Republika Srpska president backs down over Republic Day holiday

Republika Srpska president backs down over Republic Day holiday
By bne IntelliNews September 11, 2016

Resolution is in sight for a months-long dispute over the celebration of Republic Day, as Milorad Dodik, the president of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s smaller entity Republika Srpska, said that the entity will change its law on public holidays so that it meets constitutional requirements. 

A referendum on whether to make January 9 a public holiday in Republika Srpska is due to take place on September 25, seriously raising tensions within Bosnia due to the day’s connection to the entity’s secessionist ambitions. Under pressure from Bosnia’s state-level institutions and High Representative Valentin Inzko, Dodik now appears to have at least partly backed down.  

Dodik said that the law will allow those who do not wish to celebrate a certain holiday, not to celebrate it, Nezavisne Novine reported on September 9. According to him, this change would make the celebration of January 9 constitutional.

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.

However, Dodik added the entity does not plan to give up on plans to hold a referendum on the celebration of the Republic Day, scheduled for September 25. The planned referendum is highly controversial and has significantly raised tensions within Bosnia.

If Republika Srpska eventually decides to hold the referendum mass protests are expected in the capital Sarajevo. Local media reported that the country’s interior ministry is carefully monitoring the situation and is taking measures to prevent possible violence.

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 Orthodox religious holiday, the Day of St Stephen, which is not observed by Catholic Croats or Muslim Bosniaks.

High Representative Valentin Inzko said earlier in September in an interview with Serbian daily Politika that Dodik would be “playing with the fire” if he proceeds with the referendum. Inzko added that the planned referendum would breach the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Western diplomats and the EU delegation to Bosnia also stated that the referendum would breach the Dayton agreement.