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Can the referendum in Scotland affect Bosnia?

Detail from Dodik's campaign for genberakl elections

Authors: Erduan Katana, Dzenana Karabegovic

On the eve of the referendum on independence in Scotland on Thursday, world news agencies were reporting statements by Serb Republic President Milorad Dodik who has said he is following the situations in Italian South Tyrol, Scotland and Catalonia, and calls them “crucial experiences for Bosnian Serbs”.

Most analysts and the international community say that the referendum in Scotland will not impact Bosnia and Herzegovina in any way, while legal experts say that the referendum as an option does not even exist under the Constitution of BiH.

Ever since Crimea seceded from Ukraine in March, Dodik has been talking about the possibility of secession. Even though he did not directly comment on the referendum in Scotland, Dodik did imply he is closely monitoring the situation in that part of the United Kingdom, saying those are “crucial experiences for Bosnian Serbs”.

However, the possibility remains that the referendum in Scotland could affect BiH. Representatives of the academic community in Banja Luka claim there is definitely a connection.

“The state is a community created out of interests, just as in marriage or any other relationship. If there is no interest, there will be crisis, and if that crisis cannot be resolved, it will cause dissolution. I am not proposing the dissolution of BiH here, but if BiH cannot function as such, and I think it cannot, then we must seek solutions among all three peoples and see what the minimum and common interests of everyone are,” says Dean of the Banja Luka Faculty of Law Vitomir Popovic.

While professor Popovic connects the Scottish referendum with internal tensions in BiH, international representatives claim these are two completely different issues. UK Ambassador to BiH Edward Ferguson stated several days ago:

“There will be no redrawing of the maps in the Balkans. The referendum that will be held in Scotland, with the consent of all leading of the political parties, cannot be compared with threats by some from the RS regarding unilateral secession.”

A similar statement was given by former High Representative, English diplomat Paddy Ashdown. In a statement for the Sarajevo-based daily ‘Dnevni avaz’, Ashdown underlined that, if Scottish voters support independence, it will mean the dissolution of the United Kingdom, but he cannot see the same thing happening in BiH:

“There is no similarity between the referendum in Scotland and the referendum Milorad Dodik is threatening. The first one is peaceful, in accordance with the Constitution and in accordance with an agreement within the UK Parliament and the people. The second has no legal basis, and would represent an obvious and open violation of international law, as well as the end of peace in BiH.”

Such claims from international diplomats are affirmed by the Constitution of BiH. There is no article that contains a clause that would allow for a referendum on any issue. Constitutional law professor Nurko Pobric says:

“Our Constitution does not allow that option and it would be an unconstitutional action and a coercive action. It would be a sort of forced secession.”

Even legal experts in Banja Luka agree that there is no basis for a referendum under the Constitution of BiH. Instead they cite a decision on the constituent positions of all three peoples in BiH.

“Neither Croat or Serb people depend on the opinion of Bosniak politicians. This is about the constituent position of all three peoples, and the implementation of those conventions and standards, starting with the Convention of Human Rights and Freedoms and other instruments. This is why they do not have greater rights than Croat or Serb politicians,” explains Popovic.

Professor Pobric says:

“Constituent peoples are not sovereign peoples, and in constitutional-legal theory sovereign people, or in other words nations, have a right to self-determination according to international law. However, according to some experts of international law, the right to self-determination for certain people or certain ethnic groups exists only in cases where there is such discrimination by the majority that there is no other option but to secede from the country they live in.”

This is what citizens of Banja Luka think of the referendum in Scotland and its connection to the RS:

“I think that the chain of events began a long time ago and it is now becoming apparent. Soon it will be Spain, Italy - that is the outcome that nobody can stop anymore. The whole region will change.”

“It is a poor world policy that did this, allowing anyone to do this.”

“Of course, the RS should secede, let alone Scotland.”

“We know exactly what the United Kingdom is and how it functions. The constitutional structure of BiH does not contain any detail similar to the constitutional position of the United Kingdom, and I do not believe there was any ‘monitoring,’ as Dodik mentions. His threats of a referendum and secession do not have any realistic foundation, and I do not think they have special support among realistic politicians within the territory of the RS, even though, I repeat, nothing should be completely ruled out. We are simply in a politically unstable region in which anything can happen,” concludes University of Mostar professor Slavo Kukic.