- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We are witnessing today that both the United States and the international community have largely shifted their attention to problems in Iraq and the Middle East, as well as to global security issues. On the other hand, 12 years after the Dayton peace accords, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) is seeking an agreement to determine its own future.

As the prime minister of the Republic of Srpska (RS), one of the two entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I am facing several challenges of utmost importance for the future of RS and BiH. These include reforms of law enforcement agencies and the constitution, both of which cut to the very core of relationships in Bosnia and Herzegovina and represent a test of maturity for all players on the political scene.

Why is this happening? Because the reform of law enforcement agencies will set the pace of Bosnia’s European integration, while the reform of the constitution, as in other parts of the world, is the most important political and legal challenge.

The RS position is clear on both issues. The Republic of Srpska is ready for police reform that will unify the BiH police structure and introduce one police law on the BiH level. This reform will leave no doubt that the country has an integrated police structure. At the same time, RS police will remain a part of this unified structure, in a way that will provide that the police structure of BiH mirrors the constitutional structure of the country.

During negotiations on constitutional reform, the RS has readily accepted all modernizations aimed at the creation of more efficient governmental mechanisms. In the light of European integrations, we are well aware of the fact that the European Union needs institutions on the BiH level that will represent one address for all discussions on all important issues, and most of these institutions are already in place. The proof of this claim will be a successful completion of technical negotiations on a stabilization and association agreement with the EU.

Furthermore, we believe that RS must remain a constitutional part of BiH, with clearly defined jurisdictions, duties and responsibilities. That kind of BiH is possible on the basis of the Dayton agreement, an accord that brought peace 12 years ago. Dayton remains a permanent and solid foundation for building relations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as it balances perfectly between a complex inner structure of BiH, from one side, and the need to preserve its statehood, from the other.

That is exactly why Dayton was a successful solution. By acknowledging the fact that BiH is made up of three constitutive ethnic groups, of which the Bosniak Muslim community is by far the most populous, Dayton set up entities as a mechanism for the protection of equality of all people in BiH. At the same time, it left the door open for an agreement inside Bosnia and Herzegovina, an agreement that would move the country toward modernization and building more efficient protective mechanisms.

All this can lead to the success of an entity and the entire country. The problem we are facing now is that the voices calling for the complete abolition of entities and strong centralization are growing stronger in the Bosniak community. These voices are rejecting police reform that would maintain any form of RS police; these voices deny the very existence of RS and demand its abolishment.

I have to point out that calls for ignoring Dayton are dangerous and damaging. Their ultimate goal is a BiH in which one group, Bosniak — and one religion, Islam — will gain unquestionable supremacy.

It is hard to work on reforms and move the country toward the European Union in such conditions. Any reform in BiH is jeopardized by ultimate demands for further abolishment of RS institutions, and eventually, RS itself. One should not forget that RS has so far transferred 56 different jurisdictions, some of which are very sensitive and very important, such as military, border control, indirect taxation authority, customs, judiciary, and many others. It is clear, however, that new demands for centralization no longer aim at increased functionality, but at further devastation of RS and damaging the Dayton agreement.

Bosnia and Herzegovina can survive as a community of peoples and entities enjoying the same rights, and in which protective mechanisms are clear and unbiased. Any other BiH would be a country tailor-made by one ethnic group and it would certainly not be European or democratic. Proponents of further centralization should look into examples of other multiethnic countries, with highly decentralized models.

Even some predominantly monoethnic countries, like Spain or Germany, function on a decentralization principle.

It remains unclear why BiH prefers centralization, as this practice will not put it in line with other countries of Europe and the world. On the contrary, it will make Bosnia and Herzegovina an exception to the rule.

Whatever happens, both BiH and RS must go on. It is important that all of us understand that we can not build Bosnia and Herzegovina on fears. We can only build it on a mutual understanding. The Republic of Srpska has only one tiny condition for BiH, and that is to be a part of it.

Milorad Dodik is prime minister of the Republic of Srpska.

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