The European Union Delegation in Bosnia expressed concern over Tuesday’s police crackdown in the Serb majority part of the country against opposition leaders as well as the parents whose nearly year-long quest for the truth about the murder of their son has turned into a mass anti-government movement.
Police detained Davor Dragicevic and his ex-wife, Suzana Radanovic, as well as several of their supporters and opposition leaders.
David Dragicevic, 21, was murdered in March and initially, police said that he had taken drugs and drowned in a nearby river. This explanation sparked public outrage and angered the young man’s father who swore he would pursue justice no matter what.
Davor Dragicevic believes police is covering up the murder and protecting some politically connected suspects.
After they detained him on Tuesday, special police wearing masks and equipped with anti-riot gear removed an improvised monument citizens had erected for David, whose family has mobilised thousands in Republika Srpska (RS), the Serb-dominated semi-autonomous entity within Bosnia, to support them in their search for the truth.
After an initial scuffle with police that ended with a few detentions, citizens erected a new monument a few meters away from where the old one stood at Banja Luka’s main square, which the movement “Justice for David,” renamed after the murdered boy and where the protests have been taking place for months.
“Today’s turn of events in Banja Luka sends a negative and alarming signal about the state of rule of law in BIH (Bosnia and Herzegovina). We will continue to follow the events very closely and urge all to stay calm,” an EU Press Statement said.
“We have asked the RS Ministry of Interior for an immediate explanation of the ongoing arrests of different persons associated with the “Justice for David” movement, including Davor Dragicevic as well as opposition politicians, the statement said.
“So much has happened within the past four or five hours, that it cannot all be explained in one comment,” journalist Dragan Bursac told N1, explaining that police had apprehended both the father and the mother of David, several opposition politicians, and a local journalist.
Police have, however, denied that they have detained the journalist, Vladimir Susak.
They said Dragicevic was detained because he failed to show up when he was summoned for questioning and that he posed a “security threat”.
Dragicevic resisted twhen the officers came for him and citizens who were there tried to stop the officers. He ended up in the hospital as he complained of pain in the arm and the leg. Staff at the hospital said that the tests they conducted showed no injuries and that Dragicevic was not hospitalised.
Police released a press statement, saying that an unidentified male punched an officer during the commotion at the square.
“We call upon the citizens to refrain from any violence and violation of public order and peace, and for them to express their opinions calmly and honourably, without endangering others,” police said.
At the same time authorities also apprehended several opposition politicians who have been expressing support for Dragicevic.
Branislav Borenovic, the leader of the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP), Drasko Stanivukovic, an MP from that party, Vojin Mijatovic, from the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and former independent opposition MP Adam Sukalo were taken in for questioning.
Vukota Govedarica, the leader of the opposition Serb Democratic Party (SDS), said the police operations were a case of “institutional violence.”
“The method of the conflict with the people is interesting. They beat and detain them. There are numerous pieces of video material where it can be seen that they are detaining and pulling people as if they were cattle,” Stefan Blagic, the head of a local NGO, Re-start Srpska, told N1.
“It is obvious that the system can only be maintained through the use of force,” he added.
Blagic said he suspects that the goal is to “clean up” the square, adding that this is what the leader of the ruling party in the RS and the Bosnian Serb member of the state Presidency, Milorad Dodik, had announced.
The events on Tuesday also sparked reactions from the other semi-autonomous entity, the Federation (FBiH).
A group of citizens announced a peaceful gathering of support for David’s parents in Sarajevo.
The BH Bloc, a coalition of three left-leaning political parties mostly active in FBiH, called for solidarity with Suzana and Davor Dragicevic.
“If what is happening to them ends up unpunished, tomorrow it could happen to any of us,” said the coalition, consisting of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Our Party (Nasa Stranka, NS) and the Democratic Front (DF).
The parties also expressed support for the RS opposition politicians who were detained.
The BH Bloc called for Bosnian citizens to unite regardless of their political, ethnic or religious differences, to demand justice for both David and Dzenan Memic, a young man from Sarajevo whose murder has also not been solved and whose father has mobilised citizens in the capital in a similar way as Dragicevic did in Banja Luka.
“We commend their tireless efforts to peacefully seek out justice for the deaths of their sons. It is striking that two fathers in search of justice for their dead sons have mobilised more outcry against lack of rule of law and impunity in BiH than any political party has managed to do,” the EU press statement said.
The scuffle at the central square in Banja Luka between police officers and citizens is ongoing.