Bosnian Serbs will this weekend hold a referendum on a disputed national holiday in their autonomous region – despite it being barred by the top court.
Whether “Statehood Day” should stay on 9 January in Republika Srpska is the question.
Many fear the referendum is setting the stage for a vote on secession.
“It’s impossible that someone evaluated this as a secession referendum. It is not a secession referendum,” said Milorad Dodik, Republika Srpska President.
“It’s not even the beginning of this process. Referendum as a means of decision making is only problematic here, in this region. Elsewhere, for example in Britain, it is totally normal to have it. Like everywhere else. In any case, this is some sort of hysteria.”
On 9 January 1992, Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state.
During the war that followed, they expelled non-Serbs – the aim being to make it part of neighbouring Serbia.
The region ended up autonomous, not independent.
“Serbia is and will always be behind Republika Srpska. That is our obligation. That is our right. We are proud of that,” said Aleksandar Vucic, Serbian Prime Minister.
The Sarajevo-based Constitutional Court has banned the referendum.
It’s ruled the date discriminates against Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats living in the Serb Republic, since it falls on a Serb Orthodox Christian holiday.
“Some people in this country (leadership of Republika Srpska) want more then they have. They should obey the constitution and laws of this country and they should be happy with what they have,” said Bakir Izetbegovic, President of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
“I am afraid if they ask for more than that, then this is going to be an adventure and things could slip out of control.”
For the United States, which brokered Bosnia Hercegovina’s 1995 peace treaty, and the European Union the referendum is a concern. They fear it could destabilise the region anew.
But Russia – a traditional Serb ally – backs the vote, scheduled for Sunday.