One-on-one | BiH

Davor Dragičević: We live the Balkan fascism

By - 28.12.2020

Three years after his son was murdered, Davor Dragičević continues to insist on justice.

The year 2020 will, of course, be remembered for the pandemic — the fears and uncertainty, the lockdowns and restrictive measures, and the countless personal struggles and conflicts we’ve endured as we’ve sought to cope with an imposed lack of freedoms.

However, not even in times like these have the rebels across the region taken a back seat.

They have refused to give up on protesting or speaking out in public, fighting legal battles or various other forms of exercising democracy in practice — fighting for rights and liberties for all. Undaunted, they have continued to challenge those in power, seeking accountability and above all, demanding change.

In order to learn what motivates citizens across the region to take the lead in the fight against various injustices, K2.0 has identified six rebels living around us in the region. They are the people who stand firm against the many absurdities of life in the Balkans and continue the fight, often with the odds seemingly stacked against them and in the face of personal threats and abuse.

Of course, there are many more rebels, as reasons for dissent are endless. But those selected for this series represent a diverse group of individuals and issues; people who have taken one step further, mobilized others and found a way to achieve change in their respective fields.

Davor Dragičević led a full-grown rebellion in Bosnia and Herzegovina after his 21-year-old son David had been murdered in 2018 under circumstances that are yet to be fully ascertained. Shortly afterward, the “Pravda za Davida” (Justice for David) group was formed, headed by Davor as well as David’s mother, Suzana. They mobilized a large crowd, with people joining them daily for months until the police banned gatherings and drove the group away from the main square in Banja Luka. Davor was arrested and eventually released before leaving the country. He has been living in Austria for two years now, but he has not given up the fight for justice.

December 2020 marked three years since the beginning of the struggle for truth and justice surrounding David Dragičević’s death. Photo: Courtesy of the “Pravda za Davida” initiative.

K2.0: Davor, you’re one of the few people who rebel against injustice in Bosnia loudly and bravely. What have you actually risen up against: The system, the state, politics…?

Davor Dragičević: Against the system of a corrupt state, against murderers, against criminals. I don’t care what consequences it brings to the entity [Republika Srpska (RS)] and Bosnia. Or to anyone else. You cannot murder my child!

It’s hard to accept when a child dies by accident; some people come to terms with that, others don’t. But this is a joint criminal enterprise, an organized murder.

In that context, I don’t consider myself brave at all. I think every parent would do it for their child. Because life is the most important thing, not to mention children. I can’t forgive them for my child’s death, and I know the names of the murderers. I’m demanding justice for my child, not for myself.

And I also know who I’m going up against: Against the state leadership, against corrupt politicians, murderers, criminals and mobsters, against a consolidated octopus. I’m going all the way; I’m going to fight as long as I live.

You’re currently in Austria. Why did you have to leave Bosnia?

On [December 30, 2018], they chased us all like dogs. Starting from the 25th — when they arrested me — and over the course of the next five days, the police acted with the intention to break up the “Pravda za Davida” group and dispose of me in a way. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t manage to get me.

I would’ve ended up like my child otherwise — that I know for sure. Maybe [my body] would’ve been found, maybe not. It would’ve been the end of this fight. When you’re gone, there’s no one else left to continue the fight. I’m aware of that and I’ll do everything to reach my goal, no matter the means.

I had to leave in order to save my life and continue the fight.

No one would mention David Dragičević’s murder now because they have mechanisms. They held David [captive] for six days and six nights while we were looking for him. That has been confirmed. You can only imagine the scope of such a crime.  Holding a kid captive while inventing the story that he has broken into a house, and when you murder him, you show it on RTRS [Republika Srpska’s public broadcaster].

I had to leave in order to save my life and continue the fight. But, even if they had managed to lock me up, I would’ve kept fighting as long as I lived. You hit a brick wall only when you die, when death comes. There’s always a way to fight; there are good people who help. All that matters is not to give up. If you give up and succumb, they see a weakness in you; it’s tough to bounce back. I’ll never give up, no matter the outcome.

It has been almost three years since David’s death, since everything started — your protest and the fight for the truth. How are you and how’s your life going at the moment?

The most important thing is that I’m right here and free; that the police are not after me and that the government is not after me. I can continue the fight from here. In Bosnia, I’m absolutely unprotected and exposed to persecution by the police.

What’s the price of that fight in Bosnia, that rebellion?

I don’t know what other people are like. But I’m not one of those who can be a slave. Since I was a kid and got my freedom, I’ve never liked to be anyone’s slave, or a slave to the system, and it’s been like that for 50 years.

I fought in the Bosnian war. I’m a disabled veteran and I’ve never got anything from the state; not that I’ve ever asked for anything in the first place. I’ve had my goals and achieved them myself. In these 50 years, I’ve never pointed fingers at anyone — now they’ve killed my child and it won’t go well.

We used to witness police repression aimed toward you and your group. There would be arrests, people would be driven off the streets, the symbols made in David’s memory — like David’s heart — would be removed. What does that say about Bosnia as a society?

It was a gesture that meant a lot to us, the heart in the street — love for my child. It bothered the people who had committed the crime. The Crkvena river bank where his body had been found used to be scruffy, but then people fixed it up, mowed the grass…

However, the murderers are bothered by the very mention of the crime, by the logos of David Dragičević, by every single member of the group.

In December 2018, the government ordered the removal of the heart made in memory of David, which had been placed at the main square in Banja Luka. Photo: Courtesy of the “Oštra nula” organization.

This is some sort of Balkan fascism people close their eyes to. But as I’ve already said: It’ll happen to them. Because the system by itself — if it’s dysfunctional — doesn’t investigate murders or apprehend murderers; there’s no rule of law. It’s not Murphy’s Law, but it’ll happen to everyone, because it just can’t function like that; it hasn’t produced results anywhere.

The protesters were charged with misdemeanors?

Misdemeanor charges would be filed over people shouting: “Justice!” But the court has ruled in our favor in all cases up until now. I knew it would be like that. All charges have been overturned so far; [legal costs] amount to around a million convertible marks and they’re covered by the entity budget. Not by the police who did it, but by the budget.

You were arrested at the end of December 2018 and released the next day. What do you remember from that night?

On December 24, two insiders — inspectors from the RS Interior Ministry — dropped by my place just before midnight. I went for a meeting with them and they just laid out to me what I had already known: That there were preparations going on for my arrest, which was planned for the following day.

On December 25, I went to the city center with David’s mother because she had to go to the doctor. However, they intercepted me in the vicinity of my house and they did so illegally, without any police insignia. I was chased across the city. My goal was to get to the square where David’s heart was and then let them arrest me.

I am a rebel indeed. As well as all the people standing behind me — we’re going against the system.

Before they apprehended me at the police station in Banja Luka, they had already prepared warrants both for the removal of the heart and for my arrest. I didn’t want to sign either those or any other documents. Later, they arrested David’s mother, who had carried David’s picture and asked who had murdered her child. They arrested other members of the “Pravda za Davida” group, too. They harassed them, hounded them and used physical force against them.

What does your fight look like? What are you able to do from abroad?

I’m currently operating from here, while the people who stand with us and help us are operating from Bosnia. Over here, we have founded an association called Gerechtigkeit für David und alle Kinder von Bosnien und Herzegowina (Justice for David and All Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina). We are writing to the international community and the European Union and trying to reach out to those people in every possible way in order to make sure the real truth is found out, to exert some pressure. Because the EU is directly involved in everything that’s happening in the Bosnian justice system.

The government has described you as its opponent. You’ve been accused of attacking the institutions.

In that context, I am a rebel indeed. As well as all the people standing behind me — we’re going against the system.

They have been accusing me of all sorts of things — me and my child — but we’ve managed to refute those claims with evidence. I knew they would come at me and the people who have stood by my side in the ugliest way. According to them, I’m a destroyer of Republika Srpska.

If they consider me a destroyer of such a system, such an interior ministry and prosecutor’s office, such institutions, I’ll be proud to tear down the regime and try to change something. They call them institutions, but those aren’t institutions.

The people who have stood by your side — the members of the “Pravda za Davida” group — have suffered as well, haven’t they?

 December 19 marked the 1,000th day since people began standing in the streets daily; now they stand outside the cathedral demanding one thing only — justice. That’s the justice they’ve been persecuted, slagged and put to trial over. But all the trials have ended in acquittals. What is the government afraid of?

It shouldn’t have come to this, to me taking to the square. All this is a by-product and that’s why I don’t take responsibility for anything that’s happened since my child was murdered. They boast that there are institutions, but the existing ones have failed to do anything but cover up the murder and further criminalize my late child. Although I don’t have any problem with that, it hurts me because of those people in Banja Luka.

What do you have at your disposal when you rise up against the system; is Bosnia a country where something can be done? How?

Hardly. There have been two funerals for David Dragičević. At the first one, I stood on his grave and promised my child that I’d find the murderers. But, in Bosnia, everyone slags you, rejects you or gives you lip service, including the EU.

So, for a thousand days, people have been standing and calling for something that would be normal in a democratic country — to have the murderers of a kid punished.

I’ve told them: I don’t need your condolences or pats on the back; I need concrete help. Unfortunately, no one’s ready for that. Only a few media outlets and journalists, but you won’t find any wider support. Typing from your armchair is not how you manifest real support.

I understand everyone, but I’d want people to try and understand me. My child has been killed. For a thousand days, I’ve been preoccupied with it 24/7. And obstructions are coming from all sides. So, for a thousand days, people have been standing and calling for something that would be normal in a democratic country — to have the murderers of a kid punished.

However, apart from calling for the murderers of your child to be punished, that fight has gone beyond the personal level — people around you and across Bosnia have started perceiving it as more of an universal fight. They see you as some kind of change. Have you been aware of that? Was it one of your goals?

I used to have that impression, but I’m not a politician. I’m the father of the murdered David Dragičević.

Not as a politician, but as an idea of change in the society?

In every speech I’ve given, I said that I wasn’t a hero, but an ordinary man who summoned up the strength not to let this slide and to show other people that it’s possible to do something. Not so they would perceive me as some idol or leader, but so I could show people that it was possible to do something. They weren’t in my shoes, but everything is possible with persistence.

The murdered David Dragičević has become the symbol of the struggle for justice in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo: Courtesy of the “Oštra nula” organization.

Why didn’t you like the idea of representing some sort of change? At one moment, you did stir up traditionally apathetic people, didn’t you?

Ninety percent of people at the square weren’t being sincere; they stood there for whatever personal interests they had. I stood there for my child — since we had said: “Justice for David,” we would have gone all the way until the truth was found out.

Those people are no longer there, but I don’t hold it against them. I’ve told them: I don’t like to catch the snake with someone else’s hands, I’d rather catch it with my own. Let the people slowly die.

I’d always say that there are three groups of people in Bosnia: The ones who are for the system, the ones who are against it and the ones who keep silent. [The latter] work smart; they’re trying to get the right to work in the EU countries, staying silent and leaving Bosnia. My late parents also took up temporary employment abroad, but their goal was to return to their country, which they loved. And now we can see that young people and young families are leaving and burning all bridges with their roots and their country.

Because a country is not where you’re a slave, where you’re opressed, where you’re manipulated non-stop — especially through the media or any other means — or where there’s nepotism. A country is where you’re provided for.

On October 5 that year, some 40,000 people took to the streets. I don’t know if anyone in Bosnia has managed to gather that many people at the same place recently.

Back then, 40,000 people gathered [at the square], and I came under enormous pressure to head toward the government building, too. There were lots of moles, but my relatives, friends and even the people that I hadn’t even known from before — who still come every day — stayed by my side. I synergized with them, even though at first I told them that I didn’t know if I would’ve been that brave to do the same for them.

You have established a political party that won just over 2,000 votes at the November election. Does it mean that political engagement is the only way to bring about change in society and for you personally to get at the truth? Or do you perceive it as a part of civic activism?

For a long time, my idea was to establish a political party, although everyone talked us out of it. But politics shapes people’s destinies in Bosnia; it shapes the judiciary, the prosecution, the police. We have formed a party and I’m satisfied with the local election results, but we carry on. We don’t want to throw ourselves on anyone’s mercy; in 1,000 days, the “Pravda za Davida” group showed how we fight — not by words, but by actions.

These last couple of years I’ve spent in Austra have made me born again in a way — both physically and mentally — because I’m a free man here; owing to this distance I’m following everything from, I’ve changed my perception of people’s mindframe in Bosnia and I feel sorry for them. You have scandals every day, but nothing happens.

During 2018, thousands of people would gather at the main square in Banja Luka for months to voice their support for Davor and his fight. Photo: Courtesy of Aleksandar Trifunović.

Someone might think some of my steps have been radical, but there’s no use experimenting in Bosnia 25 years after the Dayton Agreement [was signed]. Absolutely nothing has happened. What’s more, we’ve gone back to the Middle Ages. People must take to the streets. Until something changes, I’m not going home.

Are we such masochists that we like to be slaves, or are we prone to prejudice? Nationalism is still deeply ingrained in Bosnia, while 90 percent of the population keep coming back to it; they still can’t find it in themselves to overcome that and move on.

What do you and your party actually demand? At a personal level, it’s David Dragičević’s case to be resolved, but what about society as a whole?

We are demanding the rule of law and the right to live, while everything else is solvable through elections. We’ll be running at the General Election 2022, and we’ll be able to expect much better results if the people recognize who we are, what we are and what we advocate.

The basis is state institutions, which have to be the pillar of a society and its moral fiber; in Bosnia, such a thing doesn’t exist. That’s what we need to change first. The rest is easier. You have lots of the same people implicated in all scandals, that’s unbelievable. In murders, white-collar crime and violations in the construction industry, the setup of people in charge has been the same for 25 years. I wish someone could prove me wrong, but have they done anything good for Bosnia, the entities, society or the people? Or have they only catered for their own personal interests?

Politics is a dirty business, not only in Bosnia. Do you believe that you could do it differently?

People need to raise their awareness, to push for their freedom and demand their rights; we’re individuals and we have to fight on our own. Making compromises is wrong. If I had made a single compromise, “Pravda za Davida” would no longer exist. At some point, I want to sue RS for joint criminal enterprise — they’ve killed my child and no one can stop me from that.

You’ve founded an organization in Austria because you couldn’t obtain a permit in Bosnia. Why?

Although I had got all the papers I needed for [setting up] “Pravda za Davida” as an NGO in Sarajevo, we couldn’t register the association in Banja Luka because it couldn’t be entered in the system, allegedly. My friends registered the association “Put pravde” (Path of Justice), while David’s mother, Suzana, and I founded another association here in Austria. “Pravda za Davida” is thus an informal group rather than a registered association. 

You have your truth. I have my love for my child, and persistence.

There are a lot of NGOs in Bosnia, but as soon as they get some money for a project, they get done with it and then shut down. To me, it seems they’re there because having lots of NGOs suits the government in the sense that it can demonstrate that we have democracy and the rule of law. But those organizations haven’t really contributed to anything in the 25 years since the Dayton Agreement.

Still, in Bosnia, there are NGOs that are not close to the government. Did they fear you so much that they didn’t let you register your [organization]?

Well, yes. At that moment, they feared “Pravda za Davida.” Our Facebook group had more than 360,000 members at the time; people gathered in Banja Luka every day. They were afraid of real change because people really were eager and willing enough to push for change back then.

They brought criminal charges against us; they had been waiting for the right moment to hold a show trial over us destroying RS and its institutions. Not too long after that, they wanted to charge me with an attempted coup.

So what does the person who decides to rebel against the system have at their disposal? What is your means of combat if you don’t have faith in the institutions; you believe that certain people wanted to take advantage of you?

You have your truth. I have my love for my child, and persistence.

Again, I’m not important; I’m not fighting for myself, but for my murdered child. I don’t care about consequences; I’ve done enough and turned to everyone, to all institutions. I’ve filed reports on criminal and minor offenses. I’ve been demanding the truth about my child with quiet dignity. It’s a very tough period — you can rely only on your love and persistence, and what you’re fighting for, but money can’t buy that goal.

My goal is to have David’s murderers brought to justice, and it’s beyond price; there’s no compromising toward anyone.

Would your return and the resolution of David’s case mean that your fight ended as well or would you continue to fight for other causes?

Suitable conditions for that can be created through the rule of law. As long as the murderer is still out there, of course I won’t be free.

I would certainly come back. I’m aware that people looked up to me, so I would come back if there was a trial; I’d come back to show people — see, it can be done. It can be done the way we have fought. After I get justice for my child, I’ll be at everyone’s disposal and I’d love to help people in Bosnia by actions, not only by words. I’d love to offer humanitarian and every other form of help.

I’d love to go to every part of Bosnia to see if someone is at risk and who they’re at risk from. I’m indebted to them for helping me with something I wouldn’t be able to do alone — to get at the truth for “Pravda za Davida.”

Davor Dragičević says that he would return to Bosnia if the murderers of his son were found, but that would certainly not be the end of his fight for justice. Photo: Courtesy of the “Pravda za Davida” initiative.

Do you think that the recent elections didn’t bring about any change?

It didn’t bring about any change whatsoever. It seems that people can spend a thousand years waiting for things to get better. But the main square in Banja Luka isn’t free, Banja Luka isn’t free. “Pravda za Davida” is denied access to the square; they’re hounded. If that’s the freedom they stand for, it isn’t for other people. Everything boils down to some promises, but me personally — and the people close to me — we can’t see any concrete results. The murderers are free, and it’s a free city for them.

Did certain political currents from the opposition try to use you at one point, before you left the country? Did you feel it was like that?

I didn’t feel it was like that; that was a fact. But they didn’t [use] me or my child. I had distanced myself from the beginning. People wanted to hear the opposition camp, too, but then — after the October 2018 elections — they would come to me and cry, saying [the opposition] had betrayed all this. They’re doing the same thing now, so they’re bound to come to me in a few months again and tell me I was right, but it’ll be over already.

A large number of people who used to stand there fought for their own political points, personal interests; they didn’t stand in honesty. I knew that, but there were just a lot of people who expected their support. Everyone had their own problems and the story had spread considerably. But I would stick to my documents and wouldn’t let them climb on the podium; instead, they were below, because they should serve the people. It shouldn’t be the other way around. They took advantage.

Some actors saw their chance like they would everywhere, but we retained dignity until they chased us away. It was a lesson in democracy; there were no incidents. People wanted it that way. I would make an appearance, give a speech, let others speak. But did I agree? That’s a whole different story.

I’m not a politician, but I can become one if need be. For them, politics is just a word. If someone wants to do away with you in Bosnia, they say: “You don’t get it, it’s politics.” But it isn’t politics. It’s pure criminal, corruption, nepotism and the rest. Politics is something else.

The exhumation of David’s body has been perceived as one of the worst defeats of democracy — or a victory of injustice, as you like it. His body was transported to Austria, where he was subsequently reburied.

Yes, David is buried in Austria. The entity is ruled by a criminal regime. You’ve seen all the constructions they’ve put forward, from the press conference to the two autopsies and funerals. Here, David has found peace.

I wasn’t able to watch over the heart physically, to spend time at the cemetery to guard it so vandals don’t destroy it. A grave is an eternal home, and he was restless; in that criminal entity, David would’ve never rested in peace. And that’s what I had known. I wanted my child to finally find peace.

So me, his mother, anyone, can go there, light a candle, cross ourselves, and spend some time there in silence. Over there, that wouldn’t be possible.K

Feature image: Courtesy of the “Pravda za Davida” initiative.