US warns Bosnia against celebration of controversial self-proclaimed holiday

  • The U.S. issued a warning on Tuesday that the celebration of a self-proclaimed national holiday by Bosnian Serbs violates Bosnia’s constitution.
  • The Jan. 9 holiday marks the 1992 declaration of an independent state by Bosnian Serbs, leading to a war that resulted in over 100,000 deaths.
  • Bosnia’s Constitutional Court has previously ruled against the date due to its association with war crimes committed by Bosnian Serbs during the conflict.

The United States on Tuesday warned that ongoing celebrations of a Bosnian Serb self-proclaimed national holiday were in violation of Bosnia’s constitution and a 1995 peace agreement, and as such amounted to a criminal offense.

In a statement, the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo urged Bosnia’s legal authorities to “investigate any violations of law” related to the marking of Jan. 9 as the day of the Republika Srpska entity, which is what the part of Bosnia run by ethnic Serbs is called.

“The issue is not the celebration of the holiday, but rather the decision to do so on January 9,” the statement said.

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The Jan. 9 holiday commemorates the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state in Bosnia, igniting the country’s devastating four-year war that killed more than 100,000 people.

Milorad Dodik uses his phone

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik uses his phone prior to the start of an interview in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, on Dec. 29, 2023. The U.S. has warned that ongoing celebrations of a Bosnian Serb self-proclaimed national holiday violate Bosnia’s constitution and a 1995 peace agreement, and as such amount to a criminal offense.

Bosnia’s Constitutional Court has ruled against the date in the past.

During the war, Bosnian Serbs expelled and killed Bosniaks, who are mostly Muslims, and Croats from the territories they controlled.

The conflict ended in 1995 in a U.S.-brokered peace agreement. The so-called Dayton accords created Serb and Bosniak-Croat entities in Bosnia, held together by weak joint central institutions.

Bosnian Serbs, however, have sought to gain as much independence as possible. Nationalist pro-Russian leader Milorad Dodik has openly called for secession from Bosnia, defying U.S. and British sanctions imposed over his policies.

On Monday, two U.S. fighter jets flew over Bosnia in a demonstration of support for the Balkan country’s territorial integrity.

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano on Tuesday insisted on the “need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity, constitutional order, including decisions by the Constitutional Court, by all actors in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

“Any action going against these principles will lead to serious consequences,” said Stano.

Tuesday’s planned celebrations in the northwestern town of Banja Luka include a parade of police forces. Simultaneous fireworks will be held in the evening in Bosnian Serb towns and in Belgrade, the capital of neighboring Serbia.

As part of the ceremonies, Dodik handed out official awards, including one for Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Orban did not attend but Dodik said he will receive the medal at a meeting next month, Klix news portal reported.

The award, Dodik added, is a sign of “gratitude to the man who is ready to acknowledge us (Bosnian Serbs) as a real political fact.” Last year, Dodik made a similar award to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

Serbia’s populist leader Aleksandar Vucic congratulated Dodik on the holiday, pledging support for Bosnia’s territorial integrity but also complaining of alleged efforts to “wipe out the existence of Republika Srpska.”

Serbia, Vucic said, will “strongly resist any annulment or humiliation of Republika Srpska.”

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Vucic is a former ultranationalist who supported the aggression against non-Serbs in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. He now says he is pro-European but Dodik remains a close ally and the two meet on a regular basis.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also last week warned that the designation of Jan. 9 as Republika Srpska’s national holiday amounted to an “act of discrimination” and was unconstitutional.

Dodik has dismissed Western criticism, saying that the Serbs have the right to celebrate an own holiday as they choose. At a ceremony on Monday, he reiterated that the Serb goal remains a “Serb state in these areas.”

Western countries fear that Russia could try to stir up trouble in the Balkans to avert attention from the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which was launched by Moscow nearly two years ago. Dodik is a Kremlin ally.

Bosnia is seeking entry into the European Union, but the effort has been stalled because of slow reform and inner divisions.

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