Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Serb Entity 'Under Threat'

Republika Srpska may face an uncertain future following The Hague's conviction of General Krstic
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

The 46-year prison sentence handed down to General Radislav Krstic for committing genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995 raises critical questions over the future of his homeland, Republika Srpska, RS.


General Krstic was found guilty on August 2 of planning, preparing and carrying out the killings of thousands of Muslim men in Srebrenica; failing to punish troops who committed murders; and of organising the exhumation of mass graves and the reburial of corpses at other sites, in an attempt to hide evidence of the atrocities.


RS government spokeswoman Cvijeta Kovacevic said the authority did not discuss the tribunal's sentence. Entity President Mirko Sarovic refused to comment. Not one Belgrade politician has expressed an opinion, while the Serbian media were conspicuously uninterested, relying instead on agency reports.


Though slow to comment publicly, Serbs in both Banja Luka and Belgrade fear it is only a matter of time before the very existence of RS is questioned.


The Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav authorities are very much aware the Krstic was not the worst culprit at Srebrenica; that they could face much graver charges if Radovan Karadzic, General Ratko Mladic and even Slobodan Milosevic himself are convicted. Their prosecution may prove that Belgrade and Banja Luka conducted a genocidal policy not just at Srebrenica but throughout the entire course of the Bosnian war. In that event, the RS entity's status may be diminished and Yugoslavia made to pay war reparations, amounting to billions of dollars, to Bosnia and Herzegovina and the families of the war dead.


Kasim Trnka, the Bosniak representative at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, told Sarajevo's daily Dnevni Avaz on Saturday that the Krstic judgement meant that "the court unambiguously established that a genocide had taken place in Bosnia", which would help Sarajevo bring genocide charges against Belgrade.


Hakija Meholjcic, wartime chief of Bosniak police in Srebrenica, told Radio Free Europe on Saturday that "there is no use in trying people if the consequences of their crimes remain". The consequences he was referring to was Republika Srpska.


Politicians in Sarajevo and Mostar have not publicly called for the abolition of RS yet, but they are likely to do so when Karadzic and Mladic are put on trial.


What the Krstic episode has highlighted is the fact Bosnia is unfinished business. The Bosniaks would ideally like RS to be dismantled. The Serbs, meanwhile, are determined to hold on to it. The former want to use war crimes to help them achieve their goal - while the latter are in denial over the issue because they fear it lead to them losing everything.


As a result, the issue of war crimes has been deeply politicised. This explains why six years after the Bosnian war, the different factions are not prepared to face their own crimes, even when they are led by moderate governments.


So, for instance, Mladen Ivanic, RS's reformist prime minister, has not publicly commented on the scale of the massacre at Srebrenica, leaving it to Zoran Djeric, an official in his party, to quibble about the length of Krstic's sentence.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is a journalist with the Sarajevo-based weekly Dani.


More IWPR's Global Voices