Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic vowed in Banja Luka on Saturday that support to Republika Srpska (RS), Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) Serb entity, would continue while respecting BiH's integrity and sovereignty, while RS President Milorad Dodik announced that he would not allow any changes to the BiH Constitution or a reduction of RS powers, even at the cost of BiH staying outside the European Union.
Speaking at a ceremony on the occasion of RS Day, observed today, Vucic said he came to RS capital Banja Luka to convey "genuine support to RS and its citizens" and that "there will be no barriers between RS and Serbia ever again."
"Serbia is always here and its obligation, in line with the Dayton Agreement, is to protect RS," Vucic said, adding that protecting BiH's territorial integrity was also Serbia's obligation. He said the three constituent peoples living in BiH were fatefully linked and should therefore live together instead of fighting. "We all lost in the conflicts in the 90s," he said, adding that even today there were hotheads which did not understand that.
He called on all to look to the future and look up to developed countries, leaving behind old hatreds and adopting new knowledge. "We no longer need emotions in this region," he said, adding that his love for RS envisaged building bridges to BiH. He concluded his address with "Long live RS, long live Serbia".
In his address, Dodik referred to the Serbs' constant struggle for freedom and recalled wars. He said RS was created to protect Serbs, "but all others too," and that RS "is entitled to self-determination." He attacked the BiH Constitutional Court for declaring RS Day unconstitutional and the international community for "imposing solutions".
"We didn't get RS in a legal dispute. They shouldn't try to dismantle it in legal proceedings," he said, adding that he would defend RS "by all legal and available means" and that he would not risk its position even for a "moving target" such as possible EU membership. "That's not the only path RS should take," he said, adding that one alternative was alliance with China and Russia.
Dodik said the people in RS would decide whether to join NATO. He said the RS policy was not a denial of BiH, just the BiH founded on the 1995 Dayton peace accord, and that he would not tolerate any changes of the Constitution of 20 years ago. "This is our state and we don't have a backup one," he said, evidently referring to RS. He thanked Serbia for its support and the special ties between its and the RS government.
No BiH insignia were displayed at the ceremony. Aside from Vucic, Serbian Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic and Serb Orthodox Church patriarch Irinej also attended. Irinej also celebrated the central liturgy.
Before arriving in Banja Luka, Irinej said RS was actually a state. In today's sermon, he said RS was "founded on the truth and God's justice" and that observing January 9 was a "great day for the entire Serb people."
RS celebrates January 9 in memory of 9 January 1992, when a group of Serb lawmakers in the Bosnian parliament adopted a decision on the establishment of a "republic of the Serb people in BiH," eventually renamed Republika Srpska, a name recognised only in 1995, based on the Dayton Agreement.
The January 1992 decision, which had no constitutional basis, requested that the parts of BiH in which Serbs were the majority stay in a union with Serbia and Montenegro, which was an attempt to prevent the proclamation of BiH's independence. This attempt led to war and mass persecutions of non-Serbs from RS.
The BiH Bishops' Conference Justitia et Pax Commission said in a report on the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement that more than 90 percent of the pre-war Croat and Catholic population was missing in present-day RS.
RS Vice President Ramiz Salkic said today's celebration was an insult to all victims of ethnic persecutions and that the refusal to comply with Constitutional Court decisions was a grave breach of the Dayton Agreement.
In a statement today, the US Embassy to BiH pointed to the obligation to respect Constitutional Court decisions. The head of the OSCE Mission to BiH, Jonathan Moore said RS was not a state, as it had neither sovereignty nor statehood, but an entity which existed only thanks to the Dayton Agreement.
In Srebrenica, where Bosnian Serb troops committed genocide by killing more than 8,000 Bosniaks, associations of victims' families organised a protest to remember all victims. Mayor Camil Durakovic said that January 9 as RS Day represented nothing to Bosniaks, either legally or historically. "This day represents nothing because it was imposed on Bosniaks. This entity was created for one people only and marking this day is proof of that," he told local media.