Especially within the nationalist community, most will undoubtedly have heard of the political entity that is Republika Srpska. Located within the country of Bosnia, Republika Srpska is one of three political entities that form post-war Bosnia, alongside the Federation of Bosnia and Hercegovina and the self-governing – and lesser-known – Brčko District. All three entities were officially recognised and formed as legitimate “lesser states” within Bosnia following the Dayton Agreement which formally ended the Bosnian War in 1995. These three entities were largely created in order to resolve and alleviate the long-term ethnic tensions which had plagued Bosnia in the years leading up to the outbreak of the war in 1991 – the Federation, to be shared between the ethnic Bosniaks and Croats (who themselves had demanded the formation of their own Croat entity in Hercegovina), Republika Srpska, to be the ethnic Serb entity, and the self-governing Brčko District, which was created in order to “reflect the multi-ethnic nature of the region”, given how the demographic mix of Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats in the region is far more complicated than anywhere else in Bosnia. In reality, the Brčko District was created by the Western powers in order to sever Republika Srpska into two, in order to place the Bosnian Serbs at a strategic disadvantage militarily and logistically in the event of an outbreak of a new war in Bosnia.
The Alliance of Independent Social Democrats
In 1996, one year after the end of the Bosnian War, a new political party was formed that sought to represent the ethnic Serbs in Bosnia – specifically in Republika Srpska – the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Initially, the SNSD was considered to be a more moderate and “reformist” party, serving as an alternative choice to the formerly ultranationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS). The SDS was founded by Bosnian Serb politician Radovan Karadžić – who is now serving a life sentence in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight, UK on war crime charges – and had originally run on a platform promoting Serb ultranationalism and Republika Srpska separatism from Bosnia. It was also heavily anti-Western in its foreign policy. Nowadays, the SDS is still considered to be a right-wing party, albeit no longer ultranationalistic in nature and has since become more pro-EU in its foreign policy, gradually alienating the mostly anti-Western Bosnian Serb population and seeing some of the lowest election results in the party’s history.
The SNSD, on the other hand, has also seen an ideological shift since its early days. From the early 2000s up to now, it has shifted from being a moderate centre-left socialist party to an arguably syncretic political force – centre-left on economic and fiscal issues, right-wing nationalist on social and cultural issues. This syncretic ideology within the party has done much to gain strong support from the Bosnian Serb people, both young and old alike, many of whom are critical of right-wing capitalism, but who are also strongly supportive of nationalist ideology. The SNSD is also strongly anti-Western and pro-Russian in its foreign policy, rejecting the notion of Bosnian entry into the EU and NATO while also embracing the idea of even closer co-operation with Russia and China. This foreign policy is also very popular among Bosnian Serbs, as it is with most ethnic Serbs in general. The party has also increased its rhetoric surrounding its advocacy for the separation of Republika Srpska from Bosnia itself, eventually desiring to merge the territory with Serbia proper – not unlike what we are seeing in Ukraine at the moment, with Crimea, Kherson, Zaporozhye, Donetsk and Lugansk all formally becoming a part of Russia. In fact, so nationalist has the SNSD become since the early 2000s, in 2012, the party was formally expelled from the Socialist International organisation for “espousing nationalist and extremist lines”.
Since the party’s founding in 1996, the SNSD has been led by a single president – Milorad Dodik.
Who is Milorad Dodik?
Born in 1959, 64-year-old Milorad Dodik is one of the most notable politicians in the entire Balkan region today. Known for his nationalist rhetoric and complete disregard for what his opponents, both domestically and internationally, think, Dodik’s tough political stance and defiance against Western “liberal-democratic” influence has earned him much praise among his supporters. Many of his opponents have criticised him for alleged corruption within his government, but allegations of corruption are extremely common throughout Balkan politics across the political spectrum. Dodik has not only served as the President of the SNSD, but he has also served multiple terms as both Prime Minister and President of Republika Srpska. Since November 2022, he is currently serving yet another term as President.
In terms of ideology and political policies, not only does Dodik adhere to the official ideology of the SNSD, of course, but his own personal policies have also both won him much support as well as much criticism. It wouldn’t be difficult to determine which ethnic groups in Bosnia support and criticise him, respectively.
Dodik has not been shy of facing controversy in the slightest, both domestically and internationally. In May 2021, Dodik refused to attend a joint military exercise between the Bosnian Armed Forces and the US Army on Mt. Manjača in Republika Srpska. In early 2022, both the US and the UK imposed sanctions against Dodik, claiming that his threats of Serb secession from Bosnia threatened peace in the Western Balkan region and that he was himself influenced politically and ideologically by Russian President Vladimir Putin. This is another theme that is common among critics and opponents of Serb nationalists – that Putin is somehow using Serb nationalism as a “tool” in order to sow discord and political instability in the Balkans, with the aim of creating conflict in the region in order to distract the West from Russia’s own campaign in Ukraine. It seems to have been overlooked by anti-Serb commentators and analysts alike that territorial disputes and nationalist politics have been part and parcel of the Balkan region for centuries, and tensions in Bosnia have been high since long before Putin was even in power in Russia. Many critics of Serbian nationalism also largely forget that most Serbs, if given the choice, would much rather welcome Russian influence in the Western Balkans than the so-called “liberal-democratic” influence of the West.
Milorad Dodik is currently one of the strongest political figures in the Western Balkans actively working against the negative influence of the West in the region. In fact, one could even say that Dodik is arguably a far better political leader when it comes to promoting the cause of Serbian nationalism and general ethnic Serb interests than Serbia’s own leader, President Aleksandar Vučić, who has faced ever-increasing criticism for his sheer lack of authority and integrity on the international stage when representing Serbia and handling geopolitical relations with other nations.
The Foreign Policies of Milorad Dodik and Republika Srpska
In May 2021, Dodik was formally thanked by the Israeli government for allegedly expressing support for Israel in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. Given the majority of Serbs’ largely ambivalent attitudes towards the whole affair in the Levant, many have questioned exactly why Dodik had allegedly taken a more firm stance on the matter and expressed support for Israel. The most likely explanation is that Dodik’s negative attitudes towards Islam – stemming from the Bosnian Serbs’ conflict against the Muslim Bosniaks in the 1990s – is the main factor contributing to this alleged support for Israel. In other words, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
In November 2021, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visited Bosnia and held a personal meeting with Dodik. Both parties expressed strong admiration for one another and vowed to significantly increase geopolitical co-operation between Hungary and Republika Srpska specifically. It should be noted here that ethnic relations between Serbs and Hungarians – despite historical hostilities – have been rapidly improving, and co-operation between the two peoples is only increasing.
Regarding the conflict in Ukraine, Dodik and the government of Republika Srpska have maintained a stance similar to their Serbian counterparts – Republika Srpska will maintain military neutrality (against the wishes of the Bosniaks and Croats) and will reject any and all state proposals to sanction Russia. However, unlike the Serbian government, which had openly stated support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Dodik and the government of Republika Srpska have consistently refused to express their own stance on the territorial disputes between Ukraine and Russia.
Originally an advocate for the EU – albeit subject to internal reform, not European federalism – Dodik has long since abandoned his old pro-EU stance and has since adopted a fervently more anti-EU rhetoric in his policies. His anti-EU stance has also contributed to his increasing desire for Republika Srpska secession from Bosnia, citing the Bosnian Serb people’s sheer lack of interest in joining the EU as a key factor. At EU-related events that he does attend, Dodik boldly uses such platforms to express other views that he holds, not just in relation to EU membership. Dodik has also publicly expressed on such platforms his strong opposition to the LGBT community and the illegal migrants entering Europe via the Balkans from the Middle East. Naturally, the EU has heavily criticised Dodik for his views; naturally, Dodik himself does not care about these criticisms.
The Future of Republika Srpska
Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last February, many geopolitical analysts have speculated on how the conflict could potentially influence the future of Bosnia and the Western Balkan region in general. Milorad Dodik and the SNDS have consistently threatened to withdraw Republika Srpska from various state institutions – such as the armed forces, for example – claiming that the post-war political state of Bosnia, with its three internal political entities, is simply not viable nor realistic for a country in this day and age, especially against the background of a changing international world order, driven by the war in Ukraine. A Republika Srpska withdrawn from the state of Bosnia itself would arguably benefit all sides – Republika Srpska (along with a reunification with the Brčko District) would secede and join Serbia and pursue an increasingly pro-Russian policy, whereas the Federation would be allowed to pursue its own pro-Western, pro-EU and pro-NATO policies. The conflicting interests of all three dominant ethnic groups in Bosnia – Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats – means that all three ethnicities’ representatives in the Bosnian government can easily vote down and veto proposals made by the other side(s), thereby indefinitely keeping Bosnia as a whole in a state of domestic and geopolitical limbo. Some have argued, however, that one of the main reasons for the Bosniaks’ refusal to allow Republika Srpska to secede from Bosnia is not exclusively due to the desire to see the territory kept as a part of Bosnia. Another contributing factor in the Bosniaks’ fight to keep Republika Srpska a part of Bosnia is the Bosniaks’ efforts in discouraging the Croats in Hercegovina from pursuing their own territorial ambitions – the secession of Hercegovina from Bosnia and its joining with Croatia, thus establishing the long-desired land bridge from Croatia proper with the isolated and split Dubrovnik-Neretva region.
Historically, the geographical entity known as Bosnia was always split between ethnic Serbs and ethnic Croats. The ethnic group that we know today as Bosniaks only came about following the Ottoman takeover of the region. Under Ottoman rule, only Muslims could marry one another. Thus the intermarrying of Serbs and Croats who had converted to Islam melded the two communities ethnically and culturally, thus eventually and ultimately leading to the ethnogenesis of the Bosniak ethnic group. This also explains why the Bosniaks are demographically concentrated in the centre of Bosnia, whereas the Serbs and Croats are predominant along the border regions of the country. As always, history serves as a useful reminder to us all of how best to solve specific geopolitical crises. Bosnia is no different, despite the complexity surrounding the region politically and demographically. The Serb leaders of Republika Srpska and the Croat leaders of Hercegovina know this, and it is only a matter of time before even the West realises that the post-war experiment that is Bosnia-Hercegovina can no longer survive the realities of the new, emerging multipolar world.