News 12 Oct 16

Bosnian Serbs Challenge Bosnia’s Independence Day

Parliament in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska entity filed a motion to the state Constitutional court claiming the Independence Day holiday marked in the country’s other entity, the Bosniak-Croat Federation, is unconstitutional.

Ajla Gezo
The Bosnian Serb parliament. Photo: RTRS.

Bosnian Serb lawmakers sent a motion to the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, claiming that the March 1 Independence Day holiday is not “representative of a will of all three [of the country’s] constitutive peoples [Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs]”.

March 1 is commemorated in the Bosniak and Croat-dominated Federation entity to mark the 1992 referendum in which the majority voted in favour of secession from Yugoslavia.

But Serb voters boycotted the 1992 referendum, and the Bosnian Serb entity in the country, Republika Srpska, does not mark the holiday as its Independence Day.

Radovan Viskovic, an MP from the leading Bosnian Serb party, the Union of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, told a press conference that the March 1 Independence Day is discriminatory.

“It is clear this is a date which relates only to two peoples who voted in the independence referendum, so it puts the Serb people in a position of being discriminated against in relation to the two other peoples,” said Viskovic.

The decision to file a motion to the Constitutional Court came from Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik, after the court ruled earlier that the annual Day of Republika Srpska on January 9 was discriminatory against non-Serbs in the entity because it was also a Serbian Orthodox religious holiday.

January 9 was the day in 1992 that Bosnia’s Serbs declared the foundation of Republika Srpska, which the country’s Bosniaks see as a precursor to the war that broke out soon afterwards.

Dodik said last month he wanted the Constitutional Court to consider whether the March 1 public holiday observed in the Federation was unconstitutional “using the same criteria and arguments they used in assessing the RS National Day”.

Dodik argues that the March 1 referendum triggered the war and the celebration of that day discriminates against Serbs living in the Federation.

Republika Srpska held a referendum of its own last month to decide whether January 9 will continue to be commemorated as its ‘statehood day’, despite a ban on the vote by the Constitutional Court and strong criticism from the international community.

An overwhelming majority of Serbs in the entity voted to keep marking January 9, defying the Constitutional Court.

Bosnian legal expert Vehid Sehic, a former judge, told BIRN that the decision to file an appeal over the March 1 Independence Day holiday came as no surprise.

“As soon as the [Constitutional Court] decision was made in relation to the annual Day of Republika Srpska with the explanation that it makes the other two peoples [Bosniaks and Croats] uncomfortable, it was easy to expect someone would file this motion because March 1 makes the Serbs uncomfortable,” said Sehic.

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