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The Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina has announced a withdrawal of plans to establish a new reservist police force amid concerns over the historical context of reservist forces in the country and widespread criticism from Bosnian Muslims and Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Western allies. During the Bosnian War (1992-1995), reservist policemen were used as instruments for waging war against civilians. They actively persecuted non-Serbs and committed multiple war crimes. This has understandably set a negative precedent, and when the Republika Srpska’s Interior Minister, Dragan Lukac, told media in early June that the entity’s parliament had started discussing putting in place legislation to establish a reservist force, those that remembered past atrocities were justifiably anxious. The Bosniak (Bosnian Muslims) and Croat-dominated entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina viewed the potential legislation as a security threat, consequently putting forward their own plans for a reservist police force that have since been scrapped. The withdrawal of proposed plans for a reservist police force by Republika Srpska has deescalated, at least partly, the complex tensions within Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Republika Srpska Interior Ministry released a statement on the legislation: “Considering that the establishment of a reserve police force requires a longer period of time and funds for conducting competitive procedures and selection, equipping [the force] with uniforms and other related equipment, as well as the time for adequate training in order to make the reserve police force functional, the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry is withdrawing amendments related to the reserve police force.” The Interior Ministry for the Bosniak and Croat-dominated entity responded by declaring that it will abandon its own retaliatory plans for a reservist police force, effectively quashing the internal security dilemma that seemed to be festering in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Federation Interior Minister Aljosa Campara told media that “the Federation Ministry of Internal Affairs will suspend activities related to the introduction of reservist police in the Federation…. From the very beginning, we pointed out that it is unnecessary to introduce a reservist police force. I welcome the decision of the Republika Srpska Interior Ministry, despite the fact that I do not think they should even have ventured into this story.”
Campara raises a valuable point: the implementation of a reservist police force in the Republika Srpska was only going to be an inflammatory action given the country’s history. In the 1990s, Bosnia endured years of devastating conflict that were fought along cultural and ethnic fault lines between Muslim Bosniaks, Catholic Croatians, and Orthodox Serbians. During the war, the Bosnian-Serb reservist police force played a significant role in an ethnic cleansing campaign. They were responsible for persecution, murder, abuse, and rape. This negative connotation associated with reservist police forces in Bosnia made the proposition put forward by the Republika Srpska untenable in the eyes of many. The Office of the High Representative, a body that continues to oversee the implementation of Bosnia’s 1995 peace accord, displayed concerns about the impact of the reservist police legislation, arguing that it was a harbinger of instability that could lead to a “negative spiral of distrust and mutual competition.” Additionally, Ambassadors of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy all warned that the legislation would only cause division and potentially hurt economic interests. In the end this pressure caused by post-war anxiety was the catalyst for the withdrawal of the divisive plans.
While the abandonment of plans to establish a reservist police force in the Republika Srpska entity of Bosnia does not mean hostilities have ceased in the region, it does demonstrate a willingness to compromise for fear of another conflict.