In Bosnia Serbs to hold divisive 'national holiday'

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The date has huge emotional resonance in Bosnia, stirring memories of nationalist fervour, trauma and bloodshed.

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Serbs in Bosnia are set to hold a deeply divisive holiday on Monday, a date tied to the fragile nation's brutal 1990s war and a sensitive issue for other ethnic groups.

This year's Republic Day marks the 25th anniversary of the creation of the Bosnian Serb-run entity Republika Srpska (RS) on January 9, 1992.

The date has huge emotional resonance in Bosnia, stirring memories of nationalist fervour, trauma and bloodshed.

It commemorates the proclamation of a "Republic of Serb people" in Bosnia that took place three months before the inter-ethnic 1992-1995 conflict that claimed 100,000 lives.

The founders of the RS included Radovan Karadzic -- sentenced in March by a United Nations' tribunal to 40 years in jail for genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the war that also displaced more than two million people.

The holiday however stirs deep anguish among survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of some 8,000 Muslim males by Bosnian Serb forces, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II.

"They are celebrating the death of our children and our relatives, while we are still looking for bones of hundreds of victims," Hatidza Mehmedovic, the head of a survivors association, told AFP.

An overwhelming majority of Bosnian Serb voters in September opted in a controversial referendum organised by the defiant RS national leader Milorad Dodik to continue to hold the holiday.

Bosnia's constitutional court ruled that the holiday was illegal for discriminating against non-Serbs and cancelled the referendum, but Dodik pressed ahead regardless.

The referendum was criticised by the United States and the European Union, but supported by Dodik's ally Russia.

"No one can make people's feelings disappear, or prevent us from celebrating on January 9. It's completely legitimate," Dodik said Friday.

In the RS capital Banja Luka, police officers will parade through the streets, but federal government refused to allow Serb troops in the Bosnian national army to participate.

Dodik for his part warned he will consider the federal army an "enemy force" should Serb troops stay away.

The Dayton peace agreement that ended Bosnia's war split the country into two semi-independent entities, the RS and a Muslim-Croat Federation. linked by a weak federal government.

But analysts say that the institutional bonds between the entities remain fragile and prone to instability.

'Walking a fine line'

Dodik has repeatedly insisted that Bosnia was not a functional country.

In an interview with Serbia's state-run RTS television on Sunday, he labelled it a "useless state ... a failed international project" and a "monster which does not function."

"These are the last twitches .... it (Bosnia) is behaving recently like a drugged boxer punching into all directions since it is his end."

Some fear Dodik is warming up for a referendum on independence for the RS, which he has repeatedly threatened to carry out.

He told RTS the vote "is not on the agenda this year unless events speed up things."

Political analyst Tanja Topic believes Bosnia's "political turbulence and tensions" will likely deepen.

"The political consequences are dangerous, and we can't pretend that the perpetrators aren't conscious of that," she said, referring to nationalists on all sides.

"They are making us walk a fine line, on the edge of conflict, and there is a risk that we might slip (back into violence) at any moment."

Muslim leader Bakir Izetbegovic had expressed concern over Moscow-leaning Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic's plans to attend Monday's celebrations.

Serbian Orthodox Church patriarch Irinej said Sunday upon arriving in Banja Luka for the occasion that RS was a "divine work (created) to save the Serb people, to keep them on the land soaked with blood."

However, Serbia's Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will stay away from the celebrations, in what Topic described as a "very clear message" from Belgrade that it did not back Dodik's nationalist fervour.

On Thursday, Vucic, who is leading Serbia’s EU accession talks, said his country would insist on "protecting the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina."

"It is crucial for us to maintain peace and stability."

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