Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said on Tuesday that Serbia will “certainly not allow the destruction of or a military attack” against Bosnia’s autonomous Serb entity, Republika Srpska, after they decided to go ahead with a planned referendum which was banned by Bosnia's constitutional court.
Dacic’s comment came shortly after a wartime Bosniak commander, Safer Halilovic, said that Republika Sprska wouldn’t be able to survive for more than 15 days without Serbia’s support.
Republika Srpska is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina's two entities. The federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is mainly populated by Bosniaks and Croats, is the other entity.
Republika Srpska plans to hold a referendum on September 25 to decide whether Bosnian Serbs can celebrate their ‘statehood day‘ on January 9, marking the day of Republika Srpska's inception in 1992, just prior to the outbreak of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The date also coincides with a Serbian Orthodox Christian holiday.
Bosnia's constitutional court had previously decided that conducting the referendum would be a criminal act against the constitution and since it is a decision made by the state-level institution, Republika Srpska does not have the authority to hold a referendum.
Western officials have also urged Republika Srpska to cancel the vote as it challenges the rule of law and Bosnia's peace agreement. Prime Minister of Republika Srpska, Zeljka Cvijanovic, said on Monday that the referendum will be conducted anyway.
Russia has also shown its support for the referendum, according to a statement from Republika Srpska's presidential office. Republika Srpska president, Milorad Dodik, is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, three days ahead of the referendum.
Bosnia moves a step up EU ladder. Dodik to meet Putin Thursday and RS to hold banned referendum Sunday. This might not have a happy ending.
— Tim Judah (@timjudah1) September 20, 2016
Bosniaks and Croats have criticised the referendum, both saying it will ignite the ethnic division in the country. Non-Serbs living in Bosnia say celebrating it on a religious holiday violates their country’s constitiutional principle of secularism and pluralism.
Bosniaks also fear that the disputed referendum is a test for a more serious one, as the Republika Srpska has already declared plans to hold another referendum in 2018 on independence from Bosnia.