Bosnia’s nagging fear of civil war
Bosnian Serbs have staged public festivities to honor the national holiday of their independent Serb Republic, defying a high court’s order and US sanctions imposed this week on their leader Milorad Dodik.
The January 9 holiday commemorates the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared their independence from Bosnia and Herzegovina. It sparked a horrific, nearly four-year battle that resulted in the deaths of 100,000 people.
The date also overlaps with a Serbian Orthodox Christian festival, which prompted Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to rule the holiday unlawful since it discriminated against the region’s Muslim Bosniak and Catholic Croat groups.
Following its devastating war in the 1990s, in which 100,000 people died, the majority of whom were Bosniaks, Bosnia-Herzegovina was divided into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Federation, which was dominated by Croats and Muslim Bosniaks and was linked by a weak central government.
Bosnia-Herzegovina is currently undergoing its worst political crisis since the conclusion of the war, stoking fears of a new conflict after Bosnian Serbs obstructed the operation of the central government last summer and launched a process aimed at dissolving state institutions.
Spectators and marchers waved Serb red, blue, and white flags. Members of a special police squad sang songs about the Serb Republic being a Christian state.
Serb nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, who has advocated for the Serb Republic’s separation from Bosnia and Herzegovina and incorporation into Serbia, has used ethnic slurs against Muslim Bosniaks, equating them to a religious community with no ethnic identity and ascribing them the “colonial mindset.”
More than 800 armed police officers, including members of anti-terrorist units, gendarmerie, and cavalry, marched with youths, war veterans, and sportsmen through the streets of the region’s main city, Banja Luka, on Sunday.
Top leaders from neighboring Serbia, including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic, attended the march and other celebrations. There were also Russian and Chinese ambassadors in Bosnia, as well as many representatives from France’s far-right National Rally party.
There was no sight of the Serb regiment of Bosnia’s unified military forces, which had previously been sent to the parade. Instead, the spotlight of the event was the militarized police force, which led the procession in specially-designed combat vehicles while helicopters buzzed overhead.
The pro-Russian nationalist has often threatened to purge Serb representatives from Bosnia’s armed forces, tax system, and courts in order to establish independent Serb institutions.
In a speech to the throng watching the procession, Dodik, who is presently acting as the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic president, declared, “There is no freedom for the Serb people without the state.”
He was sanctioned afresh by the US on Wednesday for corruption and endangering Bosnia’s peace and territorial integrity.
The Dayton Peace Agreement, brokered by the United States, ended three and a half years of ethnic fighting in Bosnia, partitioning the Balkan country into two autonomous zones – the Serb Republic and the Federation, dominated by Bosniaks and Croats.
It is believed that the actions & declarations of Dodik are not in compliance with the Bosnian constitution as well as the Dayton Peace Accord.
He has described Bosniaks as “second-rate people” and “treacherous converts” who sold their “original [Orthodox Christian] faith for dinner”.
Milorad Dodik’s new separatist rhetoric has emboldened Serb nationalists, who have recently created events around the Serb Republic, shooting in the air near mosques during prayers, openly applauding convicted war criminals, and threatening their Muslim neighbors.