Bosnian Serb leader warns EU against strongarm tactics
Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik warned, just days ahead of an EU-Balkans summit, that Bosnia's political deadlock cannot be solved by pressure or strongarm tactics by Brussels, .
"I reject the politics of force and stick and I am ready to talk about all issues relating to Bosnia-Hercegovina through dialogue and compromise," Dodik the prime minister of the Republika Sprska (RS), the Bosnian Serb entity of Bosnia, told AFP in an exclusive interview.
The new British Foreign Minister William Hague had suggested that the European Union should use a policy of less carrot and more stick with Bosnia's fractious politicians, who are divided on measures to give more power to the central government.
After the end of the country's bloody 1992-95 war Bosnia was divided into two separate entities, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the RS, linked by a weak central government.
The European Union has been pushing for the entities to change the constitution to strengthen the central government, saying it is necessary if Bosnia wants to become an EU member.
Dodik is vehemently against any secession of power to a central structure and stresses the autonomy of the RS established by the 1995 Dayton peace agreement.
Dodik underscored that Banja Luka's partners for discussing changes to the constitution "are not the United States, Europe, Russia or Turkey. Our partners are the representatives of the (Bosnian) Muslims and the (Bosnian) Croats".
"We value European integration but the internal relations within Bosnia-Hercegovina are within our domain."
Only a true dialogue between the Bosnian communities "can lead to a constitution that will ensure the state can function", he added.
The call for inter-ethnic dialogue and compromise seems out of character for Dodik, known for his hardline nationalist rhetoric and an unyielding stance on weakening the autonomy of the RS.
His warning to Brussels comes ahead of the EU-Balkans summit in Sarajevo, set for June 2, where the region's European perspective will be discussed.
Representatives of the United States and Russia, an historical ally to Serbs, will also be present.
Brussels has been mounting pressure on Bosnia to ensure the reforms it deems necessary will be pushed through but Bosnian politicians on all sides, fearful of losing votes in the October general elections, are reluctant to be seen to be giving up autonomy.
"We are not ready to endanger our autonomy for any reason and especially not for centralising (power in) Bosnia," Dodik told AFP.
The Bosnian Serb leader said he was "hurt" by Hague's call for a more muscular policy towards Bosnia, which he said was a step backwards.
"Today we do not settle our difficulties that way, not here on Bosnia or anywhere else. It is clear that we are considered a second rate people who only understand the language of the stick," he lamented.
"The equilibrium based on two entities and three communities with minimal functions for the central institutions is the only workable model for Bosnia-Hercegovina," according to Dodik.
He repeated his often heard threat that he was "ready to consider independence for Republika Srpska if its autonomy was threatend" but hastened to add that neither independence nor a referendum asking Bosnian Serbs about independence was on the agenda right now.
However the idea that "complete centralisation is the best solution (for Bosnia) is unacceptable for us and we will always reject it," he stressed.
© 2010 AFP