Serbs Threaten Secession from Muslim-Majority Bosnia Amid Ethnic Tensions

RAJLOVAC, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - NOVEMBER 30 : Members of Bosnias joint armed forces (OSBiH) take a part in military exercise as the army marks its 16th anniversary, on November 30, 2021 in Rajlovac, near Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina, a multi-ethnic country with population of 3.5 million …
Damir Sagolj/Getty Images

Serb politicians have taken the first steps towards seceding from Muslim-majority Bosnia and Herzegovina in a move that could see the return of ethnic violence in the Balkans.

The National Assembly of the Republika Srpska — a Serbian-majority autonomous region within Bosnia and Herzegovina — voted on Friday to begin the process of opting out of the Bosnian army, security services, judiciary, and tax system.

The move is a substantial step towards complete secession, which runs the risks of reigniting the extreme ethnic violence last seen during the Bosnian War.

Over 100,000 people died during the nearly four-year conflict, which saw the capital city of Sarajevo undergo a siege over three times longer than the siege of Stalingrad during the Second World War.

The United States has recently stepped up attempts to bring the region under control, with The Guardian reporting that the U.S. is exploring the possibility of implementing more sanctions against the Serbs.

Serb leader Milorad Dodik, who has already had his assets frozen by the United States, has said that he does not “give a shit” about sanctions, but senior Biden administration officials believe them to be a powerful option.

“I think we’ve seen some evidence that the leverage we have, that includes policies like sanctions, can be effective [in] trying to shape behaviour,” Derek Chollet, a senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, told The Guardian.

While the United States has already imposed sanctions on Dodik himself, there are reports of uneasiness amongst business interests over the potential impact of future hostile measures from the U.S.

While the possibility of sanctions will likely be an obstacle for any Serb attempt at secession, another difficulty may be general anti-war sentiment within the region.

“I think we should take Dodik’s secessionist threat very seriously. He has been signalling his objectives for a number of years so this did not come out of thin air,” Jelena Subotić, a political science professor, told The Guardian.

“A much bigger question is if the people of Republika Srpska will follow. It is one thing to engage in nationalist rhetoric, it is another to actually pick up arms.”

Why the Serbs should not be allowed to peacefully separate from Bosnia was not discussed in the left-wing newspaper’s report.

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