Bosnian Serbs celebrate day that kicked off devastating war
BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Threatening Bosnia’s fragile peace, Bosnian Serbs on Wednesday celebrated a holiday associated with a bloody civil war and criticized as divisive by the Balkan country’s other ethnic groups.
Waving Serb flags, several thousand people lined up in the main Serb city of Banja Luka to watch a celebratory parade of security forces, firefighters and cultural and sports groups.
The Jan. 9 holiday marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared the creation of their own state in Bosnia, igniting the country’s devastating four-year war that killed more than 100,000 people and left millions homeless.
The day is also an Orthodox Christian holiday. Bosnia’s Muslims and Croats have insisted that it doesn’t represent all ethnic groups who live in the Serb-run part of Bosnia called Republika Srpska.
The event was attended by top Bosnian Serb officials, the prime minister of neighboring Serbia and the Russian ambassador in Bosnia — but no Western officials — according to local media.
Sefik Dzaferovic, the Muslim member of Bosnia’s multi-ethnic presidency, said in a statement that the holiday goes against a peace agreement that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war and shows disrespect of Bosnia as a state.
Disagreements over the Serb holiday reflect ongoing ethnic divisions in Bosnia where nationalist politicians dominate the government long after the end of the ’90s war, which erupted over a bid by nationalists to carve up the country along ethnic lines.
Bosnian Serbs have insisted on maximum autonomy for their mini-state with some politicians urging its separation from Bosnia.
Bosnia’s top court banned the Serb holiday in 2015, but the ban was not observed. Muslim lawmakers have described Wednesday’s celebrations as “discriminating for all non-Serbs” and fueling political and other tensions.
During the war, Bosnian Serbs expelled Muslims and Croats almost completely from Republika Srpska territory. Top wartime Bosnian Serb political and military leaders — Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic — have been convicted at a U.N. war crimes court over the atrocities against non-Serbs.
Dzaferovic sharply criticized Serbia’s Prime Minister Ana Brnabic for attending the celebrations on Wednesday and accepting an award that was previously given to Karadzic and other war-era leaders sentenced for war crimes.
Dzaferovic said Brnabic “is now standing shoulder to shoulder with them.”
After the war, Republika Srpska became an autonomous region of Bosnia along with a Muslim-Croat entity also created in the U.S.-brokered peace deal.
AP writer Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.