In a rare national referendum expected to pass easily, Serbs will vote on Sunday on a plan that could strengthen their view that they must always be majority sovereign.
The proposed Constitution divides Bosnia into two autonomous regions, each with its own prime minister and president. The federally elected body of the parliament will have the authority to make decisions — with no representation for the Serbs. The Serbs fear their long-standing demands for autonomy will be ignored.
Bosnia’s ruling Muslim and Croat parties oppose the plan, fearing that divisions between the region’s ethnic minorities will make the country less unified, more violent and less attractive to foreign investors.
The vote will mark the first time since Bosnia’s 1992-95 war broke out that Serbs — 20 percent of the population — will be eligible to vote on their own leadership.
Serbs who follow the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic’s extreme nationalist ideology of “Greater Serbia” and wanted it carved up were excluded from being voters.
Lacking control over political affairs in government, they instead worked with a quasi-parliament from 1989 to 1991. It was called the “Fatherland” and was supposed to be a single entity with a single executive, but it was only truly a supervisory body.
Milosevic would later falsify the results of that plebiscite in order to vote in the “Motherland” groups — to keep the two semi-separate entities under his control, and after he died in prison in 2006 the entity continued to function.
Last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees declared that at least a million people have returned to their homeland. It says that in the early 1990s, in the midst of Bosnia’s civil war, some 600,000 Serbs were displaced, more than half of them homeless.
However, the two semi-separate entities — Republika Srpska and Federation — remain hostile entities, with one claiming ethnic supremacy and the other claiming to be a unified multi-ethnic entity.
After more than two decades of wrangling and fighting, Bosnia’s two semi-separate entities as well as its central government continue to be tied up in a state by only three initials: DPS, PCB and CB. That has created a power vacuum, and political paralysis, with politicians willing to do just about anything for a share of power.
A look at the big winners and losers from Sunday’s referendum shows where everything is headed:
Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat leaders have been afraid of the outcome of the vote and of a possible confrontation. They may push for an immediate declaration of independence in the event of a “yes” vote, and that could unleash a political crisis with the support of some Serbs.
Rejecting the referendum outright could lead to bloodshed.
Musician Petar Feric, a leading figure in the Bosnian Serb cause, told The Associated Press that Serbs are preparing for such a possibility.
“If there are no negotiations, and the solution of the problem is not found, we would go forward and begin discussions (about independence),” he said.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is close to President Slobodan Milosevic’s successor, Serb strongman Tomislav Nikolic, and has formed an alliance with the ruling Muslim and Croat party, refused to sign the constitution now. He says he will only negotiate after Sunday’s vote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who intervened in Bosnian affairs in 1992 to secure an end to the war, has also backed Vucic and his followers.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has called the referendum “illegal” and said Moscow “will not support its implementation.”
“We think this referendum, as it is being implemented by the Bosnian Serbs, is an illegitimate, illegal exercise of a ‘lawfare’ system, where various terrorist organizations will try to make an already difficult situation more difficult,” Lavrov said.
Serbs, and particularly those loyal to Orthodox Church, have staked their political beliefs and lives on the eventual ending of Serbia’s mini-state in Bosnia. They also fear losing their political influence and influence over state affairs in a heavily Muslim region near its borders with Croatia and Romania.
However, a leader of Bosnia’s Orthodox Church, Sveta Kostic, believes this latest referendum is not a precondition for resolving the country’s conflicts.
“I think the Bosnian Serbs want to see the whole of Bosnia unifying, and putting an end to the artificial dividing lines,” she said.
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