Bosniak president asks constitutional court to halt Republika Srpska referendum

Bosniak president asks constitutional court to halt Republika Srpska referendum
By Dimitar Koychev in Sofia August 25, 2016

Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of Bosnia & Herzegovina's tripartite presidency, has asked the country’s constitutional court to stop a referendum that the Republika Srpska entity has scheduled for September 25, Reuters reported on August 24.

In July, the lower chamber of Republika Srpska’s parliament approved a proposal made by the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by entity President Milorad Dodik, and two other parties to schedule a referendum on plans to make January 9 the official Republic Day holiday. The planned referendum is highly controversial and is expected to raise tensions within Bosnia.

January 9 is 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, January 9 is also an also an Orthodox religious holiday, the Day of St Stephen, which is not observed by Catholic Croats or Muslim Bosniaks. Last year, Bosnia’s constitutional court decided that the celebration of Republic Day in the entity contains elements of discrimination and should not be held until it meets the criteria of international legislation for human rights.

The response was the decision of entity’s parliament to schedule a referendum that is expected to confirm the original date. Bosniaks in Republika Srpska attacked the referendum before the entity’s constitutional court, but their appeal was rejected in early August.

Earlier this week, Izetbegovic said, "I ask the court to declare the Serb Republic National Assembly's decision unconstitutional, to annul it and to oblige the assembly to abandon temporarily all decisions and activities related to the referendum organisation until the court delivers its final opinion on this request."

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic said that Izetbegovic's request will not stop the referendum. "This is an attack on the Serb Republic institutions and an attempt to degrade it and take away its authorities," she was quoted by Reuters as saying. Dodik reiterated that the referendum will be held on September 25 as planned.

Last year, Republika Srpska had decided to hold a referendum on the authority of the state-level judicial institutions. The controversial referendum provoked a strong negative reaction by Western diplomats and international organisations, and eventually Dodik decided to put it on hold in February this year.

Bosnia consists of two entities – the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. Each of them has its own state authorities. Additionally, Bosnia has state-level authorities.