|Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik. Photo: Beta.|
Bosnia’s Constitutional Court on Saturday approved a temporary ban on the controversial referendum because it said the vote challenges a decision made by the state-level institution, which it argued that Republika Srpska does not have the authority to do.
The referendum planned for September 25 challenges a Constitutional Court ruling last year which said that the Bosnian Serbs’ annual statehood celebration, the Day of Republika Srpska, is unconstitutional because it discriminates against non-Serbs living in the entity, as it is also an Orthodox Christian holiday.
The referendum will seek public support for the Day of Republika Srpska to continue to be celebrated on January 9, the day the Serb-dominated entity was formed under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic just before the war broke out in 1992.
The Constitutional Court on Saturday also rejected a request from the Bosnian Serb parliament to review the ruling which declared the Day of Republika Srpska holiday unconstitutional.
However, ahead of the Constitutional Court session, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik told news agency Srna that the referendum will be held regardless of the court decision.
He called on people to vote in the referendum and confirm that January 9 will continue to be a national holiday in the Serb-dominated entity.
Bosniak politicians have expressed fears that the Bosnian Serb challenge to the authority of the state institution is the prelude to another referendum on secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Over the past few weeks, EU and US officials have tried to resolve the controversy through diplomacy, meeting Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who launched the referendum initiative, and asking him to cancel it.
Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic also met Dodik several times and attempted to use Belgrade’s influence on the Bosnian Serbs by publicly refusing to support the referendum.
However, the situation has been complicated by Bosnia’s upcoming local elections, scheduled for October 2, only a week after the referendum.
International diplomats and Bosnian Serb officials have said that the referendum was deliberately scheduled so close to the polls to boost the electoral chances of Dodik’s Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, which is the ruling party in Republika Srpska.