Bosnia’s Constitutional Court has declared the holiday illegal because it discriminates against Bosnian Muslims and Croat Catholics.
Bosnian Serbs held public celebrations marking the national holiday of the Autonomous Serb Republic, in defiance of a Supreme Court memorial ban and US sanctions imposed on their leader Milorad Dodik this week.
January 9 marks the anniversary of 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It sparked a devastating war that lasted nearly four years, killing nearly 100,000 people.
The date also coincides with a Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday, and it was this religious component that prompted Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to declare the holiday illegal because it discriminates against the Bosnian Muslim and Croatian Catholic community in the region.
On Sunday, more than 800 armed police officers, including members of the anti-terrorist units, gendarmerie and cavalry, took part in the parade, who marched alongside students, war veterans and athletes in the streets of Banja Luka, the region’s largest city.
Crowds of spectators and runners waved red, blue and white Serb flags. Members of the special police unit sang songs referring to the Republika Srpska as a country of Christian heritage.
Reporting from Banja Luka, Bosnia, Al Jazeera’s Liliana Smiljanic said that for the Serbs it was “holy”, but it meant something very different for the Bosniaks.
“that they [Bosnian Serbs] say it [January 9 holiday] They are guaranteed freedom, and the best living conditions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. On the other hand for the Bosniaks…it is the beginning of the horrors of war they suffered during the 1990s, and later on the war crimes and genocide in Srebrenica.”
The parade and celebrations were attended by senior officials of neighboring Serbia, including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Parliament Speaker Ivica Dacic. Also present were Russian and Chinese diplomats in Bosnia and a number of officials from the far-right National Rally party in France.
There was no indication that the Serbian regiment of the Bosnian Combined Armed Forces had been deployed to the military parade in previous years. Instead, the focus was on the military police force, which led the parade with custom-built combat vehicles while helicopters hovered overhead.
“There is no freedom for the Serbian people without a state,” Dodik, who is currently the Serbian member of the tripartite presidency of Bosnia, said in a speech to the crowd watching the parade.
The pro-Russian nationalist repeatedly threatened to withdraw Serb representatives from the armed forces, the tax system and the judiciary in Bosnia, and to create separate Serb institutions.
Last Wednesday, the United States imposed new sanctions on him for corruption and threatening Bosnia’s stability and territorial integrity.
The US-brokered Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995 ended a three-and-a-half-year ethnic war in Bosnia, and divided the Balkan nation into two autonomous regions – the Serb Republic and the Bosniak- and Croat-controlled federation.
“Everything he does and declares that he will do is incompatible with the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as with the Dayton Peace Agreement,” Al Jazeera’s Smjanic said.
“This is the rule for everything here in this country,” she added.
Dodik’s separatist rhetoric in recent months has emboldened Serb nationalists, who in recent days have sparked incidents across the Serb Republic, firing into the air near mosques during prayers, publicly praising convicted war criminals and threatening their Muslim neighbors.
He described the Bosniaks as “second-class people” and “treacherous converts to Christianity” who sold their “origin”. [Orthodox Christian] Faith for dinner.”