Bosnian prosecution starts investigation into Republika Srpska’s banned referendum

Bosnian prosecution starts investigation into Republika Srpska’s banned referendum
Celebrations in Republika Srpska after voters overwhelmingly back Republic Day
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia September 26, 2016

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s state-level prosecution has launched an investigation into the September 25 referendum in Republika Srpska, and has reportedly summoned the president of the entity, Milorad Dodik, for questioning. 

On September 25, Republika Srpska held its referendum on the celebration of Republic Day, defying a constitutional court ban. The holiday was declared unconstitutional by the state-level constitutional court last year, but was backed overwhelmingly by voters.

Prosecutors have now initiated a 20-day investigation into the highly controversial referendum and are currently gathering documents while certain individuals will be interrogated, daily Nezavisne Novine reported on September 26. Those to be questioned include Dodik, a spokesperson from the prosecutor’s office told Reuters.  

99.81% of voters supported the celebration of Republic Day, according to final results provided by the referendum commission on September 26. The turnout has been estimated at 55.67%. The referendum was boycotted by the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) living in Republika Srpska.

According to Ramiz Salkic, Republika Srpska’s vice president, the referendum was a "fiasco" orchestrated by the ruling the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) led by the entity's President Milorad Dodik. Salkic, who is Bosniak, also claimed that the announced results were false.

“Yesterday a person was allowed to vote on behalf of relatives who were not present, just on the basis of the personal documents of their extended family,” Nezavisne Novine quoted Salkic as telling reporters in Banja Luka.

Republic Day will mark 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. 

January 9 is also an Orthodox religious holiday, the Day of St Stephen, which is not observed by Catholic Croats or Muslim Bosniaks. Given the overwhelmingly ethnic Serb population in Republika Srpska, the population was widely expected to vote in favour of the holiday. 

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.

There is speculation that the referendum will be used by Republika Srpska as an excuse to secede from Bosnia. Some analysts expect that Dodik will now set a date for another referendum on the authority of the state-level judicial institutions, which had previously been put on hold. 

The referendum on the state-level judicial institutions, announced by Dodik in July 2015, provoked a strong negative reaction from western diplomats and international institutions since it would breach the 1995 Dayton agreement that ended the Bosnian war. This would have potentially serious consequences for stability in the country. It was also seen as one of the main hurdles on Bosnia’s path towards the European Union.

The date for the referendum was initially set for November 15, 2015, but was postponed after a court challenge. In February Dodik decided to put it on hold, claiming that political parties in the entity were not united in their support, and a new date has not been set.