Bosnian Serbs have celebrated an outlawed holiday with a parade marching in lockstep and singing a nationalist song.
Bosnian Serbs have held public celebrations to mark their autonomous Serb Republic’s national holiday, defying a top court’s ban of the commemoration and US sanctions slapped on their leader Milorad Dodik.
Dodik, who is currently serving as the Serb member in Bosnia’s tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, spoke to the crowd watching the parade on Sunday.
“There is no freedom for the Serb people without the state,” he said.
There was no sign of the Serb regiment of Bosnia’s joint armed forces, which had been deployed to the parade in previous years.
Instead the focus was on the militarised police force, which led the parade with specially-designed combat vehicles as helicopters hovered above.
More than 800 armed police officers took part in the parade, including members of anti-terrorist units, gendarmerie and cavalry.
They marched alongside students, war veterans and athletes through the streets of the region’s largest city Banja Luka.
Independence triggered war
Crowds of onlookers and those marching waved Serb red, blue and white flags. The members of a special police unit sang songs referring to the Serb Republic as the state of Christian heritage.
January 9 marks the date in 1992 when Bosnian Serbs declared independence, triggering a war in which 100,000 were killed.
It also coincides with Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday.
It was this religious component that led Bosnia’s Constitutional Court to declare the holiday illegal as it discriminated against the region’s Catholic Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities.
Dodik, a pro-Russian nationalist, has repeatedly threatened to pull out the Serb representatives from Bosnia’s armed forces, tax system and judiciary and create Serb separate institutions.
Last Wednesday, Dodik was freshly sanctioned by the United States for corruption and threatening the stability and territorial integrity of Bosnia.
The US-brokered Dayton peace agreement in 1995 ended 3 and a half years of ethnic warfare in Bosnia, dividing the Balkan country into two autonomous regions — the Serb Republic and the Federation dominated by Bosniaks and Croats.
Dodik’s secessionist rhetoric of recent months has encouraged Serb nationalists who in recent days provoked incidents across the Serb Republic.
Incidents included firing in air near mosques during prayers, publicly praising convicted war criminals and threatening their Muslim neighbours.