The ethnic Serb minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina has celebrated a deeply divisive holiday, marking a date that reminds the country’s Muslims and Croats of the brutal 1990s war.
Hundreds of people converged on both sides of the main streets in Banja Luka, the capital city of the semi-autonomous Republika Srpska (RS) on Monday, as columns of police, war veterans and students paraded to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Serb-run Bosnian entity.
Republika Srpska declared its creation on January 9, 1992, triggering an inter-ethnic bloody war, which claimed more than 100,000 lives. The war became infamous for the mass killing of Bosnian Muslims and Croats at the hands of Serbian forces.
The entity’s president, Milorad Dodik, oversaw the marchers in the freezing weather of northern Bosnia, saying “the RS was founded as an answer to the Serbian people’s call for creating a state in this region.”
Since mid-1990s, the country has been divided along ethnic lines into two semi-independent entities of Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The central government in Sarajevo tries to maintain fragile ties between the two entities even though it is highly limited in its administrative powers,.
The holiday is a source of friction with Muslims since it reminds them of the Srebrenica massacre, in which Serbian death squads butchered over 8,000 Muslim boys and men in a matter of few days in July 1995, in the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II.
The carnage took place after Bosnian Serbs ran over the Bosnian town, even though it was formally declared a UN-protected area and supposedly guarded by hundreds of Western troops tasked with protecting innocent civilians.
Last September, Serbs of the Republika Srpska, comprising most of the 1.3 million population of the entity, voted overwhelmingly in favor of naming the holiday as the “Statehood Day” despite a state ban.
Bosnia and Herzegovina’s highest court called the vote illegal because the date coincided with a Serbian holiday, which discriminates against Muslims and Croats in the Republika Srpska.
Observers said at the time that by defying the court ruling, Bosnian Serbs were aiming to weaken the legitimacy of the central government and pave the way for a potential vote on secession.
The referendum was also criticized by the United States and the European Union.
Dodik has ignored international criticism, declaring Bosnia and Herzegovina a non-functional country and describing it a “useless state” and a “failed international project.”
“The RS intends to live and celebrate its day … but we will not give up our identity, our state and our Republika Srpska,” he said on the controversial holiday on Monday.