comment 21 Sep 16

Spectre of Violence Hangs Over Bosnia Referendum

Referenda have been deployed as a political weapon in the former Yugoslavia since it started to disintegrate – but their consequences rarely correspond to what their architects intend.

Christopher Bennett BIRN

Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik. Photo: Miomir Jakovljevic, Anadolu Agency.

As citizens of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated entity, Republika Srpska, prepare to vote in a controversial referendum on the RS National Day, few believe the question on the ballot is what is really at issue.

Many pundits agree that, while answering the question on the ballot: “Do you support January 9 being marked and celebrated as the RS National Day?” many voters will in fact be expressing support for the extension of the entity’s existing autonomy or even its future independence.

Over the past decade, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik has repeatedly said he wishes to organise an independence referendum and his party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, adopted a declaration heralding an independence referendum in 2018, if competences that he says Republika Srpska lost in the course of the peace process are not returned by 2017.

Bosnia’s Constitutional Court, at a session on Saturday, banned the holding of the referendum on the RS National Day, but regardless of that, Dodik and the RS government are determined to hold the vote as planned on Sunday.

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