Police officers in both entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH)– the Federation of BiH (FBiH) and the Republika Srpska (RS) – punish citizens for displaying flags that are not acceptable to them, despite the fact that their display is not explicitly prohibited by law.
Punishments are generally issued on the basis of misdemeanor orders “for disturbing public order and peace”, or “offences for provoking national intolerance or offending on a national basis”.
The last case happened in early August in Banja Luka, when the police in that city punished three people who, as claimed by the RS Ministry of Internal Affairs displayed the flag of the Army of the Republic of BiH on their cars in a wedding procession.
The RS Ministry of Internal Affairs told Radio Free Europe (RSE) that three people committed the offense of “arguing, shouting, screaming and indecent behavior under Article 7 of the Law on Public Order and Peace”.
According to the Law on Public Order and Peace of the RS, the maximum fine provided for insulting “on religious or national grounds” is up to 800 BAM (400 euros). The maximum fine for “displaying symbols of obscene, offensive or disturbing content” is up to 300 BAM (150 euros).
Article 7 states that anyone who disturbs public order and peace by arguing, shouting, screaming, performing or reproducing musical content or texts, wearing or displaying symbols, pictures, drawings or texts of indecent, offensive or disturbing content, and other indecent or insolent behavior, be fined from 100 BAM to 300 BAM (from 50 to 150 euros).
Article 8 stipulates that a person who “by grossly insulting another person on a political, religious or national basis or by other reckless behavior causes citizens to feel physically threatened or upset” shall be fined from 200 BAM to 800 BAM(from 100 to 400 euros).
The Ministry of Internal Affairs did not respond to RSE’s inquiry as to why, if they refer to the existing law, they tolerate the display of war flags during celebrations of Orthodox holidays, choirs, weddings and various other gatherings, which have symbols of the Army of the RS, Chetnik detachments and the like.
Sejfudin Tokic from Sarajevo was arrested in Banja Luka seven years ago because of a flag with lilies. Then, on the occasion of the anniversary of BiH’s admission to the United Nations (UN), he highlighted this flag in that city.
The trial against Tokic before the Banja Luka court lasted almost seven years. In the end, he was acquitted of charges of inciting national, racial and religious hatred and intolerance.
And the police in the FBiH treated as a violation the display of the flag of RS and the flag of Serbia.
In January 2021, near Sanski Most, in the northwest of BiH, the police stopped two vehicles displaying these flags. After that, the flags were confiscated.
The laws in BiH do not strictly prohibit the use or display of any flag.