Russia-linked Serbian group’s presence on RS Statehood Day creates controversy

Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center in Niš; Photo: Facebook/Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center

On 9 January, Bosnian Serb leaders celebrated the Day of Republika Srpska to mark the day when they declared independence from Bosnia in 1992 ahead of a three-year war that followed the breakdown of Yugoslavia. Even though a statehood day in the Bosnian Serb entity has been banned by Bosnia-Herzegovina’s Constitutional Court, the parade was held including hundreds of armed police officers and special police forces, firefighters, war veterans and members of the Civil Protection force.

Back in 2015, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina ruled that the date should be changed because it coincides with an Orthodox Christian holiday St. Stephen, so it is seen as discriminating against non-Serbs who also live in Republika Srpska. Before the decision made by the Court, National Assembly of Republika Srpska had adopted a declaration stating that “Statehood day won’t be abolished even if the Constitutional Court makes a decision to declare it unconstitutional”.

Furthermore, authorities in Republika Srpska held a referendum in 2016 to seek public support for the holiday, again ruled illegal by the Constitutional Court. Finally, in December 2016, Parliament of Republika Srpska passed a law determining that January 9 is a secular holiday and that the government will decide how it is celebrated.

The celebration of Day of Republika Srpska was an extraordinary opportunity for its leader, President Milorad Dodik, to call for more Serb autonomy within Bosnia and Herzegovina and score political points at the beginning of the election year. He stated that the goal of Republika Srpska is the greater possibility for its independence and that it moves towards that direction, claiming that this is a legitimate political aim.

Although the Armed forces of Bosnia and Herzegovina did not take part in defile during the celebration, the Sarajevo Žurnal reported on the presence of the group called “Serbian Honour” – which it said had been trained in a Russian Humanitarian Centre in South of Serbia for purposes of establishing a paramilitary group. There is no evidence that they are trained in the controversial Russian Humanitarian Centre in Niš, but on some of their Facebook photos the leader of “Serbian Honour” can be seen together with the humanitarian centre officials.

Dragan Mektić, the Bosnian security minister, stated that intelligence and security services were aware of the presence and activities of the group. “We have been using this information for a long time, we have collected quite a lot of information about that,” Mektić said.  Also, Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina asked why the authorities of Republika Srpska haven’t dissociated from the “Serbian Honour” which members were in the streets of Banja Luka during the celebration of Statehood Day.

Contrary, President of Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik replied that Republika Srpska has its own institutions which are in service of stability for all the citizens of the entity. Moreover, Milorad Dodik denied claims that ‘President Dodik is supported by Russia creates paramilitary units’, marking those claims as dangerous.

In December 2017, members of the group “Serbian Honour” dressed in uniforms, were photographed in Assembly hall of Republika Srpska where they had a meeting with Veterans of Republika Srpska. This is not the first time that they are being photographed in institutions of Republika Srpska, as previously in January 2017 they took a photo with the President Milorad Dodik. But, when asked if they knew the President, they denied knowing him personally.

Moreover, the leader of the unarmed humanitarian organisation “Serbian Honour”, Bojan Stojković denied having any connections with training in Russia. Stojković said that he got the Russian Federation medal for running anti-NATO protests in Serbia, not because he conducted some training in Russia.

Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States