Despite a constitutional court veto and criticism from the West, Serbs in Bosnia will vote Sunday on whether to celebrate their “national holiday”, ramping up tensions in the fragile country.
Bosnian Serbs defy Sarajevo with referendum
Bosnian Serbs defy Sarajevo with referendum / Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) – 23 September 2016 10:44 – AFP (Rusmir SMAJILHODZIC) / ADVANCER francais serviDespite a constitutional court veto and criticism from the West, Serbs in Bosnia will vote Sunday on whether to celebrate their “national holiday”, ramping up tensions in the fragile country.For a long time, Bosnians wondered if this referendum was just another empty threat from Milorad Dodik, the defiant nationalist leader of the Bosnian Serb-run entity Republika Srpska (RS).But this time he decided to go all the way, despite the reservations of big brother Belgrade and disapproval from Washington and Brussels.Some 1.2 million voters are entitled to vote on whether they want their “national holiday” to continue to be celebrated on January 9. The date is controversial as it marks the proclamation of a “Republic of Serb people” in Bosnia three months before the inter-ethnic 1992-1995 war that claimed 100,000 lives.Among the founders of that “republic” was Radovan Karadzic, who was sentenced in March to 40 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the war that also displaced more than two million people.Bosnia’s constitutional court ruled that the holiday is illegal for discriminating against non-Serbs and cancelled the referendum, but Dodik has pressed ahead regardless.- Weakening institutions -The Dayton peace agreement that ended Bosnia’s war split the country into two semi-independent entities — the RS and a Muslim-Croat Federation.As illustrated by Dodik’s snub, they are linked by ever more fragile institutions, which have existed for 20 years only thanks to the will and insistence of the international community on respecting the Dayton accord — named after the US military base where it was negotiated.Three days before the referendum Dodik was received in Moscow by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who “expressed his support for stability in the region and the Dayton peace agreement,” Dodik said after the meeting, according to public broadcaster RTRS.”Regarding the referendum, it was not specifically discussed, except to note that it is a right of the people.”Analyst Srecko Latal from Bosnian think-tank SOS warned against a “failure of the protection mechanisms of the Dayton peace agreement” and “serious destabilisation” of the situation in Bosnia.He holds Washington and the European Union responsible for having “long ignored the constant deepening of the crisis” and the “collapse of institutions”.There are also fears that Dodik is warming up for a referendum on the independence of RS — something he has repeatedly threatened.”It was a good opportunity to train our teams for this kind of situation,” he said Wednesday.- ‘Important for identity’ -It seems that he has the support of his people for Sunday’s vote.”The referendum will show the will of Serb people to keep this holiday, which is important for our identity,” said Serb student Zorica Trivunovic in Pale, Karadzic’s wartime stronghold near Sarajevo.And as the referendum gets closer, each camp has upped their rhetoric.Bosnian Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic has accused Dodik of “playing with fire”, while a wartime commander of Bosnian Muslim forces, Sefer Halilovic, accused him of “crossing the red line.”Halilovic also warned that “in the case of a conflict, the RS would not hold longer than 10 to 15 days”.Dodik replied to him that the RS was “ready and capable to defend itself” if it was attacked. “Such a scenario would only accelerate our march toward independence,” he said.In Belgrade, Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that Serbia “will not allow the destruction of Republika Srpska.”Some analysts say a conflict is not likely and that the crisis is only aimed at boosting nationalists’ chances on both sides at upcoming local elections.But Latal warned that an “amicable split of Bosnia, which some politicians in Republika Srpska think they could make, is a very dangerous illusion.”rus/ks/rob/ser