SARAJEVO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA - Thousands of Bosnian Serbs cheered parading security forces in celebration of the "national holiday" of their entity, Republika Srpska, on Wednesday, despite a legal ban and objections of Bosnian Muslims who view it as a provocation.
The event marked the creation of a "Serb republic" in Bosnia on Jan. 9, 1992, three months ahead of an ethnic war that claimed 100,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million people.
Security forces and armored vehicles filed through the northern town of Banja Luka, capital of the Bosnian Serb-run entity, on Wednesday for the events.
How it's split
Postwar Bosnia is divided along ethnic lines into two semi-independent entities — Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation.
They are linked by a loose central government and tripartite presidency that includes representatives of three major communities.
Republika Srpska is predominantly made up of Orthodox Christian Serbs who account for a third of Bosnia's 3.5 million inhabitants.
Muslims constitute half the country's population, while Catholic Croats are the third major ethnic group, representing 15 percent of the total.
Bosnia's constitutional court ruled in 2015 that the holiday discriminates against the country's Muslims and Croats.
Leaders of Republika Srpska have defied the ruling, even seeking to boost the prominence of the celebrations.
Ramiz Salkic, Muslim political representative in Republika Srpska, said the celebrations in Banja Luka were a "sham" and that Jan. 9 should be a "memorial day for the victims."
"The truth is that crimes were committed on behalf of this republic of Bosnian Serbs," he was quoted by the Fena news agency as saying.
Groups of Bosnian Muslims used the occasion to visit the memorial for the Srebrenica massacre.
Bosnian Serb forces executed 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995, the worst atrocity in Europe since World War II, which was ruled genocide by two international courts.
Among the founders of the Republika Srpska was Radovan Karadzic, its wartime president, who is jailed by an international court for genocide for the Srebrenica massacre.
Veterans, sport clubs
Wednesday's parade also included Bosnian Serb war veterans, firefighters, sport clubs and members of a local branch of Russia's ultranationalist bikers' club "Night Wolves."
"I want to thank to those who created Republika Srpska," the entity's president, Zeljka Cvijanovic, said at the ceremony.
Bosnian Serb strongman Milorad Dodik, who has served as the Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite presidency since November, attended Wednesday's parade, along with the prime minister of neighboring Serbia, Ana Brnabic.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also sent a message to mark the occasion, saying the Republika Srpska could "always count on the generous support" of his country.