Doubling Down on Double Standards

On Sunday, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik voted in the Serbian local elections for the Belgrade city council, and since then, one simple question has been bugging me: What does a Bosnian Serb from Laktaši and a Bosnian Serb from Drvar have in common?

Well, not a lot. A Bosnian Serb from Laktaši can exercise his citizens’ rights in the entity of the Republika Srpska and its municipalities, in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, while the Bosnian Serb in Drvar isn’t even constituent in his own canton and can’t hope to meaningfully participate in any decision making processes.

In February, the House of Representatives in the BiH Parliamentary Assembly adopted an initiative to call for the governments of four Federation cantons (Posavina Canton, West Herzegovina, Canton 10 and Herzegovina-Neretva; the first three of which are solidly Croat in population structure, while the fourth, with its administrative center in Mostar, is mixed but also substantially Croat) to ensure the Constitutional equality of Serbs, and the only two parties that voted against this initiative – who voted against ensuring the equality of Serbs in these places – were HDZ BiH and SNSD. Yes, SNSD, Milorad Dodik’s party, the same man who went to Belgrade, waving his passport and saying that being a dual citizen allows him to exercise his rights in Serbia while Serbs in these parts of the Federation enjoy severely curtailed human rights in terms of an expectation of political representation.

Serbs and supporters of consistent enjoyment of rights such as the social democrats, in these four cantons are asking for the exact same thing Dragan Čović has been a passionate advocate of – other nationalities not choosing other nationalities’ representatives in institutions. Yet Serbs in parts of the Federation do suffer the consequences of this unresolved issue of constituency. For example, another issue is that highly qualified and educated Serbs in the Neretva river valley can’t find adequate employment due to their unsolved constitutional status. Dušan Golo from the Serb Coordination Association says that this is not just a question of election to political positions. He explains that “practically, in everyday life, we don’t have the right to our language, employment, membership in governing structures. We are nowhere to be found, even though somewhere on paper it says that we have the same rights as the other two constituent peoples”.SNSD and HDZ BiH teaming up to prevent a resolution to this issue sure sounds like a double standard.

And this isn’t the only one. There is a great article on how Dodik, voting in Belgrade, did the exact same thing he worked so hard to counter in Republika Srpska in 2012 during the “I’ll vote for Srebrenica” campaign. One might therefore assume that the legal regulations regarding residency and citizenship differ in BiH and Serbia, but not quite. After the “I’ll vote for Srebrenica” campaign in 2012, the BiH Parliamentary Assembly adopted a set of laws on residency, JMBG (ID) and citizenship in urgent procedure (meaning there was no public discussion). This set of laws enabled the RS police to do regular check-ups on peoples’ addresses, and, if there was even a suspicion that nobody lived there, the people registered would be erased from the residency register and their documents annulled.

When asked how he was able to vote in Serbian elections, Dodik said that it was due to his dual citizenship, saying that the only right he exercises in Serbia is his voting right. That would be a valid argument if the Law on Local Elections in Serbia didn’t specify that a citizen has to be registered in the local community he’s voting in, which would mean that President Dodik would have had to cancel his residence in Laktaši. When I took a closer look at the Serbian Law on Residence, Article 3 (2) notes that residence is the place where a citizen has the intention to live permanently, a place that is a center of his life activities, professional, social and other relations which prove his permanent link to his residence. However, when it comes to state-level elections, a person can vote without having a permanent residence in Serbia, a right Dodik used in April 2017 when he voted in the Serbian Presidential election.

Unless President Dodik has the intention to run for office in Serbia, I believe that the center of his life activities and professional and social relations is still Banja Luka (but he might have forgotten that Banja Luka is not a locality of Belgrade.)

Going further, we can see that the same sets of rules and regulations apply in Croatia when it comes to local elections. The Croatian Law on Local Elections, Article 2 says that a person without legal permanent residence can’t vote in the Croatian local elections, and it allows citizens of other EU countries to vote if they have a registered residence in Croatia. Article 8 of the Croatian Act on Election of Representatives to the Croatian Parliament says that individuals without a registered permanent residence in Croatia can be represented in the Parliament and can elect three representatives based on candidate lists in a special election unit – designed for the diaspora, but limited to the state, not local, level.

The fact that Dodik voted in Belgrade is a big issue – a seeming violation of the law in both Serbia and the RS, and yet ignored by Serbian and RS institutions. Another issue is that this activity was announced on the RS President web site, as if it was a presidential duty. And on top of all this, the entity of which he is the president hasn’t yet finally, formally and unequivocally accepted the 2013 Census results in BiH, revealing yet another double standard. In June 2016, as the state census results were about to be published by the BiH Agency of Statistics, Dodik said that the decision to publish the results of the census further complicates the situation in Bosnia and that the RS will not recognize these results. The ongoing dispute among the statistical institutions in BiH is because of the specific issue of residency; the RS Institute of Statistics wants to exclude all individuals that were “temporarily absent” within the 12-month period before the census was conducted. Rather than accepting the state-census results, the Institute decided to publish its own results for the RS in December 2016 , in the process erasing around 50,000 individuals from the count since their chosen methodology eliminates individuals based on residence determined by place of work or education. The RS statistics institute, and based on it all RS institutions, since then uses their own self-truncated census data, which is not recognized by the EU.

The Cabinet of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Serbia confirmed that Dodik has a registered residence in Serbia, and the Republika Srpska Ministry confirmed that Dodik has a registered residence in Republika Srpska. This means that he should have cancelled one of his registered residences, or that the competent authority of one of the countries he has registered his residence in should have declined his request for registration. The BiH Law on Residence in Article 7a notes that the “competent authority will decline the registration request or cancel a person’s residence if it is proven that the individual provided false data”.

Having legal double standards – especially when it comes to discrimination and basic human rights – is usually considered to be a problem, especially in countries that purport to have a vision of future EU membership. Yet President Dodik seems to have found a way to comfortably work around the standards on both sides of the Drina river while denying them to the people he pretends to represent in BiH. Double standard? Triple standard? He must be hoping we all lose count.