Bosniak representatives, NGO's criticise celebration of Republika Srpska Day

Source: VKBI

The unconstitutional celebration of the establishment of Bosnia’s Serb-majority semi-autonomous region set for Wednesday will take place under the slogan ‘Proud and eternal’, but Bosniak representatives and human rights NGO’s there said that the celebration is not only illegal but also detrimental to Bosnia’s stability.

The Constitutional Court banned the January 9th celebration of the Day of the RS in 2015, granting an appeal by Bakir Izetbegovic, who was at that time the Bosniak member of the country’s tripartite Presidency.

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The reason stated was that the celebration falls on the same date as an Orthodox religious holiday, and celebrating it is, therefore, discriminating against the mostly Muslim Bosniaks and the mostly Catholic Croats.

But RS leadership then organised a referendum in the entity at which the predominantly Serb citizens voted in favour of January 9th being the date for the holiday.

Despite the Constitutional Court ruling, the RS Government adopted in 2016 a Law on the holiday which says it will take place on that date.

“It is completely clear” that January 9th cannot be marked as the Day of the RS entity, the Council of Congress of Bosniak Intellectuals (VKBI) said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The para-state of Republika Srpska in Bosnia was established within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,” VKBI said, arguing that the RS only was established as an entity within Bosnia in 1995, with the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the war.

“Other than that, the RS is an entity of equal citizens and peoples, and not only the entity of the Serb people,” the statement said.

“Unfortunately, Serb politicians in power are still today treading on the wrong path, after 24 years of peacekeeping in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and they are ‘pouring salt into the wounds’ of the victims of the genocide and the gravest forms of crimes against humanity and international law,” it said.

The VKBI argued that, in 1991, the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), which was the main party representing Bosnian Serbs during the war, had initiated “a number of illegal activities” on “direct orders of Serbia’s and Montenegro's leadership” and with the support of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and the Interior Ministry of neighbouring Serbia, to “topple the legal order in the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and planned and prepared the genocide committed against the Bosniaks.”

On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the eastern Bosnian enclave and rounded up the town’s Muslim Bosniaks, separated men from women and little children and systematically executed some 8,000 men and boys. The bodies of the victims were buried in a large number of mass graves.

The International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Court of Justice later ruled that the massacre was an act of genocide.

“They cannot change the verdicts of UN Courts on the genocide and the crimes against humanity that were committed, and with such and similar celebrations, the RS leadership is continuing to walk toward an abyss that will produce the worst damage and shame to the people that stand behind it – the Serbs,” the VKBI said.

The leadership in neighbouring Serbia is walking down the same path, the group of intellectuals alleged, as their top officials announced they will be attending the ceremony.

“With such moves, Bosnia and Herzegovina is being destabilised, the victims of the genocide and crimes against humanity are being humiliated, and it does not contribute to the process of integrating Bosnia’s society,” it said.

“It is clear that with such ceremonies the message that is sent is that the Greater-Serbian project is still alive among the governing elites of Serbia and the RS entity,” it said.

VKBI urged state prosecutors to initiate legal measures against the organisers of the ceremony and against those who decided that government officials should have a day off on January 9th.

“VKBI will strongly continue to cooperate with individuals, organisations and institutions of Serb character from Bosnia and Serbia who have with their activities and decades-long work expressed a clear distinction from the Greater-Serbian project and the celebrating of war crime policies,” their statement said.

The Society for Threatened Peoples office in Sarajevo also criticised the celebration.

“Republika Srpska was built upon a pyramid of bones of killed non-Serbs, which is confirmed by rulings by the International War Crimes Court in The Hague,” their Tuesday statement said, adding that the then-leadership of Republika Srpska was convicted of “mass killings, mass expulsions, mass rape and deportations to concentration camps, burning villages, destroying towns and committing the worst crime in Europe since WWII, the genocide in Srebrenica.”

“Those who are still searching for the bones of their loved ones in mass graves, mothers, sisters, daughters and cousins of those killed, are taking the celebration the hardest,” the NGO said.

The Vice President of the RS Council of Peoples representing Bosniaks, Dzevad Mahmutovic, said that January 9th cannot represent a common memory and history of all constitutional peoples who live in the entity, adding that the celebration is being imposed on the Bosniaks.

Mahmutovic said that a group made up of members of only one ethnic group adopted a Declaration of forming Republika Srpska in 1992, after which it also adopted a ‘Decision on the strategic goals of the Serb people within Bosnia’ which he said resulted in the aggression and the genocide in the country.

He also said he was certain that one day January 9th will not be celebrated anymore.

“Currently, the Bosniaks do not have a way to challenge it, but we hope that some new ‘winds will begin blowing’ in the entity which will begin respecting the fact that 20 per cent of the people living on that territory do not feel that January 9th is their holiday,” Mahmutovic said.

But the RS Interior Minister, Dragan Lukac, said on Tuesday that everything is ready for the celebration.

Traffic was blocked in Banja Luka’s centre on Tuesday, as a rehearsal for the celebration took place.

“Republika Srpska is eternal, it is our vow and we have an obligation to protect it. I hope that future generations will continue on our path,” RS Minister Dragan Lukac said.