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

Honeymoon Over For Dodik

While Carlos Westendorp was High Representative in Bosnia, Republika Srpska's prime minister Milorad Dodik led a protected existence and could do no wrong. No longer.
By Janez Kovac

One Bosnian who must already be missing former High Representative Carlos Westendorp is Milorad Dodik.

For more than a year and a half during the Spaniard's term as the senior international diplomat in Bosnia, Republika Srpska's prime minister was the darling of the international community and could do no wrong. Now he risks losing international support unless he begins to deliver some of his many promises.

International attitudes have hardened towards the supposedly moderate Dodik, who has relied heavily upon international political support and financial assistance to remain in power, since Westendorp's departure in July.

Meanwhile, the 40-year-old Bosnian Serb leader faces a twin challenge to his rule: the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) is threatening to withdraw parliamentary support for his government unless he gives Muslim deputies cabinet seats; and Republika

Srpska's dismissed president Nikola Poplasen is attempting, via a legal challenge, to dismiss the entity's parliament and thus overthrow the government.

In many ways, Dodik has brought these problems on himself. Since becoming prime minister in what virtually amounted to a Western-backed parliamentary putsch against Republika Srpska's lard-liners in January 1998, he has failed to live up to international expectations.

Instead, he has relied on the fact that he does not belong to either the hard-line Serb Democratic Party (SDS) or Serb Radical Party (SRS) to milk the international community for both political and financial support.

Although Dodik promised to accept 70,000 non-Serb refugees in 1998, the so-called "year of minority returns", only a few thousand have returned nine months into 1999. Meanwhile, Dodik has failed to secure the surrender of key indicted war criminals.

Republika Srpska has enjoyed generous dollops of international aid, including large infrastructure projects, since Dodik's appointment and this has helped raise living standards. However, international officials complain privately that Dodik has failed to

push key economic reforms and the local media have recently begun to question the origins of the wealth of various government figures.

At the same time, many of Dodik's interlocutors, both international and local, believe that has increasingly taken on a superior, almost regal, air, as if untouchable.

Westendorp tolerated Dodik's antics and defended his protege for fear that his ouster would enable the SDS and SRS to form a government. Now, however, western diplomats in Sarajevo say that new High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, an experienced Austrian diplomat of Slovene origin, will chart a very different course.

Indeed, one of Petritsch's first moves has been to issue a statement saying he will not intervene between Dodik and the SDA over the latter's demands for at least three Muslim ministerial positions.

On previous occasions when the SDA has requested governmental representation, Dodik has managed to dodge the issue. By arguing that such a concession would undermine his authority and thus destabilize Republika Srpska, he has looked to Westendorp to persuade the SDA to back down.

In a spirit of compromise the SDA has said that it would accept Muslim ministers from Zlatko Lagumdzija's Social-Democratic Party. However, it has made clear that it will withdraw its parliamentary support for Dodik unless Muslims are accepted into the cabinet, thus making his a minority government.

In a further twist, Nikola Poplasen, Republika Srpska's dismissed president who refuses to recognise the legality of his dismissal, has initiated legal proceedings to dismiss the entity's parliament.

Of the two challenges, that from the SDA is without doubt the more serious. The international community has steadily weakened the position of Serb hard-liners in recent years and the High Representative considers Poplasen to be an ordinary citizen and thus no longer able to dismiss parliament.

By contrast, the rift between Dodik and the SDA risks impacting both Republika Srpska and the rest of Bosnia. Dodik's Sloga coalition, which includes his own Social-Democratic Party, Biljana Plavsic's Serb People's Alliance and Zivko Radisic's Socialist Party, requires SDA votes to maintain a slim majority in parliament.

If the SDA does withdraw support for Dodik, the decision-making in Republika Srpska is likely to be deadlocked. In such an event, in the absence of both a president and a parliamentarian majority, Dodik could only be a lame duck prime minister.

Such a situation could throw up various strange combinations as the parties jostle for position. Dodik might conceivably seek rapprochement with the SDS and the SRS. Alternatively, it is even possible that the SDA forms a temporary coalition of interests with the SDS and the SRS.

Deadlock in Republika Srpska may also in the coming months complicate the reconstruction of Bosnia's Council of Ministers, if, for example, pro-Dodik forces from Republika Srpska decided to seek revenge and withdraw support from Bosnian prime minister Haris Silajdzic.

Janez Kovac is a pseudonym for a Sarajevo journalist currently working for an international organisation.

More IWPR's Global Voices