“Here we go again!” said Banja Luka citizen Petar F. to IBNA while commenting on the political dispute between Bosniaks and Serbs about the January 9 Day of Republika Srpska celebration.
He has… given up, because all citizens of the politically and territorially divided country, at the beginning of the year, are hearing the same old story. Bosniaks are trying to push institutions to ban the celebration and Serbs are continuing to mark the date when, in 1992, their political leaders established the “Serb Republic Bosnia and Herzegovina”, later renamed Republika Srpska. On the same day, Republika Srpska celebrated its patron saint, Saint Stephen. Bosniaks consider this date as the beginning of the deep divisions between nations in BiH, which was later internationally recognised as the independent state, separated from ex-Yugoslavia.
“Is the celebration of this holiday the biggest problem in the country?”, Petar asks. “We have problems in (our) economy, there are more and more unemployed young people who are about to leave the country and seek a better life abroad,” he added.
The story of the celebration of this date is turbulent but all sides stubbornly stick to their positions. There is no visible political will for serious discussion with the goal to solve this issue. The truth is that the celebration comes just two days after January 7, the Christmas Day by the Julian Calendar, which the Serb Orthodox Church follows. It is also true that Bosniak politicians every year wish “Merry Christmas” to all believers but only a day later, they begin to complain that January 9 is illegal, unconstitutional and insults Bosniaks in Republika Srpska, and therefore, their human rights are jeopardised. Years ago, Bakir Izetbegović, leader of the biggest Bosniak party in BiH, the Party of Democratic Action (SDA), sent appellation to BiH’s Constitutional Court demanding that this institution decide about the constitutionality of this holiday. The Court decided that it is not in accordance with BiH’s Constitution since it does not mirror the interests of all citizens who live in RS. After that, the RS National Assembly adopted the Law on Day of Republika Srpska, deciding that it is the secular holiday and that Saint Stephen will not be a part of the celebration as before. They thought that this is the solution to the problem. But, it was not, despite the fact that the RS Constitutional Court decided that the new law is not harming the rights of any nation in RS.
After political pressure, RS president, Milorad Dodik called citizens for the referendum and received their large support for the celebration. The 2017 celebration was the first with a parade of the members of various organisations and institutions, including firefighters and postal workers. The ceremonial line of the 3. BiH Armed Forces Regiment was part of the ceremony and that was just one of the points of dispute between Bosniak and Serb members of BiH Presidency, Bakir Izetbegović and Mladen Ivanić.
This year, a ceremonial unit of the Regiment will not line up because first Dodik first refused their participation at the celebration saying that, “Serbs do not feel the BiH Armed Forces as their institution” but later asked Ivanić to order the line up. Ivanić said that it is impossible since the deadline for the demand was exceeded.
At the same time, just a day before the celebration this year, RS vice president, Ramiz Salkic, who represents Bosniaks, called the meeting with Bosniak and Croat PMs in RS NA to define the “answer to the unconstitutional celebration of the Day of Republika Srpska”.
“Look, the line in the front of the Slovenian Consulate is every day longer and longer. More and more people decide to leave. If they continue to leave at this pace, in just few years here will be nobody to celebrate anything. Except a few pensioners who will still be fighting about it,” concludes Petar, who is a newly retired RS citizen with less than 170 Euro of monthly pension.
With half a loaf of bread in the plastic bag, he went to his home. Petar and his wife every month wait for the financial support from Germany, where their daughter lives. The dispute about the date will not help them, or anybody else, to live better…/IBNA