The US has criticised plans announced by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity, to support a new law which would allow the entity to designate civil society and non-governmental organisations as “foreign agents.”
The law mirrors that of a decision by Russia to expand its “foreign agents” legislation in December last year.
Dodik made no mention of Russia as part of his announcement. Instead, he said it would be identical to the foreign agents law in the US.
“In their law, the US refers to foreign non-governmental organisations or those financed by foreigners as foreign agents on US territory,” Dodik told reporters. The terminology would simply be adapted, he said.
“Instead of US, it will say Republika Srpska,” he explained.
The US embassy dismissed the comparison.
“We’ve already seen this movie and we know how it ends. When Russia expanded its foreign agent legislation in 2020, it claimed that it was just copying the American model. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we saw the results,” the US embassy to Bosnia said in a press release.
Dodik’s announcement came days after the government drafted new changes to the criminal code of Republika Srpska. The new law would impose fines of up to tens of thousands of euros for defamation, decriminalised in 2003. According to activists, the move will increase censorship throughout the country.
“Recently, the authorities in Republika Srpska announced plans to adopt two repressive, undemocratic laws that, if implemented, would severely undermine the rights and freedoms of people living in Republika Srpska,” the US embassy continued.
“These laws would only benefit the ruling coalition in its efforts to consolidate its power, and would be detrimental to everyone else,” it added.
The EU also joined the criticism, calling the plan “unacceptable,” and accusing the Republika Srpska of being “afraid” of civil society actors.
According to the spokesperson of the Delegation of the European Union to Bosnia, Ferdinand Koenig, the planned regulations threaten to “significantly limit the space for civic engagement [and are] considered unacceptable by the EU.”
The US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) imposes public disclosure obligations on persons representing foreign interests or receiving finances from international sources.
As part of his announcement, Dodik raised the decision of the Open Society Foundation, run by the liberal billionaire Gorge Soros, to move its Balkan headquarters from Albania’s capital of Tirana to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
“That is an obvious intention to act on the principle they have learned to destabilise society. Of course, we will protect ourselves from that. Soros is unacceptable here,” Dodik said.
Image via Wikimedia