Belgrade avoids taking sides over Republika Srpska referendum

By bne IntelliNews September 2, 2016

The Serbian government said on September 1 that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic do not support the planned referendum in Bosnia's Republika Srpska, but do not want to influence in any way the positions of the legitimately elected politicians in the entity.

Serbia’s opinion on Republika Srpska's September 25 referendum on whether to make January 9 the official Republic Day holiday was seen as crucial for regional stability. Furthermore, Belgrade’s decision is a confirmation of its commitment to move faster toward the EU. It is also seen as a move against Russia, which supports the plan of Republika Srpska’s leader Milorad Dodik to hold the referendum. 

Serbia’s top officials issued the joint statement after meeting political representatives of Serbs in Bosnia & Herzegovina including Dodik, Republika Srpska Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic and the Serbian representative within the tripartite Bosnian presidency, Mladen Ivanic, in Belgrade on September 1. 

In the joint statement, Vucic and Nikolic underlined that Serbia’s policy is to respect Bosnia's territorial integrity as well as the integrity of the entity of Republika Srpska.

“Regardless of certain differences in the perception of the situation in the region, Serbia will always support the Serbian people, the citizens of Republika Srpska and its institutions,” Vucic and Nikolic concluded.

Despite Belgrade’s decision to not back the referendum, Dodik said he remained committed to holding the referendum. 

"The position of Serbia is that it will not interfere in, back or dispute decisions we in the Republika Srpska make and that it is up to us to assess all dangers and problems that potential decisions we make in the Republika Srpska may cause," Dodik said.

On the other hand, the Bosniak representative of Bosnia's presidency Bakir Izetbegovic said that he had not been surprised that Belgrade failed to put pressure on Republika Srpska to cancel the referendum, but that Serbia had an obligation to oppose “anti-Dayton” activities.

“I believe that the preservation of the framework established by the Dayton Peace Agreement represents the mutual interest of Bosnia and Serbia, a real base for maintaining regional stability and peace,” Izetbegovic said on September 1.

Croatia also does not support the referendum.

On August 30, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), an international body in charge of monitoring and implementing the Dayton Peace Agreement, asked the Republika Srpska authorities to drop plans for the referendum. 

In November 2015, the Constitutional Court in Sarajevo ordered Republika Srpska to change the law on national holidays because marking January 9 the Day of Republika Srpska discriminated against citizens of the entity who are not Serbs. The holiday should not be celebrated until it meets the criteria of international legislation for human rights, the court said.

Ambassadors of the 55 PIC countries, except Russia, issued a joint statement which said that according to the Bosnian Constitutional Act, decisions of the Constitutional Court of Bosnia & Herzegovina are final and mandatory and entities are obliged to respect decisions of the Bosnian institutions.

January 9 is an Orthodox religious holiday, the Day of St Stephen, which is not observed by Catholic Croats or Muslim Bosniaks. It is also the anniversary of the proclamation of the Republic of the Serb People of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, shortly before the outbreak of the Bosnian civil war. At the time Bosnian Serbs claimed their republic was part of Yugoslavia – rather than Bosnia, which had declared its independence the year before.

However, the constitutional court of Republika Srpska, said on August 11 it has ruled that the referendum over the Republic Day holiday does not harm the vital interests of Bosniaks in the entity.

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