De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty

By Tozun Bahcheli; Barry Bartmann et al. | Go to book overview
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Republika Srpska

Marie-Joëlle Zahar

On 7 May 2001, several thousand rioters disrupted the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska (RS). At least 34 persons were injured; one elderly Bosniak man subsequently died of his injuries. Police looked on as demonstrators set buses and cars on fire and trapped about 400 Bosniak pilgrims, as well as local and international officials, inside the Islamic Community Centre for several hours. This was no isolated incident but an orchestrated move that bespeaks the failure to create a common sense of Bosnian identity and the attachment of a majority of Serbs to the Serbian character of Republika Srpska. Indeed, local newspapers revealed that secondary-school classrooms had been emptied on the afternoon of 7 May. 1 In its official statement on the event, the RS government blamed leaders of the Islamic Community for their haste in rebuilding the mosque and for not acting 'in accordance with the normal order of works required for a foreign investor who wishes to respect the law in such cases' (emphasis mine).

While the foundation stone for the Mosque was ultimately laid on 18 June, more than 1,200 police were required to keep back several hundred demonstrators and rioters. Coming as it did on the heels of increasing violence against minorities seeking to re-integrate their homes in Republika Srpska, 2 the Banja Luka incident can be interpreted in at least two ways. The first interpretation would link the incident to the ethnic hatred that supposedly fanned the flames of war in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992. This interpretation cannot give a full account of the logic by which a Bosniak is considered a foreign investor by the government of Republika Srpska. A fuller account necessitates an understanding of the institutional structures of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and of their role in strengthening the fiction of a Serb 'state within the state'.

Republika Srpska - one of two entities that constitute the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the terms of the Dayton Agreement - is the epitome of aborted statehood. Each of the entities has extensive autonomy in the conduct of its internal affairs and a large margin of independence in the conduct of foreign relations. They also retain their wartime armies. There is no antecedent to this situation, a country with two separate national armies. The constituent entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina have more powers than most federated territories, yet they are not recognized as states in their own rights. Could they, however, move


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De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty


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