As relations between major geopolitical players steadily deteriorate the Balkans are acquiring increasing importance for NATO powers for exactly the same reasons that they were essential to Nazi Germany in the early forties
As elections approach, the political atmosphere in the Republika Srpska, Russia’s tiny Balkan ally, is heating up. For at least the last ten years, color revolution turbulence has been the normal accompaniment of every electoral cycle there.
It began initially in 2014 as the Serb autonomous entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it was constituted under the Dayton peace agreement in the wake of the 1992 – 1995 civil war, approached its parliamentary and presidential elections. The consensus within the Euro-Atlantic alliance (the coalition of states roughly co-extensive with NATO and the EU) unmistakably was that the assertive local authorities headed by President Dodik and his political party were unacceptable and that a “regime change” operation should be engineered to replace them with a compliant cast of characters.
Local agents quickly set to work to reproduce the satisfactory results previously obtained with relative ease in other “color revolution” episodes. The usual set of grievances was improvised. They were dramatised through a combination of fake “NGOs” and a relentless propaganda barrage conducted through the media, which was partly owned by Western interests and partly susceptible to their emoluments. A major television station in the city of Bijeljina, with country-wide coverage, was suborned to relentlessly spew the color revolution party line, in the confident expectation of a certain electoral triumph.
But there was an unexpected hitch. The Republika Srpska government and ruling coalition supporting it nearly lost their heads when faced with mounting street agitation, but a group of local citizens supported by allies with international experience in these matters marshalled their limited resources to counter the onslaught. In spite of overwhelming odds they succeeded, the Balkan Maidan never materialised, and the coup de grâce planned for Republica Srpska was temporarily delayed.
The next opportunity to fine tune the scenario came just before the 2018 elections in Republika Srpska. The galvanising spark was the mysterious death of a young man by the name of David Dragicevic, the responsibility for which without any firm evidence was attributed to the authorities, or the “regime” in the parlance of the color revolution phalanx. All the usual mechanisms were again activated to generate a cause célèbre designed to discredit the government and dishearten its supporters. The coup almost succeeded. President Dodik squeaked through with barely an 8,000 vote margin, but the ruling coalition failed to win in Parliament a clear majority necessary to form a government. The matter was resolved in the tried and tested Balkan way – a couple of opposition legislators were generously rewarded to switch sides and the status quo ante was successfully restored.
With predictable regularity, the identical pattern is beginning to repeat itself as the country approaches the 2022 electoral season. New factors have emerged to complicate the political and social landscape. One is the Covid crisis, which has hit the Serbian portion of Bosnia relatively hard. The other is the grave constitutional crisis provoked two months ago by the outgoing EU High representative Valentin Incko. He arbitrarily ordered that a “genocide denial law” – clearly targeting all who question the Srebrenica “genocide” narrative, which is by now sacrosanct almost everywhere but in the Republika Srpska – be inserted in the Criminal Code, prescribing harsh punishment for unbelievers of up to five years. Since practically the entire population of Republika Srpska consists of religious sceptics and outright heretics in this regard, the country might as well be encircled with barbed wire and machine-gun turrets for at least the next five years.
While primarily designed to bring external pressure and internal demoralisation, “Incko’s law,” as it is popularly known, also acted as a cohesive factor by temporarily uniting the government and its opposition against it. But the pact which Western-supported elements of the opposition concluded largely for PR reasons is already seriously fraying and the Serbian political scene is returning to its old fragmented “normal.”
Emerging at the heart of the Incko controversy is the issue of whether the High representative, set up by the Dayton agreement to play a balancing role between the former warring parties (his official job is to “interpret” the peace agreement when the local parties fail to arrive at a common understanding of its provisions), has the authority to expand his powers to the point of imposing laws and altering constitutional arrangements. Banja Luka constitutional law professor Milan Blagojevic has argued forcefully and cogently that he does not. In a series of incisive analyses in his newspaper columns and television appearances he has expounded the view that the micro-managing authority claimed by a succession of High representatives is in reality an insolent bluff, unsupported by any of the provision of the peace agreement that established his office. In protest against what he has harshly denounced as “criminal abuse,” Prof. Blagojevic did something utterly unique in that part of the world. He resigned his parallel job as a District Court judge stating that his conscience forbade him to perform judicial duties in the milieu of lawlessness created by the illegal encroachment of the country’s foreign overlord. Hopefully he will impress other public servants by modelling a sacrificial example of professional integrity for their edification, but realistically no one should hold their breath.
Propelled by unanimous public rejection of what is justifiably perceived as the High representative’s tyrannous act, and perhaps also inspired by the upcoming elections, the government has ratcheted up its rhetoric to the point of openly raising a heretofore taboo topic – possible secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Simultaneously, in an evident bow to Prof. Blagojevic’s insistent arguments, it has mentioned the possibility of asking Parliament to annul all previous similarly illicit decrees issued by the High representative, going back at least twenty years. To top off the listed examples of disobedience, former President Dodik, who is now the Serb member of Bosnia’s rotating Presidency, refuses to recognize the legitimacy of the appointment of Incko’s successor, German politician Christian Schmidt, or even meet with him, because he was selected by a committee of NATO governments and not by the UN Security Council, as international legal norms prescribe. In that he has the firm support of the governments of the Russian Federation and China.
So now we come round to the emerging scenario for this season’s color revolution in the Republika Srpska. Clearly, something needs to be done and order must be imposed. The initial plan that was thought up by the Tavistock brain trust is the currently raging oxygen affair. Gene Sharp must be smiling in his grave. Briefly, upon the public spirited complaint filed by Transparency International, a solicitous outfit financed by USAID, alleging that a hospital in the town of Trebinje was using industrial instead of human grade oxygen for the treatment of Covid patients, health inspectors swarmed from Sarajevo (where Republika Srpska can scarcely expect to get any breaks) to determine that indeed there was something fishy about the oxygen formula being used. Gaining traction now are vague and non-evidence based assertions (recall the David Dragicevic affair) that the uncaring “regime” had a corrupt deal with the oxygen provider. The public, who predominantly do not consist of chemists, are being bombarded with highly technical and also politically condimented “information” about grave health risks (on top of the already existing pandemic) posed by the deliberately substituted inferior oxygen. Oddly, no proof of Covid fatalities or testimony of injuries accompanies these accounts of appalling official corruption. Readers with longer memories will remember the staged poisoning affair in Kosovo in 1990, when Albanian school children were instructed to complain of dizziness and stomach cramps provoked by nefarious substances injected in their lunch food by Serb authorities. They all miraculously recovered as soon as foreign correspondents had left. In Trebinje so far no spectacular performances to showcase the government’s public health malfeasance have been organised for the benefit of the international press, but surprises may be in store as the spin continues.
As relations between major geopolitical players steadily deteriorate the Balkans are acquiring increasing importance for NATO powers for exactly the same reasons that they were essential to Nazi Germany in the early forties, to the extent that it was willing to postpone the attack on the Soviet Union and divert its resources in order to first bring the entire area in its orbit. The Serb half of Bosnia is a major piece of the contemporary version of a very similar geopolitical jigsaw puzzle. Russian policy meanderings over the years in that part of the world merit at most a mixed assessment, and that is putting it charitably. Russia cannot afford to further degrade its regional position and security interests by losing Republika Srpska, not to speak of Serbia itself. All the more so because it is not really necessary to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to keep them both firmly and beneficially in its fold.