Referendum in the Republika Srpska: Landslide victory

People in Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to defy a ruling by the state-level Constitutional Court that banned the entity’s ‘statehood day’, initial results suggested.

nitial results from the disputed referendum on Sunday in Republika Srpska showed 99.79 per cent of voters said ‘yes’ to celebrating their annual ‘statehood’ holiday on January 9 after 71.09 per cent of votes were counted – rejecting a ban by the country’s highest court.

After polling stations closed, Republika Srpska’s President Milorad Dodik, the architect of the referendum which has divided the country along ethnic lines, triumphantly addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 at a rally in the town of Pale.

“Today we have written one more page of our glorious history and we said that we are people who fight for freedom… for the rights of the Republic,” Dodik said.

“This was more than playing heroes, more than anger, this was for the people. That is why I have to announce here that today’s referendum has succeeded,” he added.

His supporters cheered and sang as they awaited his appearance, and after he spoke, fireworks were set off, local media reported.

The referendum was a reaction to a decision last year by the state-level Constitutional Court, which ruled that holding the annual Day of Republika Srpska on January 9 was discriminatory against non-Serbs in the entity because it was also a Serbian Orthodox religious holiday.

January 9 was the day in 1992 that Bosnia’s Serbs declared the foundation of Republika Srpska, which the country’s Bosniaks see as a precursor to the war that broke out soon afterwards.

The referendum – seen by some as violating the Dayton Agreement that ended the war – was strongly opposed by the EU and the US.

Republika Srpska’s ally Serbia declined to support it, although the Russian ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Petar Ivancov, offered Moscow’s backing.

The vote was also banned by the state Constitutional Court and Bosniak politicians demanded a boycott, claiming it could be a precursor to a ballot on Republika Srpska’s secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

About 1.2 million people were eligible to vote, and early estimates of the turnout were between 56 and 60 percent, according to referendum commission president Sinisa Karan.

Stevan, a 76-year-old voter from Banja Luka, told BIRN that voting in the referendum was his duty.

“We must show that we can no longer be told what to do, what and how to celebrate. I voted in this, I will vote in the big referendum if needed,” he said.

RTRS TV reported that residents in the mostly Bosniak village of Kula, in the municipality of Gacko, blocked a polling station on Sunday morning.

But the incident was downplayed by Republika Srpska officials, and local media quoted the head of the referendum commission Sinisa Karan as saying that the vote had passed off with no reported irregularities.

Nura Begovic, the vice-president of the Bosniak war victims’ organisation Women of Srebrenica, called the plebiscite a blow to victims and their families, according to news website Klix.ba.

The eastern town of Srebrenica, where more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred in 1995 by Bosnian Serb forces, lies in Republika Srpska. 

Begovic alleged that Republika Srpska leader Dodik had staged the vote to win support for his ruling party in next Sunday’s local elections.

(Balkan Insight, 25.09.2016)

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