Years of mismanagement, nationalist rhetoric and endemic corruption have led to a tragedy of epic proportions that has unfolded under the nose of Europe – one that the European community has helped facilitate and, seemingly, is choosing to ignore. Of which tragedy do I speak? That of today’s Republika Srpska, tucked away in southeastern Europe, in the northwest of my mother’s homeland, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Founded as a stepping stone to a ‘Greater Serbia’ in the aftermath of the Bosnian war in 1992, Republika Srpska began as a strategy for Radovan Karadžić’s SDS (Serb Democratic party) to undermine Bosnia’s integrity and hinder its autonomy. Yes – a war criminal convicted in 2016 of genocide in Srebrenica, war crimes and crimes against humanity was in fact the co-founder and inaugural President of the semi-autonomous entity. Criminality therefore lies firmly within the region’s foundations. Any hopes of reforming this legacy, as promised by the Dayton peace agreement in 1995, remain unfulfilled and perhaps even dismissed by the entity’s leadership as well as the international community. Giving a wide range of international organisations authority to monitor, oversee and maintain peace within the region has failed to bear fruit, with the entity’s political elite free to spread the same nationalistic rhetoric Karadžić used for its foundation at the beginning of the war.
Republika Srpska’s political elites have no interest in changing a system that affords them money and power, void of both scrutiny and accountability. To understand this, one only needs to examine the entity’s poster-boy, Milorad Dodik – former Prime Minister, President and current leader of the SNSD (Socialist Alliance of Independent Social Democrats). Dodik’s corrupting politics go far beyond his Serb nationalism. Contrary to his honour-thy-country rhetoric, there is little in the way of self-sacrifice to be found in Dodik’s deeds: aside from the altar of Serb nationalism, the only idol he bows to appears to be money. Whilst a third of his beloved Republika Srpska live in unemployment and poverty, Dodik continues to rob his people in order to maintain his luxurious villas in places like Laktaši and Dedinje. Such luxury can only be afforded by a privately-run country and frequent preying on those at the bottom of the power chain.
As the daughter of a refugee from Banja Luka, each summer I find myself facing newly-built luxury ‘government buildings’, whilst my loved ones struggle to afford basic necessities and can only hope of emigrating to find work. To that end, Republika Srpska has one of the largest emigration rates in Europe. Far from post-war recovery, the region remains in a state of emergency due to its continued financial gloom. Where, then, is Dodik growing his magic money-tree? And why isn’t it available for public usage? It is hard to overlook the numerous examples of this man’s criminal behaviour, which continues to go largely underreported by the international press.
In November 2009, Dodik refused to hand over documents requested by international prosecutors at the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina detailing the financing of a government building complex in Banja Luka with 110 million euros. Dodik refusal came with an almost predictable protest that the prosecutors were plotting against the Serb people. He was again implicated by the German State Prosecution alongside his son in a corruption case involving the Hypo Alpe-Adria Bank International. This involved allegations of criminal offences such as the falsifying of documents, faking financial as well as business reports, and a side dish of fraud. Though the judicial courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina began the investigation, it came to an unsurprising halt following persistent pressure from the RS government. Several journalists including Domagoj Margetić have even come forward claiming that Dodik had bribed and threatened them to not report on the matter further.Meanwhile, Dodik’s son now owns one of the biggest restaurant bars in Banja Luka – Agape.
In addition to the allegations of money laundering, no election cycle would be complete without promises from the SNSD to invest in public infrastructure and, according to eyewitnesses, scenes featuring a smug Dodik alongside content children holding their newly-purchased chevapi. Interestingly, such scenes are only ever reported to have taken place in Serb-populated villages. Though this dubious behaviour also benefits from a lack of scrutiny from the media, investigators did file for nine charges of electoral fraud in the 2018 elections. It turned out that a number of votes had in fact been cast by dead members of the electorate who, mysteriously, had not been removed from the region’s ID system.
Though corruption may often occur under wraps, it does not take place in total secrecy. Be it as a result of general fear of the government or the police – increasingly synonymous institutions in RS – the top dogs go untouched. Patronage and nepotism govern the entity, allowing for corrupt practices to impede on the region’s development, which in turn has undermined its hopes for accession to the EU.
We only need to look at recent events like the murder of Bosnian Serb student, David Dragičević, in 2018, to see how nicely the police force fit into the back-pockets of politicians like Dodik. Though police initially claimed that Dragičević committed suicide, his father, Davor, who instigated the movement Justice for David, has maintained that the head of the Interior Ministry was responsible for his son’s kidnapping and murder. Leaked reports show how police officers stole David’s underwear from the evidence room, and a pathologist has been charged with falsifying the toxicology report. Two years on and the government is still behaving as if it is above the law, which in reality it is. Davor has had to flee to Austria.
The foundations of today’s privately-run entity, Republika Srpska, were built on a bid by Serb nationalists to divide Bosnia along ethnic lines. Twenty five years after the war and similar nationalist sentiment has not disappeared. Indeed, it lives on in leaders like Dodik, who openly denies the Srebrenica genocide and names student dormitories in honour of their predecessor, Radovan Karadžić. In the wake of Montenegro’s most recent election results that saw the first victory in 30 years for the pro-Serb nationalist Democratic Front, one thing is getting harder to deny: the nationalism that founded Republika Srpska and led to the expulsion of the region’s Muslim and ethnic-minority population has not only persisted in RS but across the former-Yugoslav countries. Though the European community once failed Bosnia before, may the ever-increasing corruption and social fractures serve as a warning – another civil war in Bosnia is not off the cards.