Bosnian Serb president Milorad Dodik has vowed to defy new Western-backed laws imposed to halt his drift into secession.
The latest flashpoint comes after Dodik’s Republika Srpska (RS) decided to no longer implement the decisions of the Bosnian Constitutional Court, in a dispute over the mosaic of its ethnic composition.
RS also decided to no longer legally validate decrees by the EU and US-backed international High Representative in Sarajevo last week.
The international envoy, German politician Christian Schmidt, repealed all that on Saturday (1 July), using last-resort powers under the 1995 Dayton Accords, which ended an ethnic war.
Schmidt also made it a criminal act to attack Bosnian state institutions in future.
But Dodik hit back on Sunday, using inflammatory rhetoric.
“What do these decisions mean?,” he said of Schmidt’s restrictions, according to the Sarajevo Times.
“So, if I don’t implement these decisions, I will be arrested and handed over to a Muslim prosecutor, who will hand me over to a Muslim judge, who will sentence me to prison,” Dodik said.
“These laws [against Sarajevo’s court and Schmidt] were adopted by the RS National Assembly with a two-thirds majority and they will remain in force and I will promulgate them,” he promised.
Dodik vowed to “strengthen the inter-entity line”, reject the authority of Bosnian prosecutors in future, and beef up Republika Srpska’s police force.
He also framed the legal clash as an existential conflict for Serbs in Bosnia, speaking at a memorial for the WW2 Battle of Kozara.
“If we give in now and are not determined, we will disappear in 10 years. If we are brave and persistent, we will survive,” he said.
“I have to defend this nation. I am ready to make a sacrifice and I will go to the end,” Dodik added.
Republika Srpska and Russia do not recognise the authority of what Dodik also called the “fake high representative”, saying Schmidt has first to be endorsed by the UN Security Council, where Russia has a veto.
But the EU and the US backed the Dayton guarantor.
“The laws adopted by the RS National Assembly are a direct attack on the integrity of the Constitutional Court of BiH [Bosnia and Herzegovina] and on the BiH Constitution,” the EU foreign service said.
“The EU regrets that it was inevitable for the High Representative to act to put them out of force,” it added.
The US embassy in Sarajevo said: “The United States supports the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multi-ethnic character of Bosnia and Herzegovina and will continue to hold individuals engaged in anti-Dayton behaviour responsible for their actions”.
The EU has around 1,100 peacekeeping soldiers in Bosnia under the so-called Operation Althea.
Dodik is under US sanctions, but Hungary has vowed to shield him from any EU measures.
He has been agitating to split from Sarajevo for years and threatened to create a greater Serbia in April in a dispute over ownership of Bosnian state assets.
The uptick in volatility in the Western Balkans includes violent clashes between ethnic Serbs and Albanians in northern Kosovo last month, which injured Nato soldiers.
EU foreign ministers, last week, discussed withholding funds for Kosovo and Serbia if they act as spoilers in a rerun of hotly-contested local elections.
But the EU fear on Bosnia is that Dodik might call a referendum on secession in autumn.
And the EU’s message to him was to back down for the sake of his own people, who joined the accession line as official EU candidates last December.
“The EU strongly urges the RS authorities to stop unilateral actions and instead to work constructively so that Bosnia and Herzegovina may be able to deliver on reforms for the benefits for all citizens, seizing the opportunity offered by [EU] candidate status,” the EU foreign service said.