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A view of the Old Bridge in Mostar, where local elections were held on Sunday A view of the Old Bridge in Mostar, where local elections were held on Sunday 

Russia returns Orthodox icon to Bosnia-Herzegovina amid Ukrainian objections

Russia says it will return an Orthodox icon which was presented to the Russian foreign minister in Bosnia-Herzegovina, following vocal protests from Ukraine, where the icon is thought to have been written.

By Stefan J. Bos

The presiding Serb member of Bosnia's three-member presidency, Milorad Dodik, gave the icon to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

It happened when Lavrov visited the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, earlier this week. But the icon, which was said to be 300 years old, is believed to originate from eastern Ukraine.

It's an area where Russia-backed rebels have fought Ukrainian troops in a six-year conflict. The Ukrainian Embassy in Sarajevo quickly protested against the gift. It wondered how the Bosnian Serb leader came to possess the icon.

Ukraine's embassy warned that the failure to provide the information would mean Bosnia is supporting what it called Russia's "aggressive policy and military actions" in eastern Ukraine.

Dozens of Serbs have fought alongside the pro-Russia rebels in the conflict, which started in 2014. Amid the tensions, Russia's Foreign Ministry said the icon would be returned to Bosnia pending a probe by international police organization Interpol to clarify its origins.

Dayton peace

Russian Minister Lavrov was in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the nation remembers the 25th anniversary of the Dayton peace agreement.

It formally ended the Bosnian war that killed around 100,000 people of different ethnic groups, and saw Europe's first genocide since World War II.

"At the talks in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as at the meeting with the Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Dodik, we confirmed the principled and firm support of the Russian Federation for the Dayton Accords," Lavrov said. 

The accord, he added, "guarantees the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and guarantees its two entities' broad constitutional powers and the equal rights of its three state-forming peoples."  

The agreement, drafted at an airbase in Dayton, Ohio, was signed by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. But it divided Bosnia into two entities. The entity of the Bosnian-Croatian Federation and the Republika Srpska led by the Serbs.

First elections in a dozen years

Tensions remain between the different groups as the wounds of history have not yet healed.

There was perhaps some hope Sunday: the southern Bosnian city of Mostar held its first local election in 12 years.

Divided between Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats, who fought fiercely for control over the city during the 1990s conflict, Mostar has not held a local poll since 2008.

While tensions remain, some say the fact that citizens of Mostar will finally get a chance to vote for their local legislators is in itself a big win for democracy.

20 December 2020, 11:55