The National Assembly of the Republic of Srpska [official website] voted on Friday to hold a referendum [press release, in Serbian] within its territory on September 25 to decide whether to set its Statehood Day on January 9. The date coincides with an Orthodox Christian holiday and is therefore seen to exclude Roman Catholic Croatians and Bosnian Muslims who also live in the Republic. This move is being seen as a display of defiance [Reuters report] against the Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitutional Court [official website], which expressly ruled last year that the date should be changed. Some lawmakers challenged the vote on the grounds that the recognition of Statehood Day would violate the terms of the Dayton Peace Accords [text] which brought the three-year war in the Balkans to an end in 1995. Bosnian Serbs traditionally mark the anniversary of January 9, 1992, when they declared independence from Bosnia prior to the commencement of hostilities. The Republic is one of two largely autonomous regions that make up the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Tensions between the ethnic Bosnian and Serbian populations of the former Yugoslavian states continue to be emotionally charged, years after the Balkan war. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) [JURIST backgrounder] and the Balkan States continue to prosecute those accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity that left more than 100,000 people dead and millions displaced during the conflict. In March, the ICTY acquitted [JURIST report] Vojislav Šešelj, president of the Serbian Radical Party and former Assembly member of Serbia, of all crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with the Balkan war. In May 2015 the ICTY ordered [JURIST report] Serbia’s justice ministry to return Šešelj to his detention cell immediately [JURIST op-ed] after he was released in February to return to Serbia for cancer treatment. The ICTY had revoked his provisional release [JURIST report] in March 2015 because Šešelj spoke at a news conference in Belgrade and stated [WSJ report] that he would not return voluntarily to The Hague.