West blasts Balkan region’s plan to replicate US law
US and EU authorities have come out in opposition against a Bosnian Serb proposal to copy American legislation on foreign agents, by linking it to Russian influence. They have added claims that it endangers human rights and democracy.
Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska (RS) – the Serb half of Bosnia-Herzegovina – has proposed to copy the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) of 1938, using “Republika Srpska” instead of the US. The “identical” law would protect the RS from meddling by foreign-funded organizations, including those of George Soros, Dodik told local media on Friday.
The US and EU reaction to Dodik’s proposal mirrored their opposition to a foreign agents registration bill in Georgia. Last week, thousands of protesters besieged the parliament for days, incited by accusations that the government had advanced a “Russian law” on foreign activity. Tbilisi officially backed down on Friday.
A foreign agents law would “significantly reduce the space for civic engagement” in Bosnia, the EU mission to Sarajevo said. “Any unfounded limitation of the effective exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to association (and expression), is in itself contrary to the aspirations of Bosnia and Herzegovina to progress on the European path,” the mission’s spokesman Ferdinand Koenig told the CNN affiliate N1.
The US embassy in Sarajevo also chimed in, saying FARA “does not ban or restrict any activities, and it does not apply to independent media or civil society organizations,” merely allowing Americans “to be informed” about activities of foreign agents “without limiting freedom of speech or association in any way.”
“We have seen this movie before, and we know how it ends,” the embassy said, calling Dodik’s proposal a copy of the Russian “repressive legislation to suppress dissent, eviscerate civil society, and eradicate free media.”
USAID head Samantha Power joined the chorus, accusing Dodik of “trying to pass Kremlin-inspired draft laws that rob residents of their basic rights, silence dissent and allow corruption to flourish unchecked.”
Dodik responded to both claims over the weekend, tweeting that Republika Srpska is “copying the American model that made the US one of the world’s great powers,” which is inspired by “the highest standards in the protection of human rights and freedoms, among which is freedom of speech, which implies responsibility, which is the case in the most developed Western societies.”
He also noted it was “interesting” that Power was butting into the discussion, since so many “projects” in Bosnia are “financed through USAID.”
Under the 1995 peace treaty brokered by the US, Bosnia-Herzegovina consists of Republika Srpska and the Bosniak-Croat Federation. While it is technically independent, the ultimate authority in the country is a Western-appointed “high representative” who claims near-dictatorial powers.