By Danijel Kovacevic and Eleanor Rose
The president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, hit back on Wednesday after sanctions were imposed on him by the US Treasury, declaring the US ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Maureen Cormack, “a proven enemy” of the Bosnian Serbs who was “unwelcome in Republika Srpska”.
At a press conference, Dodik called on Bosnia’s foreign minister Igor Crnadak to declare Cormack persona non grata, because he claimed the US diplomat had “violated the laws of Bosnia and Herzegovina”.
The US Treasury announced on Tuesday that it had imposed sanctions on Dodik for “for his role in defying the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in violation of the rule of law, thereby actively obstructing the Dayton Accords [which ended the Bosnian war]”.
On January 9, Dodik led celebrations for a public holiday called the Day of Republika Srpska, which had been banned by the country’s Constitutional Court on the basis that the holiday was linked to an event in the Serbian Orthodox Church calendar and therefore discriminated against non-Serbs living in the entity.
Dodik also held a referendum in September to garner public support for the celebration, also in defiance of a Constitutional Court ban.
The sanctions mean that any of Dodik’s access to any property or interests in property within US jurisdiction is blocked, and US citizens are prohibited from engaging in transactions with him. They do not involve a travel ban.
The EU delegation to Bosnia said however that it was not considering imposing any sanctions on Dodik.
“While no restrictive measures are being actively considered, the EU institutions and member states continue to monitor the implications of the failure to respect decisions of the Constitutional Court,” Jamila Milovic-Halilovic, the spokesperson for the EU delegation and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, told BIRN.
High Representative Valentin Inzko, the top official in Bosnia responsible for implementation of the Dayton Accords, welcomed the sanctions, telling media that Dodik had been “playing with fire and crossed a red line”.
But Inzko’s office sought to explains that the sanctions were not meant as an attack on Serbs.
“These sanctions should not be seen as anything against Republika Srpska or the Serb people, but rather as a demonstration that when individual officials use rhetoric and actions that violate the Dayton Peace Agreement there are consequences,” the Office of the High Representative’s spokesperson Liljana Radetic said in a statement.
Bosnian Security Minister Dragan Mektic and Sadik Ahmetovic, a lawmaker from the main Bosniak Party for Democratic Action, said Dodik should resign.
But at Wednesday morning’s press conference, Dodik was unrepentant.
“I feel proud and I do not see this as a punishment,” he said.
He added that the decision to impose sanctions was futile “because they know I have no property in the US”.
He also said that he expected the administration of Donald Trump, who will be inaugurated on Friday, to take a different approach towards him.
In the streets of Republika Srpska’s administrative centre Banja Luka, the mood was also critical.
“I think this is ridiculous. I don’t understand why they sanctioned him. He has my full support. Those Americans are always against Serbs. It is enough,” said Veselin, a retired factory worker.
“I don’t think they can do anything to him. But I am worried about us. This has gone too far,” said Stefan, an administrative worker.
Meanwhile a former vice president of Republika Srpska, Emil Vlajki, who is now a professor in Banja Luka, said he believed the US sanctions had opened a “Pandora’s box” and would unify Bosnian Serbs behind the idea of splitting from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“These sanctions are sealing the fate of Bosnia,” said Vlajki.
“From now on, freedom is the only alternative for the Serb people,” he added.