Documents to download

Following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the ethnic conflict that engulfed Bosnia and Herzegovina, a peace agreement was eventually reached in 1995. According to the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina (otherwise known as the Dayton Agreement), signed in 1995, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is a single state, which consists of two principal political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, principally comprising the Bosniak (Muslim)- and Croat-majority areas, and Republika Srpska (RS), principally comprising the Serb-majority area.

The Dayton Agreement established an international High Representative with responsibility for oversight of civilian implementation of the peace settlement. The High Representative has powers to remove public officials from office and impose laws on BiH as necessary to safeguard the peace agreement. Recent statements and actions by the leadership of RS have provoked international concern and been described by the High Representative as undermining the Dayton Agreement and threatening the territorial integrity of BiH.

Separatism in Republika Srpska

In recent years, the Bosnian Serbs in RS have adopted a more assertive separatist stance under the leadership of Milorad Dodik. Dodik is President of RS (since 2022, and previously 2010 to 2018) and was a member of the three-person collective presidency of BiH from 2018 to 2022.

Dodik has voiced his ambition to organise a referendum on RS independence, and railed against various decisions taken by the High Representative for BiH. In July 2021, the Bosnian Serbs launched a boycott of key institutions of the state of BiH after the High Representative announced a law banning genocide denial related to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. In October 2021, Dodik said that RS would withdraw from Bosnia and Herzegovina’s armed forces, and key judicial and taxation bodies. In June 2022, Dodik said that the war in Ukraine and its knock-on effects had forced RS leaders to delay plans to withdraw from BiH state institutions.

Secessionist rhetoric from Dodik, sometimes combined with calls to unify RS with Serbia, has intensified since he returned to the RS Presidency in November 2022. In June 2023, the RS National Assembly adopted legislation suspending rulings by the BiH constitutional court and stopping publication of High Representative’s decisions in the official gazette. This legislation was overturned by the High Representative, but in early July Dodik signed the legislation into law, effectively allowing the RS National Assembly to disregard High Representative decisions.

In early December 2023, Dodik said that he would declare RS independence if Donald Trump was re-elected US president in 2024.  In the summer of 2023, BiH state prosecutors had indicted Dodik on charges of failing to execute the decisions of the High Representative. Dodik then threatened legislation to enable the arrest and deportation of the High Representative. The trial of Dodik began in February 2024.

In April 2024, Dodik said that the situation in BiH would change dramatically after 2 May. A draft UN resolution to declare 11 July the “International Day of Reflection and Remembrance of the 1995 Srebrenica Genocide”, is scheduled to be voted on by the UN General Assembly on 2 May. Dodik has previously said that BiH may not survive the UN resolution.

Relations with Russia

Dodik has said he has support from both Russia and China. Both Russia and China objected to the appointment of the current High Representative, Christian Schmidt, in 2021 and proposed ending the role.  Russia has also withdrawn from the Steering Group of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) which provides the High Representative with political guidance. Dodik has visited Russia and met with Russia’s President Putin on several occasions since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Dodik has sought to block attempts by BiH to align with EU sanctions against Russia, and RS and Russia have continued to discuss economic cooperation initiatives. On 8 January 2023, Dodik awarded President Putin the RS highest medal of honour for his “patriotic concern and love” for RS.

International Reaction

A report from the High Representative in November 2021 referred to BiH as “facing the greatest existential threat of the post-war period”. Subsequent reports have highlighted the secessionist rhetoric and actions of Dodik and RS and an “unprecedent level of attacks” on the Dayton Agreement. Statements from the PIC Steering Board have affirmed international support for the High Representative, the Dayton Agreement and the territorial integrity of BiH.

Joint statements, from the USA, UK and the EU have condemned moves to withdraw RS from the BiH institutions and reaffirmed support for the territorial integrity of BiH. A joint statement by the USA, UK, Germany, France and Italy in September 2023 expressed concern over “the escalating separatist and destabilizing rhetoric and actions” (PDF) of Dodik. The USA and UK have imposed sanctions on Dodik and other RS leaders. In March 2023, the RS Government said it was ending cooperation with the US and UK embassies in BiH and accused both countries of interfering in BiH internal affairs.

There have been calls within the EU to impose sanctions, but some Member States have opposed them. Hungary has given financial and political support to RS. The EU has granted EU candidate status to BiH and has sought to encourage dialogue within BiH and reforms to prepare BiH for eventual EU membership. In March 2024, EU leaders at the European Council agreed to commence EU accession negotiations with BiH once various reform steps had been undertaken.

In 2021, Dodik said that if the EU were to impose sanctions, then RS would declare its independence.  He has also said that RS would “defend ourselves with our own forces” and that if NATO intervened “we will ask our friends – who told us clearly and loudly they never abandon their friends – to help us”. 

Following the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, a NATO-led force kept the peace in BiH. This role was transferred to an EU-led force, Operation Althea, in 2004. This currently comprises approximately 1,600 personnel from 23 countries (PDF). The UK’s role in the Operation ended shortly after the UK left the EU in 2020, although it could continue to participate under “Berlin plus” arrangements that allow the EU to draw upon NATO assets and capabilities.

Documents to download

Related posts