Bosnian Serbs reject court ban on ‘statehood day’
Latest row in divided Bosnia comes amid hopes for progress on EU membership
EU hopes: Bosnian prime minister Denis Zvizdic and European commissioner for neighbourhood enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn in Brussels. Photograph: Olivier Hoslete/PA
Republika Srpska, Bosnia’s Serb-run region, is at loggerheads again with the state’s central government and western backers, over a controversial holiday and referendum that the fractious country’s highest court has declared illegal.
The constitutional court of Bosnia ruled that Republika Srpska’s January 9th “statehood day” is discriminatory towards Bosnia’s Muslim Bosniak and Catholic Croat communities as it coincides with an Orthodox Church holiday.
It is also politically contentious, as it marks that day in 1992 when Bosnian Serb ultra-nationalists broke with the rest of Bosnia, leading to a war that killed 100,000 people and saw ethnic Serbs commit genocide against Bosniaks.
The constitutional court also outlawed a referendum on the disputed holiday that Republika Srpska’s nationalist leader has called for next Sunday.
“They cannot halt our decision,” he said. “We will vote in the referendum. We will show that the citizens of the Serb Republic stand by its holiday.”
Mr Dodik has dominated Bosnian Serb politics since the end of the war in 1995 and resisted western efforts to integrate Bosnia’s two “entities” – Republika Srpska and a Bosniak-Croat Federation.
He has threatened repeatedly to stage a referendum on independence rather than allow more powers to be transferred from Republika Srpska to the Sarajevo government; critics say he fears prosecution from the central authorities over long-standing allegations of corruption, which he denies.
Russia versus EU
Bosnia formally applied for membership in February, but complaints from Republika Srpska stymied the process.
The country of 3.5 million is many years away from EU accession, and Mr Dodik and supporters continue to demand that ties with Russia be given equal weight; local media report that he is due to visit Moscow on Thursday.
“We urge the leadership of the Republika Srpska to refrain from holding a referendum that would directly violate the decision of the court,” the US embassy in Sarajevo said in a statement.
“Moving forward with the referendum in defiance of the constitutional court is a threat to the rule of law.”