Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik recently re-aroused great attention among the public political scene in the Balkans. Responding to the statement that the “Serbian world” leads to a “Greater Serbia”, Dodik said: “What Greater Serbia; there was also a Greater Croatia, so what? These are platitudes that serve to scare others. Our project is very clear – to strengthen Republic of Srpska to the extent that it will be an independent state in this area and we are committed to that. We have a legitimate right for that, as Croats and Montenegrins have, to have Republic of Srpska in this area that will be an independent state. We do not hide those plans, “Dodik emphasized.
However, if the Republic of Srpska took this path openly, it would encounter a significant problem – Brcko District. Currently, the Brcko District divides Republic of Srpska into two parts and de facto keeps the Republic of Srpska in a stalemate.
It has been twenty years since the Brcko area was excluded from the institutional framework of the Republic of Srpska and integrated into the so-called district. Immediately after the end of the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the seizure of jurisdiction over the Republic of Srpska began. The demarcation in the area of the city of Brcko was left for arbitration after the Dayton Peace Agreement.
Although its goal was to determine the disputed part of the inter-entity line, the arbitration went further and decided on the status of the entire territory of Brcko. The deadlines set by the compromise clause were not met.
Namely, the clause clearly states that if the final decision is not made within a year (until December 1996), it is envisaged that the factual situation in the Brcko area will remain. This meant that the town of Brcko and the part under the control of the Serbs would remain part of the Republic of Srpska, while the rest of the area that had been under the control of the Croat and Bosniak forces since the war would belong to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
However, the decision was made only in 1999, and was unfavorable for Serbs. According to that decision, the Brcko District was formed, and is managed by both entities. However, the reality on the ground is different. Brcko has its own government, assembly, autonomous courts, police, education, and a mayor who heads the local government, and all of these bodies exercise power largely independently.
In addition to the above, Brcko has an institution of supervisor – the head of the international mission that was formed in this area in 1997 with the aim of coordinating the work of local, entity and international bodies.
In the waves of injustices that will follow, the supervisor has been given extraordinary and dictatorial power to issue laws, dismiss domestic officials and pass the so-called orders – binding acts that have stronger legal force than the laws of local authorities.
The most important among them is certainly the Order of the Supervisor, which repeals the entity laws in the Brcko District and declares the cessation of the legal significance of the inter-entity border. The state policy of Republic of Srpska in generally is not implemented in Brcko. To illustrate, in 2016 in Brcko, the supervisor banned the holding of a referendum on the Day of the Republic of Srpska, and at that time Bosniaks even threatened with a referendum on the annexation of Brcko District to the Federation of BiH.
The “Bosnian” language (instead of Bosniak) was introduced into the district’s education system, which Srpska explicitly opposes and does not allow such a term in the rest of its territory. Also, March 1 is celebrated in Brcko District, although it is known that it is offensive to one (Serbian) constituent people and that it is not celebrated in Republic of Srpska as a state holiday.
Along with numerous other examples, it is worth mentioning that the Serbian staff of the Ministry of the Interior of the Brcko District does not participate in the parade on the occasion of marking the Day of the Republic of Srpska, which would be very important from a symbolic aspect.
In essence, the closure of the Arbitral Tribunal depends on the supervisor’s assessment of whether both entities are meeting their arbitration obligations and supporting local authorities in Brcko that are expected to function efficiently and permanently.
Such abstractly set conditions suggest that there is an obvious dishonorable intention in part of the international community to formally (de jure) dispatch Brcko from Republic of Srpska, or to just wait a moment for Republic of Srpska to take the wrong step that could be brought under the legal basis for modifying the final decisions. There are more and more ideas to reconsider and redefine the attitude of Banja Luka towards the Brcko District and certain acts of supervisors.
Thus, the dismantling of the district and the establishment of a regular situation in the area where Republic of Srpska effectively exercised military and civilian power until 2000 – inevitably impose itself as a vital state and national interest.
A special challenge in that sense is the fact that the process of illegal transition of the Serbian municipality of Brcko into a district was cemented and legalized in 2009 in such a way that “Amendment 1“ of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution included the arbitration decision in the Bosnia`s Constitution.
Thus, we came to a paradoxical situation that any challenge to that decision, even one that would reasonably indicate a previous gross violation of international law, would be problematic from a constitutional point of view!
However, the increasing calls of international diplomats and politicians to send additional NATO forces to Brcko District (in addition to the already existing EUFOR forces) – require a responsible approach to this issue from Republic of Srpska. At the same time, Banja Luka should not give up the search for a democratic solution to the status of Brcko District, which would respect, preserve and strengthen the achievements of the supervision regime, but also provide all conditions for legal, political and economic reintegration of Brcko into the constitutional order of Republic of Srpska.