It is impossible to say with certainty how many times Dodik has threatened a referendum on the secession of Republika Srpska (RS) from Bosnia and Herzegovina, on various occasions and in various ways. There is no doubt that he has done so dozens of times, and almost every day he pollutes the public scene with his toxic political narratives that deny the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and its institutions.
Just between 2006 and 2015, Dodik announced various referendums and threatened the secession of RS more than 30 times. He continued this pattern after 2015, expanding the spectrum to include referendums on the Court and Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina, RS Day, Bosnia and Herzegovina's NATO membership, the adoption of entity laws to reestablish the entity's military, intelligence agency, entity-level Indirect Taxation Authority…
FROM REFERENDUM TO SURVEY
The only referendum announced and conducted by Dodik was the one on January 9th as the Day of Republika Srpska. This referendum took place on September 25th, 2016, not coincidentally just a few days before the local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"Republika Srpska is a state. Republika Srpska incorporated Bosnia and Herzegovina into its territory through the Dayton Agreement, and it had a people who wanted that republic, those are the criteria for a state. That's what I learned in school. What is wrong with Republika Srpska, nothing", said Dodik triumphantly declaring from Pale that the referendum was successful.
However, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina quickly demonstrated that Republika Srpska is not a state, as Dodik claims, by declaring the results of this referendum unconstitutional. As a result, they were never published in the Official Gazette of Republika Srpska. Dodik and the authorities in Republika Srpska did not dare to do so, but they quickly renamed the "historic citizen's expression" in the referendum on January 9th as the Day of the Republic to a survey.
It is impossible to determine with certainty when Dodik first mentioned the referendum on the status of Republika Srpska, but the most recent mention was on July 2nd of this year when he spoke to journalists in Mrakovica, where the 81st anniversary of the Battle of Kozara was commemorated. He also announced that he would not respect the recent decisions of Christian Schmidt, who nullified the laws on non-compliance with the decisions of the High Representative and the Constitutional Court on the territory of Republika Srpska, regardless of the fact that, in accordance with the latest proclaimed amendments to the Criminal Code of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this would constitute a criminal offence.
Dodik stated that he would likely be prosecuted in court and by the prosecutor's office for his actions, emphasizing that he is "cunning." He also mentioned that decisions on banning the activities of the SIPA (State Investigation and Protection Agency), the Prosecutor's Office, and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Republika Srpska will be considered in the future.
During his nearly one-hour-long speech at Kozara, he added a story about a referendum on the independence of Republika Srpska.
"If there continue to be pressures, we believe that by New Year's, Republika Srpska could have a referendum in which it will express its opinion on the most important issues regarding its status and the way forward", Dodik stated.
From a former liberal social democrat, Dodik transformed into a nationalist after becoming the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska (RS) for the second time in 2006. He assessed that he could only build his political rating by adopting the radical rhetoric of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and by playing the card of undermining the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), which inevitably led to conflicts with high representatives and confrontation with parts of the international community, as well as constant political crises in the country.
A SENSITIVE ISSUE - THE JUDICIARY
Institutionally, he began pursuing this goal three years later, on May 14, 2009, when the National Assembly of RS adopted conclusions stating that the transfer of competencies from the entity to the state would be suspended, and procedures for nullifying the previously transferred 65 entity powers to the state level imposed by the decisions of high representatives would be initiated. The functioning of the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council of BiH was called into question. High Representative Valentin Inzko quickly annulled these conclusions.
In 2011, Dodik proposed to the RS parliament to adopt a "conclusion on organizing a binding referendum in which the citizens of Srpska would express their opinion on the necessity of such a BiH court and prosecutor's office."
"And that will be a binding referendum for RS, which will carry with it, of course, the obligation for all those working there, if the people say it is unnecessary and that there is no support from Republika Srpska, for everyone from RS to leave those institutions", Dodik said on March 15, 2011.
His proposal was adopted in April of that year, and the National Assembly of RS called for a referendum on judicial institutions and the decisions imposed by the high representative, which was never held. The then High Representative Valentin Inzko gave Dodik a seven-day deadline to withdraw the decision, or else he would use his Bonn powers, annul the decision, and impose sanctions on officials of Republika Srpska.
However, instead of Inzko, it was the then High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, who acted. On May 13, 2011, in Banja Luka, she reached an agreement with Dodik - he would abandon the referendum, and the international community would engage in a "structured dialogue on justice" and consider the complaints of the RS authorities regarding the functioning of the judiciary at the state level.
This was the first major compromise of international representatives with Dodik, which, as time has shown, gave him further impetus to dismantle the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina even more forcefully and unscrupulously, thereby keeping the country in a constant and severe political crisis.
The Court and the Prosecutor's Office of BiH remained a thorn in Dodik's side because, given the various acts he had committed, he could have found himself in the defendant's seat. Thus, upon his order, the National Assembly of RS adopted a decision in 2015 to hold a referendum with the question: "Do you support the unconstitutional and illegal imposition of laws by the high representative of the international community, particularly the imposed Law on the Court and Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the application of their decisions in the territory of Republika Srpska?"
That referendum was never held either. Two years later, in November 2017, the RS Assembly suspended its decision on the referendum on the state court and prosecutor's office due to the lack of a general political consensus for its implementation. In fact, opposition parties in RS were against it, and Dodik did not dare to embark on that political adventure alone. Dodik is a politician who often orders the adoption of certain decisions and then, under pressure, withdraws them.
"If the decision on holding a referendum on the Court and Prosecutor's Office of BiH is published in the 'Official Gazette of RS,' the ruling majority will convene a session of the National Assembly of RS and suspend its implementation. It is a difficult, strategic, and sophisticated game in which the people must win the referendum as their permanent ownership", Dodik said at the time.
WAITING FOR "BETTER TIMES"
The question of "restoring competencies" to RS or, alternatively, a referendum on independence, was incorporated by Dodik into the Declaration of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), unanimously adopted on April 25, 2015, at the party's assembly. The Declaration set a deadline for "restoring the authorities that the High Representative in BiH took away from RS" by 2017, and if that did not happen, "in 2018, the citizens of RS will vote in a mandatory referendum for the independence of RS."
"The message of the Declaration adopted at the assembly is - you violated our rights and took away our competencies, but now it is the time of freedom, and we express our stance. It is our right to decide our destiny, and we are just using it", Dodik said at the time.
The deadline set by the SNSD's Declaration for the referendum on the independence of RS expired five years ago. Dodik did not hold that referendum, waiting, as he often emphasized, for "better and more favourable times."
And even after 2018, the referendum on the independence or future status of RS remained his mantra. On February 17, 2020, during a session of the entity parliament dedicated to the "anti-constitutional actions of the Constitutional Court of BiH," which had previously annulled an article of the Law on Agricultural Land of RS that declared the land as property of the entity, Dodik began his address to the MPs with the greeting: "Goodbye BiH, welcome RSexit."
A year later, on March 10, 2021, Dodik once again announced a referendum during a session of the National Assembly of RS. He stated that the referendum would be held in a year or two, citing the upcoming arrival of a new High Representative in BiH as the occasion.
"I don't wish anything bad for Bosniaks, and in RS, I invite them to a coexistence that is possible and necessary. My people, for 26 years, they constantly tell us that we are a genocidal nation, that Republika Srpska should not exist, and then they say we must be here. We won't be here. A reasonable period is one to two years. If it doesn't happen, I will come here, and I propose a referendum on the status of Republika Srpska, and I don't care what anyone says", Dodik said at the time.
In July 2021, the RS parliament adopted the Law on Non-Application of the Decision Prohibiting the Denial of Genocide, which was subsequently annulled by the Constitutional Court of BiH. However, Dodik did not give up on his intentions to "restore the taken competencies" of RS. In October 2021, the ruling majority in the entity adopted a law that envisaged the establishment of the RS Medicines Agency. The law came into force on June 28 of the following year but was soon annulled by the Constitutional Court of BiH, remaining in effect for only a few days.
Regardless of persistently denying the legal basis for the existence of the Medicines Agency of BiH, Dodik appointed his own personnel to lead the Agency after forming a new government at the state level with HDZ BiH and the "Troika."
By the end of 2021, the ruling majority in RS, led by Dodik, attempted to further destabilize the state by adopting conclusions demanding the return of competencies to Republika Srpska in the areas of indirect taxation, judiciary, defence, and security.
"We will withdraw consent for the establishment of the Armed Forces, the Indirect Taxation Authority, and the Court and Prosecutor's Office of BiH. Additionally, we will adopt appropriate accompanying acts that will regulate these matters at the RS level. We will also enact laws on the non-application of all laws enacted by all previous High Representatives, which amounts to around 140 laws. Any imposed law, such as the one on public procurement, which is another competence that has been taken away from us, will not be applicable in RS", stated Dodik.
Six months later, in June 2022, the ruling majority in the RS parliament, upon Dodik's orders, decided to postpone the implementation of the conclusions from December 10, 2021, regarding the transfer of competencies for six months. The "December conclusions" were then put on hold indefinitely, with the possibility of being activated at any moment.
IT WILL BE, ONE DAY…
For over a decade, Dodik, regardless of the position he held (Prime Minister and President of RS or a member of the Presidency of BiH), has held politicians from Sarajevo and international representatives in BiH and the state of BiH hostage through blackmail and threats of secession or the "creation of an independent RS within BiH." In reality, he has been working all this time to further devastate the economy of RS. This does not mean that Dodik will not, if given the opportunity or if there is no clear reaction to his anti-Dayton and unconstitutional actions, eventually embark on the process of secession.
Thirteen years ago, RS adopted the Law on Referendum and Civic Initiative, and the day before the adoption of that law, Dodik stated that a referendum on whether RS would remain within BiH or become independent would "definitely take place one day."
"That should not be in dispute, but in order to do that, we must legalize the right to a referendum, and in order to do that, we must enact a referendum law", he stated at the time.
Since then, the question of a referendum has become Dodik's primary tool, which he constantly wields to defend his political position and keep BiH in a state of continuous crisis and weakening of its institutions.