Voting begins in ‘illegal’ holiday referendum which threatens peace in Bosnia

Voting is under way in a divisive referendum over whether Bosnian Serbs should keep a much-disputed national holiday. The poll, in which 1.2million people are eligible to vote, is going ahead despite being banned by the highest court in Bosnia. Polling stations opened on Sunday morning in the country’s Serbian republic, where voters were being asked whether to mark January 9 as Statehood Day. “This day is important for me to confirm why I took part in the war and lost my arm,” said Novak Kajkut, a 45-year-old invalid as he waited to cast his vote in Banja Luka.

We don’t dispute the right of the Muslim Bosniaks to mark their holidays but they can neither dispute this right to us.

Bosnian Serb Novak Kajkut

The day, which is also an Orthodox Christian holiday, marks the declaration of a Bosnian-Serb state within Bosnia on January 9, 1992. It sparked a bloody civil war in which 100,000 people were killed and has left the country sharply ethnically divided. The poll was banned by the constitutional court in Sarajevo because it discriminated against Muslim Bosniaks and Croatian catholics in the region. Bosnian-Serb leader Milorad Dodik has been warned the vote risks reigniting ethnic tensions. “What’s happening brings back memories of what happened in 1992,” said Nusreta Sivac, a Bosniak who was held in a Serb detention camp.

The republic is going into a referendum. It’s a great day for our republic and our people. We have to show our dignity, that we are a democratic people and that we have the right to make our own decisions.

Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Bosnik