Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told Bosnian Serb leaders on Wednesday that the issue of the status of Bosnia’s Serb-majority region can not be tied to that of Kosovo but that Serbia will insist on economic ties and the preservation of Bosnia’s Constitution the way it was written in Dayton, Ohio, in 1995.
Vucic and Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic met with the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, the President of Bosnia’s Serb-majority semi-autonomous entity of Republika Srpska (RS), Zeljka Cvijanovic, as well as RS Prime Minister, Radovan Viskovic, in Belgrade.
As Serbia is negotiating the status of its former southern province of Kosovo whose independence Belgrade has never recognized, the Bosnian Serb leadership recently sent a document to Belgrade to inform Vucic about the status of Bosnia’s semi-autonomous Republika Srpska (RS) entity and alleged violations of the Dayton Peace Agreement.
The document was sent after Dodik, who has for years been advocating for secession from Bosnia, asked Vucic to include the issue of the status of Republika Srpska in the ongoing negotiations on Kosovo during a meeting they had in Bosnia in late July.
Dodik said at the time that “it should be made clear that it is impossible to talk about a possible secession of Kosovo without talking about the status of the RS.”
After the meeting on Wednesday, however, the Bosnian Serb leader suddenly claimed that “someone from the outside” is trying to connect the issue of Republika Srpska with the negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade.
“Secession is not on our agenda, but the implementation of the Dayton Agreement is,” he said.
Dodik also said that he asked Vucic “how it is possible that some international community allows for Kosovo to secede? Why is it a problem if we ask for answers? How is it possible that Bosnia and Herzegovina seceded from Yugoslavia but that this is not permitted for Republika Srpska? Why do some get that right and others don’t?”
Vucic explained that the issues of Kosovo and Republika Srpska should not be connected as the mood within the international community is against it.
“There have always been double standards,” Vucic said. “Look at how some countries most directly participate in overthrowing other regimes, if Serbia had done even a tenth of that, not only would I have been labeled a dictator, but the whole country would have been marked for it.”
“We Serbs should whine less and not demand justice. Forget justice in international relations. I asked one European world leader why some have some rights and others don’t - I knew the reason, but I asked for a rational answer. They told me: ‘Aleksandar, you are right about everything, but the circumstances and the balance of powers are not in your or Serbia’s favour’. I resented our leaders for not being able to assess the circumstances well,” the Serbian president said.
Bosnia’s war ended with a peace agreement that divided the country into two semi-autonomous entities, one for the Bosnian Serbs and the other shared by Bosniaks and Croats. The two are linked into a country by a joint government, parliament and presidency but Dodik has been complaining that too often the High Representatives - international administrators tasked with overseeing the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement - imposed laws or decisions that undermined the autonomy of the entities and always favoured a stronger state.
Dodik spoke on Wednesday about going back to Bosnia as envisioned by the original peace agreement and not its changes that have later been made which deprived his entity of its own army and other institutions.
“We ask that the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina are implemented, we want nothing other than that and we believe that it’s our obligation to inform President Vucic about it. It’s my obligation to defend Republika Srpska,” he said.
Vucic stressed that his country fully respects the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the Bosnian war and that preserving peace and stability in the region is its priority.
Bosnia’s main Bosniak party, which previously accused Vucic of leading a “duplicitous and aggressive policy with territorial claims towards Bosnia and Herzegovina behind the scenes” reminded Dodik that even during the 1992-95 the Serbs could not destroy Bosnia even with the help of the Yugoslav Army.
“Neither will he manage to do so with his pathetic bunch and the only thing that will surely happen is that he will break his teeth on it and end up on that garbage pile of history,” the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) said in a statement before the meeting on Wednesday.
“Our policy is not one of war but an escalation of peace that should ensure stability in this region. Serbia should and must be informed about all the details,” Dodik justified Wednesday’s meeting.
“The Serb people in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not satisfied with the situation, the way we lost Sarajevo and the purely Serb municipalities we had,” he said.
“I am always surprised by threats of war from Sarajevo,” Dodik said. “Here today, as well as everywhere I go and at any time, I will warn that this is unsustainable and urge for (the RS) to return its status according to the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina so we can continue our talks,” he said.
Vucic said that he leads a policy which produces results and does not “endanger Serbia or Republika Srpska”, adding that the positions of others must also be taken into account and that this is why he did not want to respond to “attacks coming from Sarajevo.”
“As Milorad Dodik said, it is true that there are many municipalities where there are no Serbs, but it’s also true that there are no or very few Bosniaks in a lot of other municipalities although they used to be the majority there. This is why I want to have understanding for others and this is why I didn’t want to react to messages coming from Sarajevo,” Vucic said.
"I told him that the position of the Republic of Serbia is absolute respect for the Dayton Peace Agreement. I answered every question and said that preserving peace and stability is essential for Serbia and I am convinced for RS, that we must respond to the threats of war that we hear almost every day in a calm manner, with patience, and that we must not participate in that game in any way and that we must respect the agreement we signed because that is what guarantees that everyone will respect us in the international community and that is a guarantee for the security of our people,” the Serbian President said.
Vucic said he asked Dodik to “take Serbia’s interest into consideration at all times and that its primary interest is to maintain peace and the RS within the framework of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as set up in the Dayton Agreement.”
He said that Serbia will help Bosnian Serbs economically, that it plans to build an airport in the southeastern town of Trebinje that would be owned by Serbia and that they decided to install a joint holiday of Serbia and RS, saying, “we agreed that it would be the Day of Serbian unity, freedom and national flag - September 15.”
Dodik, in the end, repeated that Bosnia and Herzegovina will not recognize Kosovo unless Serbia does.
“We have not recognised Kosovo and we will not do so, we endure enormous pressure because of that, we are always asked to change our stance on it. We will follow Serbia’s policy on that matter,” he said.