Leaders of the Serbian majority entity in Bosnia and Herzegovina defied a banning order from a top national court on Sunday, and chose to celebrate a holiday which recognises the creation of their own state in the country. The day itself is controversial as in 1992 it signalled the start of the Bosnian War. So, what exactly happened? Why has the European Union (EU) criticised it?
What happened last Sunday?
On Sunday, January 9, Bosnian Serbs held public celebrations in the region’s capital, Banja Luka – northern Bosnia.
Commemorations recognised the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
This development ignited a near four-year-long war, which led to some 100,000 people being killed.
The date also coincides with a Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday, and it was this religious component that led Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to declare the holiday illegal.
This is because it discriminated against the region’s Muslim Bosniak and Catholic Croat communities.
More than 800 armed police officers, including members of anti-terrorist units, gendarmerie and cavalry, took part in a parade on Sunday.
Students, war veterans and athletes also marched alongside through the streets of Banja Luka.
The parade and other ceremonies were attended by Milorad Dodik – the Serb member in Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency.
Also in attendance were the top officials of neighbouring Serbia, including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.
During an address to the crowd watching the parade, Mr Dodik said “there is no freedom for the Serb people without the state”.
Mr Dodik is known for his secessionist rhetoric and in the past has described Bosniaks as “second-rate people” and “treacherous converts” who sold their “original [Orthodox Christian] faith for dinner”.
He has also repeatedly threatened to pull out the Serb representatives from Bosnia’s armed forces, tax system and judiciary and create separate Serb institutions.
Last week, the 62-year-old was hit with fresh sanctions by the US for corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia.
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What has the EU said?
In a statement released by a spokesperson for the bloc, it said the EU “firmly condemns the negative, divisive and inflammatory rhetoric” used by Republika Srpska leaders during Sunday’s celebrations.
Republika Srpska is the name given to the Serb Republic in Bosnia.
The statement added: “Such rhetoric and actions have further heightened the tensions among communities throughout the country and are further escalating the ongoing political crisis.
“They jeopardise the stability and prosperity of the country, and are in complete contradiction with its EU perspective, which can only be based on a single, united and sovereign Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Bosnia is divided into two autonomous regions – the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS).
This is because of the Dayton Peace Agreement, in 1995, which brought an end to the Bosnian War.
The FBiH is mainly populated by people who class themselves as Bosnian or Croatian.
Whereas, the RS is composed of mostly Serbian people.