Secretary of State Clinton & EU High Representative Catherine Ashton meet with the Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite Presidency, Bakir Izetbegovic (L), Nebojsa Radmanovic (2nd R) and Zeljko Komsic
c European External Action Service

Bosnia: Independence never far from the minds of Bosnian Serbs

As relations between Serbia and Kosovo improve after an agreement signed last month giving extensive rights to Serbs and their municipalities in Kosovo, there are renewed demands in the Republika Srpska for it to separate from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On 25th April, six days after Serbia and Kosovo reached an agreement in Brussels that brings both of them a step closer to Europe,   the Banja-Luka based newspaper Press, on its cover, ran the headline “Srpska heads into independence”.  Press is one of the most widely read papers in the mainly Serb entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Republika Srpska.

The article referred to a recent statement made by Nebojsa Radmanovic, the Serbian member of Bosnia’s tripartite State Presidency.  In an interview with the Anadolu news agency, Radmanovic said the Republika Srpska would consider its own right to detach itself from Bosnia if Kosovo was recognised as independent from Serbia by at least half of the UN member states.

A map showing the border between the two administrative districts of the country.

A map showing the border between the two administrative districts of the country.

Whilst genuine optimism – somewhat of a rarity in the Western Balkans – should surround the growing contentment between Serbia and Kosovo, however, concern should also be held regarding the recent rhetoric emanating from the Serbs residing in Bosnia.  In truth, since the end of the three- year war in 1995, debate on independence has never been far from the surface in Republika Srpska.

The Bosnian war ended in 1995 with the signing of the Dayton Peace Accord in Paris.  It was here where the two entities of Bosnia were formed.  Alongside the Serb entity lies the Bosniak Federation, its population largely split between Bosniaks and Croats.  To a large degree these entities are autonomous and are left to govern themselves. Each has its own president, government, parliament, police and other institutions.

At a state level, Bosnia’s institutions include a three member, rotating presidency, the national parliament, which includes both the House of Representatives and the House of Peoples, and lastly the Council of Ministers.  Each of these state level institutions allows the representative of each ethnic faction the right to veto.

Herein lies much of the problem in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  With its consociational method of power-sharing many blame the constitution for the on-going tensions in a country whose war ended 18 years ago.  Critics will tell you that the entities created at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio in 1995 are too close to being states in their own right and that the arrangement has reinforced separatism and nationalism at the expense of integration.

Across the political institutions in Bosnia, there is a constant need to recognise the differences that remain between the three ethnic factions. There is no incentive for any of the political elites to find their common ground.  Unlike an integrative approach to democracy, politicians in Bosnia do not need to appeal to the moderate electorate, but rather focus their attention on the more nationalistic voters.

If the political system derived in the aftermath of conflict has contributed to Bosnia’s continued nationalism, then the economic system put in place has also played its part. Most post-war countries that have required foreign intervention will soon embark on a process of privatisation; Bosnia was no different.  Under the guidance of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and following in the footsteps of many other Eastern European states a voucher system was put in place.  Given Bosnia’s communist background there was not a ready-made capitalist class that were able to step into the void left by the withdrawal of the state from the economy.

Bosnia’s government distributed free vouchers to its citizens.  Individuals could then swap the vouchers for the shares of privatised enterprises.  This system offered the quickest route of transferring public assets into the private sector. However, much of the recent nationalist rhetoric can be traced back to the distribution of these vouchers.

During the war, many people had their foreign currency accounts frozen, soldiers had gone unpaid, whilst some citizens laid claim to assets because they had contributed to the pre-war economic development of Bosnia.  Many people were owed money in the aftermath of the conflict.  The ruling parties, in control of the distribution of the vouchers, saw this as an opportunity to pay back those they owed for their efforts in the war.  This included unpaid soldiers, war veterans and war widows’.  These individuals received nearly half of the total vouchers distributed and resulted in a new capitalist class that also happened to hold the most extreme views.

Many may dismiss the discontented voices arising from the Bosnian Serb population as just the latest example of Srpska’s attempts to gain greater power in parliament. However, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s High Representative seems to disagree. Valentin Inzko, the highest international authority in the country, has been concerned enough to warn Ban Ki-moon.

In his latest report to the UN Secretary-General, Inzko highlights the continuing challenges to the country’s sovereignty from politicians in the Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska.  He feels that in the past six months there has been an increase in provocative statements made by some of the post powerful officials in the Serb entity, including President Milorad Dodik.

Inzko said: “The Republika Srpska president continues to be the most frequent and vocal – although certainly not the sole – exponent of state dissolution, I am also concerned by continued assertions from senior Republika Srpska leaders — contrary to the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina — that the entities are states.”

This debate is not a new phenomenon; tension has been a common theme amongst the population of post-war Bosnia. But in the backdrop of Serbia and Kosovo’s improved relations, those discontenting voices are getting far louder, and far more political.

Harry Sanders


Harry Sanders is a graduate from the University of Leeds with an MA in Global Development and the International Political Economy after completing a BA (hons) in Economics at Nottingham Trent University. He holds a particular interest in post-conflict states and human rights and currently interns for the charity, African Prisons Project.

17 comments on “Bosnia: Independence never far from the minds of Bosnian Serbs

  1. Harry, why is it wonderful that Kosovo, a constituent part of Serbia for centuries and its cultural and religious heartland, not to mention a mafia “state” run by criminals, gets its potential independence, while independence for the Bosnian Serbs, part of an unworkable construct forced on the people by outsiders , a threat. The double standards and hypocrisy are plain to see. You really need to break away from the drivel you have been fed by CNN and the BBC.

    • Srpska Republika was formed as a result of genocide. It was nothing more than a reward to the Serbs that committed atrocities in Bosnia. It did not exist prior to the Dayton Agreement. After the peace agreement, Serbs flooded Srpska Republika to pile a majority. Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state, it was for over a thousand years. No reward for genocide is going to change that. Serbs already have a land called Serbia, it’s Serbia.

      • Bosnia was a state for centuries and for many centuries, but BOSNIAN’s as a nationality never existed previously in the books of history. Bosnians if ever mentioned as a people from a land were never considered muslim in the history books up untill the late 1980’s. Christians have lived in bosnia for far longer before any bosnian was proclaimed to be muslim. So to say that Todays Bosnia as a country only belongs to Muslims ( who mind you are Serbs and Croats who were forced into Islam Centuries earlier using brutal turkish techniques and blackmail)and that serbs should go to Serbia is an outrage not just to the Serbs who’s land that rightfully is, but also to all of Europe who should be ashamed to have allowed something like the war in bosnia to happen at all. It was in the interest of the USA and the WEST to dismantle a country which was a thorn in their eye, and what better way to do it than by tense religious means.

      • The US was formed as a result of genocide and slavery, so should the US have moral right to exist? So apparently the morality is not an argument when it comes to the existence of a country. It probably has to do with the will of the people, and the will of the Serbs of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to have their own independent state. Also, just a not, the genocide in Bosnia happened in the town of Srebrenica, without which Republika Srpska would have existed regardless. As for Bosnia and Herzegovina being a state for a thousand years, also not true. There was a medieval kingdom of Bosnia, which besides the approximate geographic location and half of the name has nothing else in common with the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was first mentioned as a state as constituent part of the communist Yugoslavia in 1945. If you do the math between 1945 and 2013 there are only 68, and not a thousand years, like you calculated.

  2. Jozo Papevcic on said:

    If you look at Croatia on the map, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that Bosnia and Hercegovina was once part of Croatia before the Turks came and occupied it for about 500 years. Before the Turks came there were no Muslims and no Mosques and Turkish architecture in the area. In addition there were much less Serbs in the region.

    The time has come for peaceful partition. Let the Bosniaks have their own Islamic state without the international communityt forcing Christian Croats and Serbs to be part of it. Bosnia and Hercegovina will never be a stable country.

    • There were also fewer Catholics than Orthodox in Hercegovina and far fewer than Bogomils in the rest of early BiH. To suggest that you can configure historical divisions by reading a contemporary map suggests delusion.

    • And there were fewer Catholics than Orthodox in Hercegovina and even fewer than the Bogomils in the rest of Bosnia. To suggest that you can see the history of BiH from a contemporary map is delusional. At one stage in its history it laid territorial rights to much of the now southern Croatian coast line. Maps are the work of an imperial hand in one form or another, people’s identity are marked by their eniornment

      • Jozo Papevcic on said:

        The Moslems aka Bosniaks always refer to Bosnian Croats as Bosnian Catholics and Bosnian Serbs as Bosnian Orthodox to justify “Bosnian” as an ethnicity, which it isn’t and never was. The fact that i would like to present to you is that Bosnia and Hercegovina are historical regions of Croatia that the Turks occupied for 500 years.

        The Croats are the only ones that tell the truth about the history of our region.

        Bosniak’s referred themselves as Croats until TiTO made BiH as a federal republic of Yugoslavia and gave the Croatian muslims status as an ethnic group (Moslems) in exchange for oil deals in the middle east…Even up to the beginning of recent war they considered themselves Croats…there are many Bosniaks that still do to this day and if Bosnia dissolves as a state as we know it….don’t be surprised if the federation joins Croatia.

        • not true at all, Bosnia was never Croatian land, but the Dalmatia was Bosnian,
          Bosnian “croats” and Dalmatians are historically, and genetically Bosnian Catholic, they just think they’re Croats, Bosnian “serbs” are Bosnian Orthodox who think they’re Serbs.

          • Jozo Papevcic on said:

            Keep dreaming my friend…The only reason why BiH hasn’t fallen apart yet is because of international pressure from the United States and the EU….Once the international policy changes on the experiment known as Bosnia and Herzegovina…your artificial state will disappear from the world map.

            I dare you to go tell Bosnian and Herzegovinian Croats that they are not ethnic Croats and the Serbs that they are not ethnic Serbs if you are so sure of your Bosnian ethnicity theory.

            Thompson has a new song entitled “Bosna” i suggest you dowload it from iTunes and listen to it 1,000 times.

          • Jozo Papevcic on said:

            You should be more grateful to both the Croatian Military and NATO for the Dayton Peace accords. Who knows what the Serbs would have done next, especially to the people in the Bihac enclave…Ante Gotovina should be a hero to you. He was the one that officially brought the Serbs to the negotiation table. He shut the power to Banja Luka and that is what led the Serbs to Dayton.

          • Jozo Papevcic on said:


            Croatia played a major factor in bringing peace to your artificial country, you should be grateful.

            I would be worried if i were you, the Serbs are starting to recognize Kosovo….Could their be a shift of international policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

            If Srpska breaks away, so will the Croats….What will you do then? The Bosniaks will have about 22% of the territory of BIH as we know it today…..

    • What facts are you basing your statements that the population was predominantly catholic before the ottomans arrived ?? When it is well known a fact that the predominant religion in Bosnia was orthodox. Im just interested to see where your sources come from.

      • Jozo Papevcic on said:

        An ethnicity is not necessarily linked to a specific religion….When i see Ratko Mladic or Vlade Divac or other Serbs for that matter….they look like Serbs…it wouldn’t matter what religion they are….They have a Serbian look to them….

        All i can say is that in Bosnia and Herzegovina there are only currently about 17% ethnic Croats……and that 100 years ago there were much. much, much more…..

        One example is NEUM a Croatian coastal city that was annexed to the ottoman empire under some treaty…..There were never any muslims there…now the federal government of BiH wants to build a port there which would employ a lot off muslims from other parts of the country which would give them authority to build a mosque there….There are only a few thousand residents in Neum and if they move in a couple thousand can see what their mission is…..They want to make the Moslems a majority in that town so they can have control over the coast.

        Croatia has been focusing on it’s EU path and has remained silent in regards to the standing of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina….When Croatia joins the EU on July this policy will change and Croatia will get more involved in what is happening to Croats in BiH…..

        The only reason why this is happening to Croats is because the international community supports a united BiH which serves as a power vacuum for the Muslims within the federation….This policy can change as the country is in political and economical stagnation and once Croatia joins the EU the Croats in BiH will be EU citizens as they are all Croatian citizens….Croatia will have the legal basis to get more involved in improving the standing of Croats in BiH….

  3. Serbia has a bad track record of claiming those lands that are not theirs. They conquered Kosovo in the early 13th c after 600 years of being entirely separate from it then maintained their control for 250 years after which the Ottomans took control away from it until the kingdom of Yugoslavia reasserted an external control of the land in 1912 and fully absorbed it post World War 1. By then there was 25% Serb presence there. The assertion that Kosovo is the cradle of the Serbs makes as much sense as saying it is Turkish. To suggest there is any parallel between Republika Srpska in BiH is a mischief at least and a lie at best.

  4. Dear Friends Bosnia has it’s own history. Let’s look the beautiful Elizabeth of Bosnia, the House of Kotromanic. We were all pagans once. Then Christianity was forced upon the Pagan Tribes around the Balkans, the Turks came forced Islam. Constantine VII gave recognition to Bosnia in the name of Bossona. The Bosniaks were Christians but they were not Catholic nor Orthodox. Bogomil was a term used by the Catholic Church to denounce other religious beliefs. Calvin even visited the Church of Bosnia. They believed in the teachings of Christ but did not have structural basis of religion. But history always speaks for it’s Religion was a Political tool.

    Orthodox Christianity was first to come. It is very old and the Orthodox is still divided from Arab world to the Eastern World. But it has a rich history. Catholicism has a rich history in the Balkans. Islam also does. But never forget we were Pagans first.

    Enjoy my friends.

    • I dont understand why other groups of people can unite and have their own land but all of the Serbs cant unite? This is bullshit! I am a Serb from Kosovo and our people cannot even go pay respect in Kosovo for Vidovdan without getting harrassed by ethnic albanians, how is that fair?! How is that freedom?? Some people just cannot live together. Its not fair to be cruel and punish others just because of their religion and nationality. Im Serb and my best friend is bosnian muslim, I have to say that what we did to Bosnians was very wrong and I am against it. we were slaughtered by Croats, Albanians and Bulgarins during world war 2. Im not justifying anything here, i am simply bringing to light all of the attrocities that ever happened on the balkans and all nationalities suffered casualties and losses one way or another. What really bothers me is the qhole ‘hate’ factor. If people want to unite as a whole, no one should have the right to stop them whether it be serbs, bosnians, croats, whatever. You cannot force people to live in an entity they do not want. I am a Serb from Kosovo whether it is a state or not it will always be Serbia to me regardless of what pthers think. Some people need to get past demarcation boundaries and atop creating nationalities. You are what you are and you are always going to want to be with your own people because obviously because there is so much hatred in this region sadly. I think Yugoslavia was the best because everyone lived together in peace regardless of nationality or religion but that was sadly destroyed.