News 09 Jan 18

Bosnian Serbs March in ‘Statehood Day’ Parade

Around 1,800 people marched through Banja Luka to celebrate the Day of Republika Srpska, the controversial national holiday in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, as its leader again pushed demands for increased autonomy.

Danijel Kovacevic
Banja Luka

Policemen, firemen, prison guards, war veterans, athletes, students and even members of Republika Srpska’s Hunters’ Association marched through Banja Luka’s main streets on Tuesday to celebrate the Day of Republika Srpska - a controversial ‘statehood’ holiday that was banned by the state-level Consttutional Court.

Banja Luka, the administrative centre of Republika Srpska, was festooned with Serb red, blue and white flags and billboards with slogans like “Think about the fatherland”.

This year’s celebrations were the biggest to date and marked the 26th anniversary of the creation of Republika Srpska in 1992 - an event which many Bosniaks see as the precursor to the outbreak of the war a few months later.

Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik used the occasion to push his demands for more Serb autonomy within Bosnia and Herzegovina, and threatened to revive the idea of a referendum on independence.

“The Serb people have two states: Serbia and Republika Srpska, and we want to be one,” Dodik said.

He said that at the moment, Republika Srpska was not engaged in formal activities to hold a referendum on independence, but did not rule out a popular vote in the future.

“This question will never disappear in our aspirations, but it is important that the moment is carefully chosen and is in line with the possible international and other reactions which will result from that,” Dodik said.

The Bosnian Serbs’ brinkmanship over the holiday is widely seen as part of an attempt by Dodik to test the limits of his freedom of manoeuvre against post-war Bosnia’s fragile central authorities.

One of the guests at the parade was Darko Mladic, the son of wartime Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, who stood on a stage in Banja Luka’s main square along with politicians from Serbia and Republika Srpska.

Also in attendance were Anatoly Bibilov, president of Georgia’s Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia, and members of the Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.

From Serbia, former President Tomislav Nikolic and current defence and interior ministers, Aleksandar Vulin and Nebojsa Stefanovic, joined the celebration.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic did not attend, but sent a message that “Serbia will always be with the RS”.

Aleksandar Karadjordjevic, who claims to be the heir to the defunct throne of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, did however travel to Banja Luka with his wife Katherine.

The parade was preceded by an awards ceremony at the Palace of the Republic, during which awards were given to Nikolic, to the Austrian vice-chancellor and leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, and to Serbian film director Emir Kusturica.

“From all of my heart, I wish you independence,” Nikolic said at the ceremony.

The celebrations sparked harsh reactions from some Bosniak politicians.

Denis Becirovic, a Bosnian state parliament MP from the Social Democratic Party, called on the legislature’s presidency to debate at its next session a bill to commemorate “the remembrance of victims of war crimes and genocide” that he said were committed by the “self-proclaimed and illegal” Republika Srpska.

A far-right organisation called Bosnian National Pride Movement also put up banners with the slogan “Death to the genocidal Republika Srpska” on Tuesday morning in Sarajevo and in the north-eastern town of Gracanica.

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