990s war.
Concerns about Dodik’s steps to block the work of Bosnia’s central government and quit its institutions arose in a series of Reuters interviews with residents of Pale, formerly the hub of Serb separatist forces in the 1992-95 war and now capital of post-war Bosnia’s autonomous Serb region.
Still dogged by ethnic divisions, Bosnia is in the throes of its gravest political crisis since the end of the war as the nationalist Dodik seeks to remove the Serb Republic (RS) from Bosnia’s armed forces, judiciary and tax system.
There are no reliable opinion polls on the issue in the RS, and Serbs employed in the large public sector controlled by Dodik’s party declined to comment for the record about his agenda for fear of losing their jobs.
So the extent of separatist sentiment across the RS as a whole is difficult to gauge.
In interviews with Reuters, however, Pale residents who were working in the private sector or retired all expressed dismay over what they saw as a recipe for calamity in Dodik’s actions.
“This would be a total disaster,” Radomir Skobo, a heating technician in a Pale shopping mall, said when asked about a possible RS secession. “There would be even bigger misery. How many people would lose their jobs?”
Many Pale residents have jobs in nearby Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital and the base of the country’s other autonomous entity, the Bosniak-Croat Federation. Throughout the 1990s war, Sarajevo was shelled by besieging nationalist Serb forces dug into surrounding highland where Pale is located.
“Many of us work in Sarajevo so I think we cannot live separately…I think it’s impossible, we cannot live alone,” said Koviljka Ninkovic, a helper for elderly people.
A man who was selling wine from his car in Pale and named himself as Miro said separatism would bring nothing to ordinary Serbs who bear the brunt of high unemployment, endemic high-level corruption and economic mismanagement.
“We live miserably. Politicians take as much as they can and the little people nothing. (Secession) will be of no benefit to us. We are fed up with everything. We just need peace to continue and to stay in good health,” Miro said.
‘PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER IN A MOOD FOR WAR’
“(Separating the RS from Bosnia) cannot happen until the three peoples agree to that. The people are no longer in a mood for war, they have realised that this is senseless,” said 85-year-old pensioner Cedo Bojanovic.
After the 1990s war, which killed 100,000 people, Bosnia was split into the two autonomous entities linked by a flimsy central government that has been expanded by international peace envoys to foster a more functional state.
Dodik, the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, wants to roll back such reforms and return to the 1995 Dayton peace treaty constitution under which all powers were vested in the two regions except for fiscal, monetary and foreign policy.
Dodik denied in an interview with Reuters last month that he was ready to sacrifice Bosnia’s peace to achieve his goals. He has previously said he seeks complete RS autonomy within Bosnia that would not affect the country’s territorial integrity.
But Bosniaks accuse Dodik of endangering the Dayton deal and call for international sanctions against him. Croats say he is right in accusing international peace overseers of overstepping their powers, underlining tensions even within the Federation.
The United States and European Union have warned against the unravelling of Bosnian state institutions but so far taken no concrete action to stop Dodik, leaving opposition parties to challenge his breakaway agenda.
Mirko Sarovic, head of the largest opposition party, told Reuters: “Dodik is dragging us into a hazardous gamble that neither the RS nor Bosnia needs – unilateral moves that are jeopardising peace and security in the whole country.”
Gordana Katana, a Bosnian Serb political analyst, said Dodik drew support mainly from public sector employees “and a small group of extremists”. But she did not believe he had widespread popular backing for “an adventure that would end in war”.
She said Dodik no longer commanded a two-thirds majority in the Serb parliament and so currently could pass only non-binding declarations rather than laws in support of separation.