V.alentin Inzko, the outgoing High Representative of the international community in Bosnia-Herzegovina, goes with a bang. Inzko, who in the twelve years of his time as High Representative only rarely pushed himself to the fore and, at least after complaints from Bosnia, was at times not characterized by excessive presence in Sarajevo, a few days before the end of his mandate he once again had the supposedly sharpest weapon drawn that is available to him.
He applied the “Bonn powers”. These are powers with which high representatives can depose democratically elected politicians in Bosnia, ban the media, repeal or enact laws. By decree, he ordered local politicians to apply a law that was written in his office and which provides for the denial of genocide in Bosnia to be punished with up to five years imprisonment. The decree, signed by Inzko, is dated July 22nd, but was not published until the day after.
Anyone who publicly “approves, denies, grossly trivializes” or justifies a crime in Bosnia that was classified as genocide by the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, for example, “should be punished with imprisonment of between six months and five years “, So the decree. Anyone who spreads such denials should have to be in prison for at least one year or even at least three years if the public peace could be disturbed by it. According to the decree, three years’ imprisonment is also used to honor legally convicted war criminals or to name public places, such as parks, streets or bridges, after such persons.
The Srebrenica Genocide
In essence, it is about the genocide of Srebrenica in July 1995. In the Bosnian Serb Republic, half of the country controlled by Serbians since the end of the war in Bosnia in November 1995, it is not denied that a crime has occurred in Srebrenica, but the extent of the massacre is systematically played down. In particular, Milorad Dodik, who is a Serbian member of the three-person state presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been saying, untruthfully and without consequences for him, that there was no genocide in Srebrenica. Several attempts to punish the denial of the Srebrenica genocide by means of a local law had failed due to resistance from Serbian and sometimes Croatian MPs in the Bosnian bicameral system.
It is the first time in many years that the “Bonn powers” have been reapplied. The then High Representative and former Spanish Foreign Minister Carlos Westendorp was responsible for one of the last major applications in 1999. He had removed the then President of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Nikola Poplašen, by decree. Poplašen had refused to appoint Milorad Dodik as prime minister of the Serbian republic. At the time, Dodik was still being promoted by the Office of the High Representative because Western diplomats believed that he would push through their ideas in Bosnia.
Collection of signatures against the law
A good two decades later, the picture has long since changed. Dodik and the respective High Representatives are determined opponents. Dodik reacted to Friday’s decree as expected: There was no genocide in Srebrenica, the Serbs should not accept such a reading, said the president. He initiated a petition in which this stance “with respect for all victims” should be expressly expressed, and was the first to put his name under it. According to Dodik, signatures against the “imposed law” and his view of Srebrenica are now to be promoted throughout the Serbian republic. Dodik is not alone in this. Draško Stanivukovic, for example, the young mayor of Banja Luka, is a domestic rival of Dodik, but also denies that there was genocide in Srebrenica. The mayor of the largest city of the Bosnian Serbs, Inzkos, commented on the decree that he would not accept someone forcing him to interpret history in a certain way, and no one could put him in jail for it.
Inzko himself was quoted as saying that it was a “decision of conscience” which, after more than twelve years in Sarajevo, prompted him to pass the law shortly before he left. Inzko no longer has to deal with its enforcement. That will be the job of his successor, the former German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt (CSU), who will take up his post in Sarajevo on August 1st. It will be instructive to see how Schmidt handles his predecessor’s parting gift. It can be ruled out that Dodik’s petition will get a million signatures, as a nationalist minister in Serbia suggested over the weekend. In the Bosnian Serb Republic there are quite reasonable people who do not doubt the indubitable. But even if Dodik’s petition “only” received 200,000 or 100,000 signatures, the question arises of how to deal with it. The judiciary will hardly be able to initiate 100,000 criminal proceedings, and the High Representative lacks the actual means of power to enforce enactments in the country. That was one of the reasons why they had not been used for many years.