Tens of thousands people in Banja Luka joined two parallel demonstrations – by the opposition bloc Savez za Promjene (SZP) and the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) of President Milorad Dodik – in Banja Luka on May 14.
The rival demonstrations in the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina’s smaller entity, Republika Srpska, were intended to demonstrate as a show of strength ahead of the local elections due to be held in October this year. The two rallies took place peacefully in different parts of the city, sending unconvincing messages to their supporters, according to local political analysts.
According to different media, the participants in each demonstration totalled between 10,000 and 30,000.
The opposition demanded the resignation of Dodik and of the SNSD’s government led by Zeljka Cvijanovic and the appointment of interim government. On the other hand, Dodik claimed that his party’s power is consolidating.
SZP was set up in 2014 ahead of the general and presidential elections, with the aim of ousting Dodik. It comprises several opposition parties including the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), National Democratic Movement (NDP), Serb Radical Party (SRS RS), as well as two other parties that joined in December last year – the Progressive Serbia Party (NS) and the Movement for Justice and Order (PPR). In 2014, SZP came second in the general elections after Dodik’s SNSD.
“It is very clear that… the antagonism between the ruling party and the opposition is increasing… We haven’t heard anything new and I haven’t seen enthusiasm in both groups to continue the fight. I don’t know how citizens of Republika Srpska will interpret the messages that were sent,” Klix.ba quoted political analyst Srdjan Puhalo as saying.
According to another local political analyst, Esad Bajtal, the two gatherings showed that something is “very wrong” with Republika Srpska. He added that the SNSD organised the counter-protest with the aim of minimising the impact of SZP’s gathering.
“The fact that the ruling structures attempted in all possible ways, including raising the risk of escalating a conflict, contains admission of guilt of the authorities for all that has been attributed to it,” Bajtal said.
SZP has many times spoken out against the policies of Dodik and the government of Cvijanovic. However, analysts said that they were unable to offer a true alternative to Dodik’s party.
“On the one side were marching Chetniks [a derogatory term referring to Serb militia] who want to become thieves, while on the other side thieves who wish they were greater Chetniks held a counter-demonstration,” Dragan Bursac, a columnist with the Bosnian magazine Buka, told Klix.ba.
The daughter of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Sonja Karadzic-Jovicevic, participated in the opposition’s protest, while the son of Karadzic's military chief General Ratko Mladic – Darko Mladic – attended SNSD’s demonstration.
Karadzic was recently sentenced to 40 years in prison by UN war crimes tribunal that found him guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the 1992-1995 savage Bosnian war. Mladic is also on trial on the same accusations.
“All in all, it was extremely difficult for the average Chetnik to decide in which rally to participate. Probably that’s why there were many at both gatherings. The average citizens, locked in their apartments in the blocked city, were asking themselves what’s all about, while watching live broadcastings,” Bursac said.
It was not clear whether other rallies will follow. Daily Nezavisne Novine quoted Dragan Chavich, the leader of the NDP, as saying that the opposition will hold new demonstrations if their demands are not met. Another SZP member, the leader of PDP Branislav Borenovic, said that the SNSD’s gathering showed that Dodik is nearing his political end.
Dodik and Cvijanovic, on the other hand, claimed that the two rallies showed that Republika Srpska has a free and democratic society.