Polling stations throughout the Serb-dominated areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina opened at 7 am Sunday for a referendum vote on whether residents of the Serb entity are in favour of celebrating the entity day on 9 January, despite the state-level Constitutional Court's decision to declare the holiday illegal and despite the court's recent ban on the referendum.
When adopting the decision on Republika Srpska Day in 2015, the Constitutional Court bore in mind that January 9 was evocative of a day in 1992 when a part of Serb deputies in the then parliament of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina unlawfully declared a republic of the Serb people in Bosnia and Herzegovina requesting "territorial demarcation" in relation to Croats and Bosniaks and the integration of the Serb-dominated territory with Serbia. The Serb deputies' behaviour heralded an attempted secession that led to the 1992-1995 war in the country.
Also, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ruled in November 2015 that marking January 9 as Republika Srpska Day was not in line with the country's constitution because it discriminated against Bosniaks and Croats living in that entity.
The insistence of the Bosnian Serb leadership on the referendum and on the disputed holiday has also elicited criticism from the most influential Western countries. Officials of Serbia have distanced themselves from the vote. Russian Ambassador Petr Ivantsov was the only one to support the Serb entity, saying that for his country it was a people's inalienable right to organise such a vote.
The referendum is also surrounded by controversial statistics of voters eligible to vote. The Sarajevo-based Central Election Commission has refused to provide the entity authorities with voters' rosters. The entity authorities have then resorted to data from police records based on place of residence and claim that over 1.2 million residents are eligible to vote in this referendum.
The Banja Luka-based commission in charge of organising the referendum has not provided data on the number of polling stations.
Apart from the Serb entity, also five countries where the Republic of Srpska has its representation offices also allowed polling stations to be set up for this referendum.
The polling stations are to close at 7 pm, and first returns from polling stations can be expected at about Sunday midnight.
Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) leaders have called on Bosnianks to boycott the vote, while leaders from the Croat people in Bosnia and Herzegovina seem to be vague on this issue.
Bosnian Presidency Croat member Dragan Covic has recently said that he thinks that "absolutely nothing will change on September 26... We are prone to exaggerated tensions, I won't say about a trivial matter so that I don't hurt those who want the date to be defined, because every region, both in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, has its day, whether municipal or at another level of government,"
He said he told his colleagues that Bosnian Constitutional Court decisions "are not for commenting", just as those of the Peace Implementation Council, regardless of how they were made. Covic said that in Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serb entity, "too much accent has been put on one issue, instead of dealing with life matters."
Croatia's Foreign Minister Miro Kovac was more explicit in condemning the referendum when saying that Croatia does not support any action that would jeopardise the survival of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"We want a unified and strong Bosnia and Herzegovina where all three peoples are constituent and equal," Kovac said adding that as a signatory to the Dayton peace agreement, Croatia will work to help Bosnia and Herzegovina survive as a state and it will support its integration with the European Union, said Kovac in his comment on the referendum.
Croatia's President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said this past Tuesday that the planned referendum was in contravention of the Dayton peace accords and that she hoped it would not be held.
She said Croatia supported the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country of three constitutional peoples, one of which are Croats.
Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) president Andrej Plenkovic, who is the Croatian PM-Designate hopeful, said he was against the referendum because it could lead to a referendum on the Serb entity's secession from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"I'm against that referendum. It could be the first step towards a referendum that would lead to the separation of RS from BiH, which isn't good. That's also the uniform position of the international community, Croatia and all key political stakeholders in the country," Plenkovic told reporters a few days ago. He said it was necessary to work on defusing tensions