Bosnia & Herzegovina has been in a political crisis since the October 7 general election, and protests seeking justice for a murdered young man in Republika Srpska are turning into a ticking bomb for its stability.
21-year-old David Dragicevic was found dead in the river Crkvena in March. His father Davor Dragicevic and his supporters have been gathering for nine months, seeking to find out the truth about his death. The number of people attending the protests has increased to thousands, while their demands have escalated demand to encompass protection for the rights of all citizens.
Police responded by banning their gatherings and are looking to arrest the main organisers. The protests turned into a hot topic during the Christmas holidays when police and protesters clashed on December 25, which led to arrest warrants being issued for the organisers. Meanwhile, the police said they will no longer allow the group Justice for David to stage rallies.
Even before the clashes on December 25, police summoned Davod Dragicevic for interrogation, and arrested him for several days after he refused to testify in a case they said concerned his own safety. The arrest was seen as an attempt to put pressure on him and force him to stop the gatherings.
The Serb opposition Party of Democratic Progress (PDP) has accused the police in Bosnia’s Serb entity of using excessive force without any reason and has called on all authorities to respect civil rights.
“Not a single bench, basket, glass, bottle, nothing has been broken in these 280 day of gatherings of the group Justice for David, not even now,” PDP said in a statement commenting on the use of force by the police.
It added that the protests were provoked by Bosnia’s non-functioning institutions and called on officials to start doing their jobs.
“The number of those arrested for the murder is equal to zero, while the number arrested because of the protest is 20. The leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs who issued the warrant breached the constitution,” the PDP claimed.
Meanwhile, Milorad Dodik, the leader of the ruling Serb Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) and current chairman of Bosnia’s state-level tripartite presidency, has accused the protesters of being paid by international forces that aim to destabilise Republika Srpska.
Dodik also accused the PDP of getting involved in the protests in an attempt to gain more support. The PDP admitted it is backing the protests, but said it is just supporting those seeking justice. Dodik then went even further, accusing the UK of financing the group organising the protests.
While many see in these claims nothing more than political talks, similar to Dodik’s previous statements against the West, two reports last year suggested that he might be used by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as a tool for sparking a new conflict in the highly unstable country.
Dodik, the former president of Republika Srpska, later accused the protest organisers of abusing the order on gatherings and hiding to avoid facing the consequences. On December 30, Davor Dragicevic went missing and for days nobody knew where he was. There was speculation that he had been arrested, beaten by the police and probably even murdered.
The speculations ended on January 7, when Dragicevic released a video from an unknown location, saying that the group will continue to seek justice peacefully and accusing the authorities of attempting to divert attention from the case, and trying to force the group to stop protesting.
While at the moment there are no new large protests, many of Davor’s supporters are gathering peacefully to light candles.
Meanwhile, the police are interrogating the mother of the murdered man, as well as other supporters of Davor, in connection to various cases police say are related to their own safety or breaches of regulations during the protests.