Republika Srpska defies EU and US
Bosnian Serb separatists have taken a second step toward secession, with a martial parade attended also by far-right MEPs.
The celebration of Republika Srpska’s (RS) national holiday in freezing weather in Banja Luka on Monday (9 January) violated a constitutional court ruling in Sarajevo.
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It marked the second violation since September, when Mirolav Dodik, the RS president, held a referendum that had also been forbidden by Bosnia’s federal institutions.
Dodik told Monday’s crowd that “the Serb Republic will not stay inside Bosnia" unless it gets enough autonomy to “live its life as a state”.
“This is a special day for our unity and for Republika Srpska. For our lifestyle and what we want to be,” he added, according to Reuters.
He had earlier pledged to hold a referendum on secession by the end of 2018.
He told press on Sunday that he still favoured a “peaceful separation”, but did not indicate a date for the plebiscite.
He also told Kurir, a Serb newspaper, that RS, as well as majority ethnic-Serb parts of Kosovo, should create a greater Serbia.
“There is a wonderful idea ... and that is to separate RS [from Bosnia] and to form a union with Serbia and that is together with four municipalities of Kosovo”, he said.
Monday’s RS events were criticised by EU and US diplomats because of their inflammatory nature.
The Bosnian war began after Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic proclaimed independence on the same day, 9 January, 25 years ago.
The four-year conflict claimed 100,000 lives, including 8,000 Bosnian Muslim boys and men in the Srebrenica genocide, and saw Bosnian Muslims and Croats forcefully displaced from RS territory.
The association of Srebrenica survivors said in a statement on Monday: “The Serb Republic was created from the killing and bloodshed of our children and we cannot accept its celebration while we are still searching for the bones of our loved ones.”
The national day festivities were attended by members of the Bosnian Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, as well as by police, firemen, athletes, and folklore groups.
The parade took part among Serbian flags to the tune of the “March on the Drina” - a wartime song of Serb ultranationalist brigades.
Dodik gave a place of honour to the son of Ratko Mladic, a Serb general who is on trial in The Hague for Srebrenica.
The event was also attended by the Serbian Christian Orthodox Church patriarch, by president Tomislav Nikolic of Serbia, by the crown prince of Serbia, Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, and by Serbian government ministers.
Edouard Ferrand and Dominique Bilde, two MEPs from the far-right National Front party in France, showed up and publicised their attendance on Twitter.
The European Commission the same day “regretted” the national holiday, which it called “unlawful” and “in breach of the [Bosnian] constitution”.
“What is important for us is that there is proper functioning of democratic institutions. That obviously includes implementation of constitutional court decisions,” it said.
The US embassy in Sarajevo said it was taking “any threat to the security and stability [of Bosnia] … very seriously” and that people who broke the law “must be held accountable”.
The Serb president, Nikolic, had earlier denounced Western “blackmail” that urged him to boycott the event.
Serbia is on the road to EU accession.
Its prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic, himself a former Serb nationalist, did not atted the Banja Luka festivities.
He said earlier on 5 January that Serbia insisted on "protecting the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina" in order "to maintain peace and stability” in the region.
He did send a letter of congratulations to Dodik on the RS holiday, however.