Home / Europe / Separatism, Genocide Denial and War Crime Glorification in Post-Dayton Republika Srpska

Separatism, Genocide Denial and War Crime Glorification in Post-Dayton Republika Srpska

6 June, 2024

by Sam Biden, Junior Fellow

The Dayton Agreement

The Dayton Agreement (1995), brought an end to the ethnic conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The agreement created a single state comprising two main political entities: the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH), predominantly Bosniak-Muslim and Croat, and Republika Srpska (RS), predominantly Serb. Each entity operates mostly independently from the other, with both entities having their own President, government, parliament and authorities. The Dayton Agreement also created the position of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, who is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the agreement. The mandate of the High Representative is extensive and includes monitoring the agreement’s implementation, maintaining contact with the parties to ensure compliance with its civilian aspects, facilitating the resolution of difficulties related to civilian implementations and reporting on progress to the UN, typically through monthly and special reports.

The role of the High Representative quickly evolved from an observer to an enforcer, being granted direct and effective control over the internal mechanisms of both BiH entities. The Bonn powers granted the High Representative these capabilities and allowed the body to remove public officials who violate the Dayton agreement and impose laws if BiH’s legislative bodies fail to do so. Initially used extensively, the Bonn powers became highly controversial, leading to their temporary cessation after 2011. However, two High Representatives, former Valentin Inzko and current Christian Schmidt, both used these powers during their terms, sparking conflicts with RS leadership and causing further controversy in an already fragile power struggle between the entities.

Separatism under Milorad Dodik

In recent years, under the leadership of President Milorad Dodik, RS has increasingly pursued a separatist agenda. President Dodik, as the leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the leading party in RS, has pushed this agenda across multiple terms from 2010-2022, serving as both Prime Minister and President across the 12 years. He has also strongly opposed various decisions made by the High Representative for BiH, resulting in Bosnian Serbs boycotting key BiH state institutions following the High Representative’s enactment of a law criminalizing genocide denial. This boycott included the proposed withdrawal from key BiH institutions such as the BiH Armed Forces (AFBiH), judicial network and tax bodies, straying closer towards unauthorised autonomy within RS.

Throughout 2021, an escalating crisis culminated with President Dodik, officially calling for the entity’s unilateral withdrawal from agreements on transferring entity competences to the State in defence against forced changes at the hands of the High Representative. In support of these actions, President Dodik proposed what he describes as the “reclaiming” of the constitutional competences of the judiciary and law enforcement, to which stark disagreements over politics and ethics lay. President Dodik’s reclaiming comes alongside further impositions against BiH institutions, such as the Indirect Taxation Authority, State Investigation and Protection Agency and the Intelligence-Security Agency, withdrawing cooperation with each. Additionally, President Dodik, joined by RS opposition parties, announced the withdrawal of RS representatives from decision-making processes, in response to the decision by former High Representative Valentin Inzko to criminalize genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals, demanding the decision’s annulment. In late 2021, The RS Government and RS National Assembly (RSNA) continued adopting measures to reclaim competences by creating a parallel RS legislative and institutional framework, undermining State institutions. Representatives from RS initiated this process by either blocking key decision-making procedures or deciding not to participate in ongoing events at all, impeding the State’s ability to function effectively.

In early 2022, the SNSD attempted to create a dogmatic approach to dissenters and political opponents with critics and rivals being labelled as traitors. This dogmatic approach pushed further into 2023 while the SNSD attempted to rewrite history with a misleading public interpretation of the Dayton Agreement. Referring to this interpretation as the “original Dayton”, RS attempts to categorise BiH as a state-forming entity to which RS has limited competence in relation to FBiH, yet the competence of RS, in particular concerning the utility of nationalised institutions such as the judiciary, was rejected by President Dodik repeatedly. This approach extends into the more serious angle of self-determination, the separation of one state or entity from another to which it is legally intertwined, to which a “peaceful” separation under Dodik, followed by the dissolution of BiH, remains a preferred outcome by the SNSD. Since his return to the RS presidency in November 2022, Dodik’s secessionist rhetoric has only intensified, often including calls for a “Greater Serbia”, a shockingly similar style of language that was also used in the former Yugoslavia, in which racial and ethnic purity was a key aim.

On 9th January 2023, President Dodik asserted that Serbs should only accept the Serb national state, encompassing both RS and Serbia, reasserting this position a month later, expressing a desire for RS to peacefully attain the status of an independent state, something President Dodik has pushed for since his initial inauguration. Later that year, state prosecutors in BiH indicted Dodik following a change in the criminal code introduced by the High Representative in July 2023, allowing for sentences of up to 5 years to be given for failing to introduce changes mandated by High Representative decisions. The indictment was confirmed in September the same year and was met with immense hostility, being rapidly followed by Dodik announcing work on a decree to enable the arrest and deportation of the High Representative if he entered RS. As Dodik’s trial began in February 2024, his defence focused on proving BiH’s sovereignty and sought to disqualify the presiding judge for alleged political bias.

Glorification of War Criminals and Genocide Denial

Although the High Representative has criminalized genocide denial and the glorification of war criminals, RS remains strongly opposed to these imposed laws. In BiH, war criminals from all three entities have held high positions in public office with public places named after them. President Dodik himself specifically referred to claims of genocide perpetrated by these war criminals as “a fabricated myth” and “the greatest deception of the 20th century”.

As a former entity of Yugoslavia, RS played a key role in the joint criminal enterprise that plagued the Muslim population. In particular, the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), led by convicted war criminal Ratko Mladić, was instrumental in the genocide of Bosnian-Muslims, as well as the widespread destruction of Islamic culture, such as the infamous Mostar bridge. Justice from this violent time was immortalised through the successful prosecution of war criminals by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). While many Western states welcomed the closure of this historical chapter, politicians and military officials have continued to praise these war criminals and deny the genocide of the Bosnian-Muslim population.

In 2013, RS’s student union president, Predrag Govedarica, organised a grand reception for the co-founder of the Serb Democratic Party, Momčilo Krajišnik, who was released after serving a sentence for various war crimes, including genocide. Despite protests and posters denouncing Krajišnik as a war criminal, over 2,000 people attended the ceremony in Istočno Sarajevo. Again in 2016, a public student dormitory at the University of Istočno Sarajevo was officially opened with the title “Dr. Radovan Karadžić”. The RS funded project pays respect to the man who’s considered a foundational figure for the entity, being the sitting President of RS during the Bosnian war. Widely considered as the figurehead for the atrocities committed against Bosnian Muslims from 1992-1995, former President Karadžić was convicted of war crimes in 2016, after being a fugitive from 1996-2008. Similar events occurred in 2017 when Slobodan Praljak, a Bosnian-Croat and former member of the Croation Army, was due to be convicted for war crimes and violations of the Geneva Conventions, yet committed suicide in the Hague courtroom after his appeal was turned down by the UN. In reaction to this perceived heroism. Dragan Čović, then a member of the Presidency, praised Praljak’s act as a demonstration of his claimed innocence, followed by thousands of people gathering in the region to light vigils in his honour. President Dodik has repeatedly stated that the international community aims to undermine RS by discrediting its leaders and denying the history they fought for, supporting the actions of past war criminals.

Genocide denial has become a key tactic within RS, often invalidating all conclusions found in the judicial and academic literature on the topic. One such instance is that of Srebrenica – On 13th July 1995, over 1,000 Bosnian-Muslim men were murdered in a warehouse located in Kravica and buried in mass graves. In the following days, the Bosnian-Serb forces then murdered another 1,200 Bosnian-Muslim men at Kula school, followed by 500 executions inside the Pilica Cultural Centre on 16th July, claiming the lives of over 8,000 innocent people over the span of 5 days. The Trial Chamber at the ICTY found that Bosnian-Serb forces engaged in operations designed to murder thousands of Bosnian-Muslims with discriminatory intent, constituting the crime of persecution. The Chamber noted that between 1991 to 1995, a joint criminal enterprise existed with the objective of permanently removing the Bosnian-Muslims and Croats from the Serb claimed territory, this was acted out through persecution, murder, extermination, forcible transfers and deportations.

As mentioned earlier, RS has made continuous legislative and administrative efforts to ensure the legality of genocide denial in their territory. The criminalization of genocide denial at the hands of the High Representative was strongly rejected and was not transposed into RS legislation. Social efforts were also made alongside political ones, with large-scale gatherings of genocide deniers becoming commonplace, often paired with the glorification of those convicted of the crimes they defend against. In 2017, new history textbooks were approved for use for ninth graders in BiH schools, including lessons on the Srebrenica genocide. This decision was met with opposition from RS’s Minister of Education and Culture, Dane Malešević, formally announcing a ban on the use of these textbooks shortly after. As a result, Malešević introduced new history textbooks for RS high schools that referred to the 1992-1995 conflict as merely a “civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina”, aiming to rewrite history for the younger generation.


The current actions and rhetoric of President Dodik has halted the advance towards a progressive political climate in RS. The Dayton Agreement, while successful in ending the violent conflict of the early 1990s, has become viewed as institutionalising ethnic divisions, leaving the entities in a tenuous balance of power. Furthermore, the separatist agenda and opposition to the High Representative’s decisions only exacerbates this hostility as RS attempts to rewrite historical narratives as persistent ethnic tensions and political rivalry reflects the challenges of building a cohesive BiH in the post-conflict state.

Image: Milorad Dodik meeting Vladimir Putin (Source: Kremlin.ru via CC BY 4.0 DEED)

About Sam Biden

Sam Biden is a double law graduate from Aberystwyth University whose degree focused primarily in the enforcement and protection of civil liberties. His research surrounded areas such as data protection, protection from unlawful interference, environmental law, freedom from torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, humanitarian law and natural law jurisprudence. Sam’s areas of interest include the advocating for the protection of digital liberties, ensuring of safe passage and treatment for the victims of the migration crisis and the drafting of solutions to repair corporate exploitation resulting in human rights violations and exacerbated climate damage.