News 10 Jan 16

Defiant Bosnian Serbs Celebrate Banned Republic Day

Bosnian Serbs celebrated the Day of Republika Srpska on Saturday, despite the fact that the holiday was declared unconstitutional by the Bonsnian Constitutional Court.

Rodolfo Toe
BIRN
Sarajevo
Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic (left) with Patriarch Irinej and Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik. Photo: Anadolu

Bosnian Serbs in Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb-majority entity, celebrated their Day of Republika Srpska in the town of Banja Luka on Saturday, despite the fact that Bosnia's state-level Constitutional Court declared the holiday unconstitutional, raising ethnic tensions within the country.

"We will keep on celebrating January 9 as the Day of Republika Srpska and no judge can prevent us from doing that," Milorad Dodik, the president of the entity, said in his speech.

"Back then, exactly like now, we wanted nothing more than to live freely and have the possibility of deciding freely on our destiny," he said.

The Day of Republika Srpska marks the anniversary of January 9 1992, when the Bosnian Serb leadership declared an independent Serb republic, which contributed to the beginning of the war in April that year.

"The RS was created as a legal framework to allow Serbs to live freely and protected, like all the other peoples who want the same," Dodik saisd.

"The Serb people have the right to protect and build even a stronger Republika Srpska," he continued, declaring that "only a Bosnia and Herzegovina organised according to the Dayton Peace Agreements has a chance to survive.

"The greatest success in the past 24 years is that, thanks to the existence of Republika Srpska, Serbs have remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

The head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, the Russian ambassador to Bosnia, Petar Ivancov, and the Serbian Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic, also attended the celebration.

Prime Minister Vucic said he had come "to show his support for Republika Srpska" although he stressed that "loving the RS doesn't mean hating Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"They cannot take away our right to love our own people. If you think that you are alone, you're wrong. Serbia is always with you. Our obligation is to protect Republika Srpska and nobody can cancel that with some decrees, because the RS was founded by the will of its people," Vucic said.

The ceremony was attended also by leaders of opposition parties in the Republika Srpska, which are currently part of the government, the Council of Ministers, at state level.

"Bosnia must recognize that RS has the right to celebrate its day," the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency, Mladen Ivanic, said, calling the Constitutional Court ruling "a total mistake and a step back for the country".

The leader of the main opposition Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, in the entity, Mladen Bosic, agreed, adding that the entity needed to toughen its policies against criminals and corruption, in order to ensure its progress.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the commemoration day was discriminatory towards non-Serbs in the entity, and ordered the RS assembly to change its law on public holidays within six months.

All Serbian parties in the entity then unanimously called the ruling an attack on its autonomy.

However, Bosniak politicians and associations of victims of the ethnic cleansing that took place in the 1990s criticised Saturday's celebration.

"All those who today commemorate the Day of RS are celebrating genocide," Amir Zukic, secretary-general of the [Bosniak] Party of Democratic Action, SDA, said on Saturday.

"That entity was created ... on the suffering of hundreds of thousands of victims, on the bones of killed children, on rapes and ... the most horrible crimes against humanity," he added.

"For us Bosniaks this date doesn't mean anything from a legal, historic and moral point of view," the mayor of Srebrenica, Camil Durakovic, said.

The RS Army killed more than 8,000 Bosniak men and children after the fall of the eastern Bosnian town on July 11, 1995.

The "Mothers of Srebrenica" association staged a protest on Saturday in the centre of the town, protesting against the commemoration and the visit of Serbian premier Vucic.

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