Paramilitaries march on the anniversary of the founding of the Republic Srpska. Photo: Miomir Jakovljevic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Image
Bosnian-Serb security forces marched in Banja Luka, the de facto capital of the Republic Srpska (RS) on Sunday, chanting nationalist slogans that recalled the horrific civil war that took place in Bosnia just 30 years ago.
As they marched, Serb leader Milorad Dodik signalled that a new raft of sanctions imposed by the United States last week would not deter him from pushing for even more independence from the central government in Sarajevo.The march took place despite a ban on holding the national day celebrations by the Bosnian high court, which ruled that the march was unnecessarily sectarian in nature, as it coincided with Orthodox Christmas, celebrated by the territory’s many Christians.The banned 9th of January holiday celebrates the establishment of the Bosnian Serb state of RS in 1992. This is considered a key moment in sparking the ensuing civil war.The Bosnian War was the bloodiest conflict on European soil since the Second World War. It saw more than 100,000 people killed and left millions of refugees as Bosnian Serbs, Croats and Muslims fought over Bosnia in the collapse of Yugoslavia after the Cold War.The war ended in 1995 with a complex political settlement – brokered by US and NATO peacekeeping forces – that established Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state made up of two political entities: RS, which was formed to represent the interests of Serbs and the Bosnian Federation, composed of Bosniak Muslims and Croats.Dodik, one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s three heads of state in the complex post-war system, wants the RS to leave this settlement. Although the complicated partition of local, regional and state government has successfully kept the nation at peace since 1992, critics say the system is unwieldy and Dodik has moved to withdraw the RS and its roughly million inhabitants from the courts and the military – a move many Bosnians fear could lead to renewed conflict.
Dodik’s move on the 13th of December to instruct the RS parliament to begin a six month process of withdrawing from the federal system has drawn harsh rebukes from the US – which added a number of sanctions to those already in place on Dodik and his personal and business entourage last week.The US Treasury Department cited both corruption and Dodik’s efforts to dissolve the 1995 peace accord in delivering the new sanctions. Previous sanctions kept Dodik from meeting with US officials in the United States since 2011.On Sunday more than 800 members of the RS security forces marched in the parade before an audience of Bosnian Serb VIPs, including at least one war criminal – Vinko Pandurevic – convicted for crimes during the civil war. Also in attendance were Russian and Chinese diplomats and at least two French MEP’s from the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) party. The marchers were also joined by members of a Russian motorcycle club, the Night Wolves, with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin that waved Russian and Serbian flags and vowed solidarity with their south Slavic allies.
Putin has repeatedly expressed support for both Dodik and the RS plan to leave the union.The parade was comprised of the RS counter-terrorism and special police units that report directly to Dodik. The Serb regiment of Bosnia’s small army, which reports to the Defence Ministry in Sarajevo, did not participate."There is no freedom for the Serb people without the state," Dodik, who is currently serving as the Serb member in Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, said in an address to the crowd watching the parade, according to Reuters.
In some small Bosnian towns dominated by ethnic Serbs, there were additional celebrations, with demonstrators appearing to target local mosques with sectarian and nationalist slogans, and chanting praise for convicted war criminal Ratko Mladic, according to confirmed footage on social media.Daniel Serwer, a member of the American diplomatic team that negotiated the deal in 1995, called the Dayton Agreement, said that the US needed to act quickly and forcefully to stop the collapse of the nation and a potential return to violence.“The celebrations of RS's founding over the weekend included parading of armed paramilitaries, honouring of a convicted war criminal, public threats, and demonstrations of hatred toward Muslims, all endorsed by Russian diplomats,” he said by email. “The EU, UK, and US need to counter the unraveling of the Dayton peace agreements by deploying forces to prevent renewal of war and sanctioning the secessionists who are trying to fulfil [former Serb leader and convicted war criminal Slobodan] Milosevic's dream of a Greater Serbia.”