Celebration of Republika Srpska’s banned Republic Day angers Bosnian war victims

Celebration of Republika Srpska’s banned Republic Day angers Bosnian war victims
Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic at Republika Srpska's Republic Day celebration.
By Denitsa Koseva in Sofia January 10, 2017

Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska held its biggest ever Republic Day celebrations on January 9 despite the holiday being banned by the state-level constitutional court. The event provoked strong negative reactions from the victims of the bloody 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Further hiking tensions within Bosnia, Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik used the occasion to threaten once again that unless Republika Srpska gets more autonomy the entity will secede from Bosnia. 

Republic Day marked 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. In 2015, 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.

Despite the ban, Dodik and his ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) staged celebrations marking the 25th anniversary of the republic’s proclamation with a big parade, which included hundreds of police officers, firefighters, members of the Civil Protection force and post officers, who marched singing ‘March on the Drina’ - a Serbian song that was sung by ultranationalist Serb brigades during the Bosnian war.

Republika Srpska’s celebration was supported by top Serbian politicians. President Tomislav Nikolic and several Serbian ministers attended the celebration, while the Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was quoted by Bosnian media as greeting the entity on the occasion.

In his address at the event, Dodik invoked the Dayton agreement that ended the war, claiming Republika Srpska should be given greater autonomy. 

“As this authority has been annulled with decisions by the high representatives despite the Dayton accord, which has also been breached by decisions of foreign judges, [Republika] Srpska is determined to affirm its original authority under Dayton [agreement],” daily Nezavisne Novine quoted Dodik as saying.

Republika Srpska’s president has many times said that the entity will secede from Bosnia and the entity’s authorities have repeatedly declined to accept decisions of the state-level constitutional court, significantly raising tensions in Bosnia. However, this is a threat repeatedly used by Dodik to increase his influence on decision-making within Bosnia. 

Bosnian political analysts have warned that the organisers of the celebration are risking international isolation by ignoring the decision of the constitutional court.

The January 9 celebration provoked a strong negative reaction by organisations representing Bosnian women who have survived, but were victims of violence or lost their loved ones in the Bosnian war.

“Today in Banja Luka [people] still want the same [Greater Serbia], negating the genocide and war crimes and celebrating their heroes. January 9 can be celebrated only as genocide over the non-Serb population, especially on Bosniaks,” Klix.ba quoted Bakira Hasecic, the chair of one of the organisations, who was the victim of multiple rapes by Bosnian Serb soldiers during the war, as saying at a press conference in Sarajevo.

The celebration also sparked a serious dispute between top Bosnian politicians as some Bosnian Army soldiers attended the celebrations despite warnings from state and international institutions that their attendance was illegal. Members of the Third Infantry Regiment of the Bosnian Army participated as guards of honour as requested by the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, Mladen Ivanic, who ignored warnings issued by the state-level defence ministry.

Several political parties issued a joint statement claiming that Ivanic’s decision breached Bosnia’s constitution.

“We believe that Ivanic and [Bosnia’s Defence Minister Marina] Pendes, as well as [the Croat member of the tripartite presidency] Dragan Covic have attacked not only the constitutional and legal system, but also the peace in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Therefore we demand from Bakir Izetbegovic [the current chairman of the tripartite presidency] to order the chairman of the council of ministers Denis Zvizdic to urgently call a session of the Council for National Security… and request investigation,” Klix.ba quoted three parties – the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Democratic Front (DF) and the Civil Union (GS) as saying in the statement.