Bosnian Serbs To Hold Divisive 'Statehood Day' Holiday

Bosnian Serbs are set to hold a deeply divisive "statehood day" holiday on January 9.

This year's holiday marks the 25th anniversary of the declaration on January 9, 1992, of an independent "Serb Republic" in the north and east of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which ignited the Bosnian war.

The territory became the autonomous region of the same name, Republika Srpska, under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement that ended the conflict. The other constituent state within Bosnia is the Bosniak-Croatia federation.

In September, Bosnian Serbs voted overwhelmingly to maintain the holiday on January 9 in a referendum that led to the most heated debate between Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Serb officials since the end of the war.

Most Bosniaks and Croats opposed the referendum out of fear that Republika Srpska could be preparing to secede, destroying the delicate federal structure put in place after the war.

Bosnia's Constitutional Court had canceled the vote, ruling that the holiday is illegal because it discriminates against non-Serbs.

However, Republika Srpska's nationalist President Milorad Dodik held the referendum despite that ruling as well as considerable pressure from the United States and the European Union.

"No one can make people's feelings disappear, or prevent us from celebrating on January 9. It's completely legitimate," Dodik said on January 6.

Police officers were due to parade through the streets of Banja Luka for the celebrations, which were expected to be attended by Serbia's pro-Russian president, Tomislav Nikolic.

However, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, who is leading Belgrade's EU accession negotiations, will stay away.

He said on January 5 that Bosnia’s integrity should be protected, adding, "It is crucial for us to maintain peace and stability."

With reporting by AFP