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Bosnian Serb President Vows To Proceed With Referendum Despite Court Ban

  • RFE/RL

The president of the Republika Srpska has vowed to go ahead with a referendum on a regional holiday in the autonomous Serbian region of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a move that represents a challenge to the authority of the central government.

Milorad Dodik told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the planned September 25 referendum on a January 9 statehood day in the region will proceed despite a ruling by the highest court in Bosnia calling the holiday "discriminatory" and ordering a halt to the poll.

"We will hold the referendum. It is not a secession referendum, it is not aimed against anything. It is a kind of poll to check with the people what they think about the January 9 holiday so that politicians can change the law in the parliament," Dodik said in the September 19 interview.

Bosnia's Constitutional Court on September 17 upheld an earlier ruling calling the January 9 holiday unconstitutional, saying it discriminates against non-Serbian residents of the entity -- one of two that makes up Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Bosnian Serbs proclaimed the "Republic of Serbian People" on January 9, 1992, when Bosnia was still part of what was then Yugoslavia. A Constitutional Court ruling in November 2015 ordered the region to select a date that Bosnia's ethnic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks deem acceptable as well.

Republika Srpska's leadership has also faced pressure from the international community to scrap its plans for the referendum.

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo said in a September 17 statement that the planned referendum "would directly violate the decision of the court" and undermine the authority of the court's authority granted under the Dayton peace accords that established Bosnia's constitutional ruling system following the bloody 1992-95 war there.

Dodik, who said he planned to discuss the referendum with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a planned September 22 meeting in Moscow, told RFE/RL's Balkan Service that the referendum "is not aimed against European integration, nor is it anti-Dayton."

He added that the poll was "not about the status [of Republika Srpska] or some kind of secession," though he left open the possibility of secession "in the coming years."

"Whether my generation will do it or not, I don't know that," he said.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service
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