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Schmidt’s appointment: A sign of structural problems of international community’s engagement with BiH?

Christian Schmidt at the 2019 EPP Summit; Photo: Wikimedia

Christian Schmidt has not yet started working as a High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is already under attack by official Banja Luka.

“The election of a new High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina must go through the United Nations Security Council, without which we will consider Christian Schmidt a tourist”, said BiH Presidency Chairman Milorad Dodik and announced the possibility of a lawsuit against former High Representatives for violating international law.

Republika Srpska is not satisfied with the way the new High Representative in BiH was elected – hence the special meeting with the high officials in Serbia, last week.

“If this appointment is not carried out with the relevant UN Security Council Resolution, the High Representative will have no legitimacy,” Dodik reiterated in Belgrade.

Such an appointment, he says, is aimed against the interests of the Republika Srpska and the Serb people in BiH.

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, pointed out that Serbia will always be with Republika Srpska while respecting the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Stressing that he is a very good acquaintance with Schmidt, Vučić said for the first time that Serbia will request a report from the High Representative in accordance with Annex 10 of the Dayton Agreement, and added that Serbia will not support the implementation of the Bonn powers.

This is the atmosphere in which, Christian Schmidt, a politician from the Bavarian Christian Social Union and a former German minister, should take office as High Representative in BiH in August.

He will be the eighth person in that position introduced in 1995, his predecessors including Carl Bildt, Wolfgang Petrich, Miroslav Lajčák, and Valentin Inzko.

Vedran Džihić, a Senior Researcher at the Austrian Institute for International Affairs (oiip) and lecturer at the University of Vienna, also a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG) says for EWB that the current leadership in Republika Srpska, led by Milorad Dodik, has long been openly attacking the OHR, as well as all other Western representatives of the international community in BiH.

According to him, their mantra is that it is necessary to hand over all responsibilities to the domestic authorities and reduce the competencies of the international community.

“Behind that is the need to protect Dodik’s own position and the SNSD structures, which in RS have created a kind of kleptocratic-clientelistic rule, which behind the screen of caring for the Serbian people and nationalist rhetoric ultimately takes care of itself. The position of Dodik and SNSD is well shaken in some parts of RS and they feel it. It is also a reason for great nervousness and intensified ethnonationalism rhetoric and artificially raising tensions and creating crises. For politicians like Milorad Dodik, ready to do anything to stay in power and protect their own privileges and the privileges of the clique, there is no life outside of politics”, Džihić explains.

He underlines that for politicians like Milorad Dodik, ready to do anything to stay in power and protect their own privileges and the privileges of the clique, there is no life outside of politics.

“This is exactly what makes Dodik and others dangerous and that is the reason for such strong attacks on the OHR at the moment. But in the end, such fierce attacks on Schmidt are the best confirmation that a strong OHR is needed”, says Džihić.

What is the problem with Schmidt’s appointment?

“The Steering Board is looking forward to working with Mr Schmidt, after taking over as High Representative on August 1, 2021, when Mr Valentin Inzko’s resignation takes effect. The Steering Board thanks Germany for the initiative and is convinced that Mr Schmidt will accelerate the fulfilment of the conditions and goals of the ‘5 + 2’ program and contribute to stability in BiH, by ensuring more consistent implementation of the civilian aspects of the General Framework Agreement for Peace, ” the statement of the Steering Board said, indicating that the OHR will notify the Secretary-General of the United Nations of that decision.

Russia was against the decision to appoint Christian Schmidt and, as stated in the statement of the Russian Embassy in BiH, called on the partners to “re-evaluate the consequences of that procedure.” Namely, Moscow considers that this is a “violation of the established practice of electing the High Representative.”

At the same time, congratulations are coming from the US State Department.

“The United States congratulates Christian Schmidt on his appointment as the next High Representative for BiH. We thank Ambassador Inzko for his service and look forward to continuing the partnership in support of the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement,” State Department spokesman Ned Price wrote on Twitter.

Vedran Džihić explains for EWB that everything that is happening around the appointment of Schmidt is a fundamental change in the geopolitical constellation on a global and regional level and points to the structural problems of the engagement of the international community in BiH.

He adds that it is clear that there is a global competition and strained relations between the democratic countries of the West and the great geopolitical and regional forces with an autocratic structure of government – Russia, China, and Turkey, which are very active in the region.

“In particular, we see rather strained relations between Russia and the West, which have often been on the brink of possible escalations. In the region, this is reflected in Russia’s open policy against the EU and the Union’s enlargement to the Balkans, and in support of those regimes and political elites such as Milorad Dodik who have moved away from Euro-pragmatism and openly criticized the West and the EU. Russia’s opposition to Smith’s appointment is a continuation of such a policy”, Džihić assesses.

He recalls that so far, the Peace Implementation Council has always sought and found consensus on the appointment of the High Representative, bearing in mind that the international community in this body has always sought and found compromises, adding that such a consensus no longer exists.

“In recent years, the policy towards BiH has been erratic, confusing, inconsistent. As no compromise was found in the PIC, the issue of Schmidt confirmation is transferred to the UN Security Council. I think that in the end, Russia will agree to his appointment, it is possible that it will be part of the agreement between Berlin and Moscow and maybe even the subject of talks between Biden and Putin on 16 June at the meeting in Geneva. But this does not solve the essential dilemma and structural problem of the international community, which is its legitimacy to act in the eyes of local actors, its strength and determination to make unequivocal decisions”, underlines Džihić.

He concludes that the real political situation in BiH is such that the country still requires the existence of the OHR and EUFOR as a kind of ultima ratio in the event of a possible political escalation in the country.

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