Colonial Octroy

The High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt (CSU) is escalating the conflict in that country with a colonial style octroy. The objective is to reduce Russia’s influence.

SARAJEVO/BERLIN (Own report) – The CSU politician and High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, is exacerbating the domestic conflict in the country of his assignment to the point of an uncontrolled escalation. Schmidt has held the – non-democratically legitimated post – for nearly two years and exercises quasi-colonial powers over Bosnia-Herzegovina. Last autumn he used these to impose a new electoral law during the electoral process. This step has provoked strong national and international protest, especially because it reinforced the Bosnian-Croat nationalists and weakened the Bosnian-Serbs. According to observers the objective is to undermine Russia’s remaining influence in the power struggle against Moscow. Now Schmidt is again in a confrontation with the Serbs in a dispute over Bosnia-Herzegovina’s constitutional court – in which one third of its judges are chosen by the West – and he is threatening to imprison officials abiding by a new Bosnian-Serb law. The situation threatens to get completely out of hand. Speculations are heard pertaining to EU military activities.

Lacking Democratic Legitimacy

The conflict surrounding the CSU politician and former German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt had already escalated in the summer of last year. Schmidt had been in office in Sarajevo since August 1, 2021, installed by the West as the High Representative of Bosnia-Herzegovina. As such, he has no democratic legitimacy and is also weakened by the fact that Moscow – contrary to his predecessors – had not approved his taking office, thus, further tarnishing his image, particularly among Bosnia’s Serbs.[1] In addition, he is actively applying the High Representative’s quasi-colonial powers that have hardly ever been applied prior to his taking office. Last year, Schmidt’s plan to impose a new electoral law for Bosnia-Herzegovina had led to major protests, when it became clear that it was primarily aimed at reinforcing the Croat nationalist HDZ party and, to some extent, the Bosnian Muslim nationalists’ SDA.[2] Initially Schmidt refrained from implementing his decree last summer, when the protests threatened to escalate, and proceeded with preparations for the October 2, 2022 elections on the basis of the previous electoral law.

“Against Putin in the Balkans”

On October 2, once the polls had closed, Schmidt fully unexpectedly announced that he had just revised the election law – in the midst of the election process. Thus, the voters in Bosnia-Herzegovina had voted under conditions that were no longer valid. With the exception of the nationalist parties SDA and HDZ, who had profited from the change, and the ruling party in Croatia by the same name HDZ, this unprecedented step met with widespread incomprehension not just within the country, but also abroad. Strong disapprobation was also expressed by a group of EU parliamentarians, who criticized Schmidt, saying that changing the electoral law must be done within the democratic process and not by means of octroy. Schmidt was summoned to appear before the EU Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee.[3] Soon thereafter, Amnesty International noted that Bosnia-Herzegovina has “the most unjust voting laws in Europe.”[4] At the time, observers had noted that prior to his decision, Schmidt had not only had contact to Croatia’s HDZ party, a sister part of Germany’s CDU/CSU.[5] He stood also “under pressure from the US embassy” to seek “to force” a “new alliance” between the HDZ and the SDA “as a bulwark” against the Bosnian Serbs “and thereby against Putin in the Balkans.”[6]

Dispute over Foreign Judges

Schmidt is now pushing the conflict with Bosnia’s Serbs still further. The crux of the dispute revolves around Bosnia-Herzegovina’s constitutional court, whose composition President of Bosnia’s Serb Republic (Republika Srpska, RS), Milorad Dodik has criticized for quite a while. Four of its judges are named by the parliament of the Bosnian Federation, two by the parliament of Republika Srpska, and three are named by the European Court of Human Rights. Dodik criticizes the fact that the latter is being imposed on the country from abroad and demands that this be corrected. The dispute escalated following the fact that recently the constitutional court had ruled that decisions may still be taken, even when both judges named by the Bosnian Serb parliament are absent. Last week, as a response, the parliament of Republika Srpska passed a law declaring rulings of Bosnia’s Constitutional Court non-applicable “until the Bosnian parliament determines a new composition for the Court – without foreign judges.” Immediately, the US embassy in Sarajevo strongly condemned the move. Republika Srpska must fully respect the rulings of the Constitutional Court, the embassy maintained.[7]

Law Against Law

Last week, the Republika Srpska’s parliament reacted by passing a law strictly forbidding the implementation on territory Republika Srpska of any of the decisions handed down by the Bosnian Constitutional Court. Anyone in violation will be punished. This, in turn, prompted High Representative Schmidt to categorically forbid compliance with this new Republika Srpska law. Whoever abides by that law – regarding rulings by the Bosnian Constitutional Court – would inevitably come into conflict with Schmidt. The punishment envisaged by the high representative for these cases have already been determined: imprisonment from six months to five years; for civil servants, also a loss of their jobs. In addition, whoever does not abide by decrees issued by the high representative, cannot apply again for government-financed employment.[8] Therefore, Serb civil servants are currently confronted with the choice – as soon as they are somehow faced with rulings of the constitutional court – of being sanctioned by either the administration of Republika Srpska or by High Representative Schmidt. Because the latter does not have executive powers, the least painful choice would be to obey Republika Srpska’s authorities. But this would lead to Schmidt’s further loss of prestige and power.

A Quarter-Century of Wes European Dominance

It is uncertain how this situation will develop further and whether there is even a way out of this quagmire. On Wednesday, three influential MEPs including the chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs David McAllister, (CDU) urged the EU to impose sanctions on Milorad Dodik, President of Republika Srpska.[9] That would further escalate the situation. According to reports, there is already speculation about stationing EU units in the city of Brčko on the Sava River. It was explained that, in a crisis, “by sealing off Brčko this would split Republika Srpska into two parts.[10] However, nothing has yet been decided. The Bundeswehr served in Bosnia initially under NATO command and then under EU auspices, which it had in fact terminated in November 2012. However the Bundeswehr resumed its longstanding participation in the Bosnian mission on August 16, of last year, due to the significant increase in tensions that had already become evident by that time.[11] This development is escalating at a moment, when the situation in neighboring Kosovo, between the regime in Pristina and the Serb-speaking minority in the north of the territory, is also exacerbating.[12] Nearly a quarter of a century since the NATO aggression and nearly 28 years since the Dayton Accords were signed, the conflicts smoldering in the disintegrated Yugoslavia have not only not been extinguished, but are even beginning to flare up again.


[1] See also Back to Square One.

[2] Adelheid Wölfl: Bosnien: Repräsentant Schmidt änderte in der Wahlnacht das Wahlgesetz. 10.10.2022.

[3] HR Schmidt to explain his recent decision before European Parliament Committee. 14.10.2022.

[4] Sead Husic: Ethno-Proporz verhindert Gleichberechtigung. 04.01.2023.

[5] See also The Next EU Council Presidency.

[6] Erich Rathfelder: Ein Deutscher im Fokus der Kritik. 03.10.2022.

[7] Azem Kurtic: Bosnia’s Serb Entity Passes Law Rejecting Constitutional Court’s Authority. 28.06.2023.

[8], Bei Widerstand Haft. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.07.2023.

[9] Denitsa Koseva: MEPs urge EU to sanction secessionist Bosnian Serb leader. 05.07.2023.

[10] Bei Widerstand Haft. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03.07.2023.

[11] See also Back to Square One.

[12] See also Unrest in Kosovo (II) and Tactical Maneuvers in Kosovo.