BANJA LUKA, Bosnia and Herzegovina (AP) – Amid Bosnia’s biggest political crisis since the end of its 1992-95 inter-ethnic war, the country’s Serbs celebrated an illegal holiday on Sunday with a provocative parade highlighting featured armored vehicles, police helicopters and law enforcement officers with guns, marching and singing a nationalist song.
Speaking to several thousand spectators gathered in Banja Luka, the de facto capital of the Serb-ruled part of the country, Bosnian Serbian nationalist leader Milorad Dodik denigrated the sanctions Washington imposed on him last week for his activities alleged corruption and threats to tear the country apart. .
“This rally is the best response to those who deny us our rights,… who continue to impose sanctions on us,” Dodik said.
“It proves to me that I must listen to you, that you did not elect me to meet the wishes of the Americans but to meet the wishes of the Serbian people,” he added.
The January 9 holiday commemorates the date in 1992 when the Bosnian Serbs declared the establishment of their own state in Bosnia, sparking the devastating nearly 4-year war in the multi-ethnic country that has become synonymous with ethnic cleansing and genocide.
The holiday was banned in 2015 by Bosnia’s highest court, which ruled that the date, which fell on a Serbian Orthodox Christian religious holiday, discriminated against other ethnic groups in the country – Muslim Bosnians and Catholic Croats.
During the war that killed 100,000 people and turned half the country’s population into refugees, Bosnians and Croats were persecuted and almost completely expelled from half of the now Serb-ruled Bosnia.
After the war, under the Dayton Peace Agreement negotiated by the United States, Bosnia was divided into two semi-autonomous government entities – the Republika Srpska and one dominated by Bosnians and Croats.
Each party has its own government, parliament, and police, but the two are linked by common state-wide institutions, including the judiciary, the military, security agencies, and the tax administration. All actions at the national level require the consensus of the three ethnic groups.
Dodik has advocated for years the separation of the Bosnian Serb mini-state from the rest of the country and its integration into neighboring Serbia.
This winter, he stepped up his secessionist campaign, pledging to build an exclusively Serbian army, judiciary and tax system. He described the Bosnians as “second class people” and “traitorous converts” who sold their “original (Orthodox Christian) faith for dinner”.
Earlier Sunday, as part of the holiday celebrations, Bosnian Serb officials participated in Serbian Christian Orthodox ceremonies, broadcast live on local television, in the town’s main church, while a special unit from during the parade, the police sang a song about the defense of the Orthodox. Christian Cross and “the brand new Serbian Republic”.
The Division Day celebrations continue each year despite being banned by the highest court and have come under constant criticism from the United States and the European Union.
However, the parade and other Sunday ceremonies were attended by senior officials from neighboring Serbia, including Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Speaker of Parliament Ivica Dacic; Russian and Chinese diplomats in Bosnia; and several officials of the far-right French party Rassemblement national.
In recent months, fiercely pro-Moscow Dodik has repeatedly expressed hope that the Serbs’ “true friends” – Russia, China and the champions of illiberal democracy in the European Union – will serve as his bulwark against the “tyranny” of Western democracies.