Statement by Ambassador Michael Murphy
The United States of America is unwavering in its commitment to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), its territorial integrity, sovereignty, and multiethnic character. Our policies are not anti-Serb; they are not anti-Bosniak; and they are not anti-Croat. The United States is decidedly and unabashedly pro-Bosnia and Herzegovina. That has been the case since the United States first recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it is reflected in our multi-billion-dollar investment in this country over the last 30 years. Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, however, is only pro-Dodik and has little regard for anyone else, including the citizens of this country and the residents of the Republika Srpska.
Mr. Dodik’s recent reckless statements calling for the overturning of national borders in the Western Balkans to create a unified Serb state make this clear. They are not only destabilizing for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but they also threaten the region’s security and stability. This latest escalation comes in the wake of a sustained campaign of destabilizing rhetoric and actions aimed at undermining the Dayton Peace Agreement and the state of BiH. Mr. Dodik is blockading government, threatening the peace, and seeking to blackmail or bully the country’s other political leaders and the international community rather than engaging in the good faith negotiations and compromise necessary to adopt the reforms required to bring citizens closer to the European Union. In the Republika Srpska, Mr. Dodik is working to deny residents their fundamental rights and freedoms, such as freedom of press, speech, and assembly, to shield himself from criticism and accountability.
The sad fact is that Mr. Dodik’s almost 18 years in power have produced very little for the people of the Republika Srpska. Let’s start with the fact that the population he claims to defend is shrinking. Residents of the Republika Srpska are leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina in droves. Entire families are concluding that building a life in the Republika Srpska is not economically possible or politically secure. In the last fiscal year alone, the Republika Srpska labor force decreased by 10 percent, and officials estimate that by 2028 the Republika Srpska will need between 20,000 and 30,000 foreign workers to compensate for the growing labor shortage. This brain drain will undercut economic development. If shrinking the RS is Mr. Dodik’s goal, he is succeeding.
The RS budget has been in deficit for years, but the worst is yet to come. In the first nine months of 2023, the RS government has borrowed approximately 569 million KM ($308 million) in long-term debt on domestic markets at record high interest rates. The RS government has also taken on other domestic and foreign debt in non-transparent ways. In brief, Mr. Dodik is putting an untenable financial burden on future generations. Even while Mr. Dodik has engaged in rampant borrowing, he and his government have had to delay public salaries and social benefits because of funding shortages. In many instances, funds have been taken from municipalities to cover entity-level deficits, stripping local leaders of the resources they need to support their constituents and provide them with basic services. None of these actions reflect concern about the well-being or future of Republika Srpska residents.
Mr. Dodik does not want to discuss his governance, financial, and other failures, or where all the budget money and borrowed funds have gone, or how he and those around him have managed to accumulate their wealth, including their myriad real estate holdings – on the salary of an RS public servant – while average citizens have struggled to build a future for themselves and their families. Instead, he wants to discuss his current legal woes, and he wants the people of Republika Srpska to believe they are the consequence of a broad, anti-Serb, anti-RS international conspiracy. The reality is more prosaic. Mr. Dodik’s legal troubles are of his own making: they are the result of his protracted attacks on the Dayton Peace Agreement and on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s state-level institutions. Mr. Dodik publicly dared state level law enforcement and judicial institutions to investigate him, even saying he would file a complaint against himself. Mr. Dodik knew exactly what he was doing on July 7 when he signed into force the illegal and unconstitutional law undermining the High Representative’s decisions, and he is now facing the consequences. If Mr. Dodik is a victim, as he claims, he is a victim of his own poor judgment and selfish actions.
Mr. Dodik claims that his constituents want him to dismantle Bosnia and Herzegovina and protect the Republika Srpska from imagined enemies. I disagree. I believe that all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina want what people around the world want for themselves and their families: to live in a country where political leaders and government institutions work for them in full transparency; where a person’s ability to work and to succeed depends not on who they know but on their own talents; and where the rule of law forms the essential bedrock of society. They do not want to live in a place where their fundamental rights and freedoms are constrained, or where their taxes are used to enrich a small political elite rather than for the benefit of their communities. The people of Bosnia and Herzegovina want to enjoy a stable and prosperous future inside Euro-Atlantic institutions. This is not the path that Milorad Dodik is on. He is turning away from Europe and the prosperity it offers and is instead embracing the values of autocracy as well as the poverty that comes with it. He is risking RS residents’ future in a dangerous game of escalation and lies. In short, Mr. Dodik, not an international conspiracy, is threatening the RS as well as the democratic and prosperous future of its residents.
The United States will not stand by idly while Mr. Dodik and his political cronies attempt to tear apart the fabric of Bosnia and Herzegovina, destabilize the country and the region, and impede BiH’s progress toward the EU. We are determined to protect Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and multiethnic character. We will continue to stand by the citizens and institutions of this country and to hold accountable those who are corrupt or engage in destabilizing, anti-Dayton activities. The United States remains a friend and partner to all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.