Blogbox | BiH

Could citizens’ protests bring change in Bosnia?

By - 30.07.2018

Rare protests on the streets indicate a lack of democracy.

The experience of civil participation, through the use of the right to expression and the right to the freedom of gathering and association, has been a very poor one in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Without these rights, democracy is simply unimaginable.

On the other hand, experience tells us that in our society it’s practically impossible to predict which events will lead to the expression of citizens’ feelings on the streets.

Photo: Oštra Nula.

If somebody had asked any political analyst a few days before David Dragičević’s parents and friends went out onto the streets to demand the truth about the suspicious circumstances surrounding his death, they would probably have received a response that nothing significant would happen before October’s general elections. A similar situation occurred with social protests in February 2014.

Even though there are exceptions, it seems that as a rule when Bosnia and Herzegovina’s citizens go out onto the streets it’s an occurrence that implies reactivity, and that the reason for protests is a spontaneous reaction to some unsatisfactory societal event or situation.

One could conclude from this that the development of democracy, pluralism, and the practicing of human rights is still in its inception. In this sense, citizens, workers and other social groups are still a long way off being political subjects who consciously and intentionally plan to influence societal occurrences in our society, as well as the decision-making process.

The process of societal learning

There are many reasons for such a societal situation, and to elaborate upon them would demand a significantly deeper analysis that can be provided in this blog.

Significantly though, all of these rare ‘occurrences of the people’ represent a valuable social experience from which new knowledge should be drawn, and which inevitably — due to the intertwining and interdependence of processes and dynamics — will leave a long term and indelible trace on the process of societal learning.

In the society described, where a system was created to perpetuate itself at all costs, elections and the principles of representative democracy have lost all meaning.

The societal experience in the last two decades teaches us that the only hope for changing a society mired in crime and corruption, a society that has lost all human and social values and where class and social differences have reached completely new levels, a society created for satisfying the needs of a narrow greedy circle of powerful people, lies precisely in a clear, loud, and uncompromising action of oppressed citizens in the public arena. The other route to change is a shift in global geopolitical dynamics, which small societies and their members have no influence over.

In the society described, where a system was created to perpetuate itself at all costs, elections and the principles of representative democracy have lost all meaning. One could claim that, on a global level, representative democracy has also stopped being what authorities are convincing us it is, and what it should be; it’s just that the methods of concealment and representation of the seemingly functional system, in accordance with modern achievements globally, are much more subtle, and therefore more difficult to deconstruct.

In Bosnian society these mechanisms are a lot more brutal and transparent, and I deeply believe that every conscious member of this society has found himself or herself in the situation of being made a fool by the system’s institutions, which aren’t even hiding or justifying their behavior in any manner.

Due to all of these reasons, Pravda za Davida (Justice for David) — a community gathered around the need for the public to find out the circumstances surrounding, and participants of, the suspected murder of David Dragičević, a community that is led by the principles of truth and justice — probably represents the most significant event for Banja Luka and the entity of Republika Srpska since the 2012 ‘Picin Park’ protests. Those protests, which began with environmental concerns but morphed into a wider expression of political discontent, lasted for many months.

Constant accusations against citizens

In contrast, there have been many examples in the past two decades of gatherings whose only societal function was to confirm and sustain the system as it is, in both of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entities — Republika Srpska and the Federation. These range from gatherings in support of people convicted in the Hague Tribunal to rallies in support of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

It’s important to note the difference in dynamics of these events between the two entities, which stem from the perpetual low-intensity conflict since the end of the war; this has resulted in a deeply divided society, in which social bonds are broken, impacting the possibility of battling for the joint interests of different oppressed social groups in the entire country.

The total inability for one social problem to articulate itself at a state level is caused by the societal division in terms of identity factors stemming from the war as well as the crazed propaganda machinery.

We have been able to see how social protests in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina weren’t echoed in Republika Srpska. The JMBG protests in Sarajevo — against delays in obtaining social security numbers that prevented a young girl from traveling to receive essential medical treatment in Serbia — had no influence on the raising of voices of the people in Republika Srpska.

Similarly, the previously mentioned protests for ‘Picin Park’ were also contained at the level of Banja Luka, and have hence not related to the situation in the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Besides those reasons already discussed, the total inability for one societal problem to articulate itself at a state level is caused by the social division in terms of identity factors stemming from the war as well as by the crazed propaganda machinery.

Photo: Aleksandar Trifunović Buka.

Constant accusations that a legitimate civil revolt represents the intention of endangering national interests, alongside the regularly witnessed accusations leveled against anyone who expresses their dissatisfaction — that they are working for foreign or other interests —  are only part of a propaganda strategy that the unpopular authorities and institutions they control utilize to attempt to stultify and undermine any civil critique.

This ploy has literally been used in the Pravda za Davida case. Accusations that this is a colorful revolution, that foreign agencies pay people to protest daily in the square, that this is a fight against Republika Srpska and its institutions, and similar ridiculous accusations have again found their space in the pro-regime media.

With help from a well-organized infrastructure, all constituent parts of the ideological apparatus under the control of institutions have been mobilized in order to halt the search and demand from citizens for truth and justice.

Death of David Dragičević

In March 2018, the body of 21-year-old David Dragičević was found in the River Crkvena in Banja Luka, in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska entity. Four months later, it is still not clear what happened to him.

David’s family claims that he was murdered, after being tortured and raped. They accuse police of tampering with key evidence and senior politicians and other authorities of helping to cover up the alleged crime. The authorities deny the claims and say investigations are ongoing.

Since David’s body was found, people have been taking to the streets demanding the truth about his death.

More details of the case and the protests can be found at: https://kosovotwopointzero.com/en/communities-united-in-protest-against-official-death-verdicts/

What differentiates these protests from all the others that have taken place in Republika Srpska, besides that they are the most long-running in this part of the country since its emergence, is their power: a Facebook group with more than 330,000 members, huge support coming from neighboring countries and the whole world, and a few independent media that have succeeded in ensuring the death of David Dragičević and the suspicious circumstances surrounding it is a topic of primary importance, allowing everybody to form their own opinions on the issue.

This is shown in by the fact that competent institutions organized a joint media conference on the case, a discussion has been held in Republika Srpska’s National Assembly and an Assembly Survey Committee was formed to deal with the issue. The numerous statements by politicians and entity leaders are also indicators that sufficient pressure has been applied, and now it is impossible to ignore what is happening on the streets.

To date, in addition to the daily gatherings in “David’s square” in Banja Luka, two large gatherings have taken place, each gathering more than 10,000 people; this again serves as an indicator that this initiative has the power to influence decision making. The situation is further complicated by the upcoming elections in October and the fear of the unpopular authorities that these street events could impact the election results.

The only meaningful thing to write at the end of this article is a plea and call to all persons dissatisfied with the current situation in Bosnian society — but also to all those people who value truth and justice, for which it is worth fighting for — to come to ‘David’s square’ and join in this legitimate struggle for a better future for us all. Or to get involved and support the Pravda za Davida community in any way you can.

Feature image: Aleksandar Trifunović Buka.

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