The referendum would create a Serb national holiday that is at odds with Bosnia’s Catholic and Muslim communities. With more than 70 percent of the vote counted the result seems assured as 99.8 percent voted in favor
Bosnian Serb voters defied a constitutional court ruling and voted overwhelmingly in a referendum, to maintain a nationalist holiday.
The vote was held in the Serb Republic section of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and organizers said turnout could be as high as 60 percent. But the result of the referendum is not in doubt, according to officials who said that with 71 percent of the vote counted, 99.8 percent supported making January 9 a “Statehood Day” holiday.
The date coincides with a Serbian Orthodox Christian festival, and also marks the Serb territory’s succession from Bosnia in 1992, which triggered the worst fighting in Europe since World War II – a bloody civil war that lasted three years and killed 100,000 people.
The referendum was organized by the Serb Republic’s nationalist President Milorad Dodik, who some believe set up the vote as a prelude to a secession vote that is being dubbed a “day of Serb determination.”
Others suggest the referendum could be a prelude to renewed war. The claim dismissed not only by Dodik, but also Bakir Izetbegovic, who is chairman of the three-man inter-ethnic presidency of Bosnia and Herzogivina.
“There will be no war, nobody will destroy Republika Srpska,” said Izetbegovic, who is chairman of the country’s three-man inter-ethnic presidency.
But Izetbegovic said he believed that organizers of the illegal referendum will be prosecuted, “it was just the matter of time,” he said.
Dodik scoffed at the prospect of facing criminal charges. “Republika Srpska has nothing to fear,” he said.
Proud of Serb Republic
Earlier in the day Dodik cast his vote in the town of Pale, “I am proud of the people of Republika Srpska, of all those who came out and voted,” Dodik said.
Pale, near Sarajevo, was the headquarters of Bosnian Serb wartime President Radovan Karadzic. In April Karadzic was convicted by an international war crimes tribunal of genocide in the Bosnian war.
The Constitutional Court, based in Sarajevo, banned the referendum, concluding that the holiday itself discriminated against the region’s Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats.
Western diplomats also warned Dodik that the referendum violates the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the Bosnian war and could prompt sanctions or criminal charges against the organizers.
The Serbs celebrate the holiday by hanging out Serb flags and holding Orthodox Christian ceremonies in public institutions, which non-Serbs say is aimed at excluding them.
The break-up of Yugoslavia began in 1991, and continued until the signing of the Dayton peace accord in 1995, which ended the conflict between the Serbs, the Croats and the Bosnians. The result was the sovereign states of Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Slovenia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia seceded in 1991.
Montenegro seceded in 2006 and Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008.
bik/rc (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)