SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has compared the policies of the Bosnia Serb separatist leader to those of Russian President Vladimir Putin following his moves to curb dissent and LGBTQ rights.
Blinken tweeted late Wednesday that “Milorad Dodik’s attacks on basic rights and freedoms in Republika Srpska show he is on President Putin’s authoritarian path.”
Republika Srpska is the name for the half of Bosnia that is dominated by the country’s Serbs. Dodik is the entity’s president and leading politician who has repeatedly advocated for the breakup of Bosnia and clashed with Western officials in the Balkan country.
Earlier this month, Dodik’s government faced criticism from the U.S. and the European Union for pushing forward with a law to recriminalize libel and insult offences, which was seen as an attack on the freedom of expression and independent media.
Dodik also announced a law in the upcoming months to prohibit access for LGBTQ activists to kindergartens, schools and universities. This came only days after a group of hooligans attacked LGBTQ activists and journalists in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska’s administrative center.
Dodik, who is staunchly pro-Russia, has rejected Western criticism and said his entity would break off relations with the U.S. and British embassies in Bosnia. He has dismissed the need for U.S. support and blasted Washington’s engagement in Bosnia, including continued financial backing.
“It would have been better if they (U.S.) hadn’t given a single dollar, if they hadn’t gotten so involved,” he tweeted on Thursday.
Washington and London have imposed sanctions on Dodik and his close associates for his policies of undermining Western efforts to promote reconciliation and democracy in Bosnia following the devastating ethnic conflict. Dodik has traveled often to Moscow and met with Putin there.
Blinken said that the U.S. “represented by Amb. (Michael) Murphy, continues to advocate for the democratic and prosperous future that all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve.”
Bosnia’s 1992-95 ethnic war erupted when Serbs launched a rebellion to break away from the country’s Bosniaks, who are mainly Muslims, and Croats. More than 100,000 people died in the conflict before the U.S. brokered a peace agreement in 1995.
The deal divided Bosnia in two entities but kept them together by joint institutions. Fears have grown since the war in Ukraine that Russia could seek to stir trouble in Bosnia and elsewhere in the Balkans to avert attention from its full-scale invasion.