BANJA LUKA, Bosnia – Serb lawmakers voted on Friday to start work on pulling their autonomous Serb Republic out of Bosnia’s armed forces, judiciary and tax system, in a non-binding motion meant to pave the way for secession from Bosnia.
The three institutions represent key pillars of joint security, rule of law and the economic system in Bosnia, which was divided into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Croats and Bosniaks – after its 1992-1995 war.
The vote in the Serb region’s parliament amounted to a non-binding agreement that fell short of a final decision to quit the institutions – a move which would have need the support of the region’s upper house.
Serb opposition groups, who criticised the motions as early campaigning ahead of next year’s general election, left the session before the vote took place.
But they amounted to a strong statement of intent from Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who has long complained about state institutions such as the judiciary and prosecutors, saying they were established based on decisions by international peace envoys and were not enshrined in the constitution.
“This is the moment of conquering the freedom for Republika Srpska,” Dodik told the parliament. “Bosnia is an experiment … I don’t believe it can survive because it does not have an internal capacity to survive.”
His SNSD party and its allies, which dominate the 83-seat regional parliament, supported the conclusions on withdrawing from the institutions with 48 votes.
The motion said the regional government should now draft new laws on the military, tax system and judiciary over the next six months, to replace the state laws.
Bosnia’s constitution was adapted after the war through rulings imposed by envoys and agreements by the two regions.
Dodik , who currently serves as the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, wants to roll back on all reforms made after the war and return the 1995 constitution under which the state was represented by basic institutions only while all powers had belonged to the regions.
Opposition leaders warned the moves may lead the Serb Republic into a new war.
“I think the path you have chosen is dangerous for Republika Srpska and we cannot follow you,” said Mirko Sarovic, the head of the largest opposition Serb Democratic Party (SDS).
In a joint statement, the embassies of the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy as well as the European Union delegation said the parliament’s motion was “a further escalatory step”.
“Members of the governing coalition in the RS (Republika Srpska) must be aware that continuing this dead end path of challenging the Dayton framework is damaging the economic prospects of the entity, threatening the stability of the country and the entire region and jeopardising Bosnia’s future with the EU,” the ambassadors said in a joint statement.
They were referring to the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war.