High tensions before Banja Luka protests

Residents of Banja Luka have been protesting peacefully for months. The biggest protest yet, scheduled for today at 6PM, is under unprecedented attack from the government-controlled media, raising concern of possible police violence.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
High tensions before Banja Luka protests - NewsMavens
Banja Luka. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

On the eve of the announced protest gathering, the police minister of Republika Srpska, Dragan Lukač, came out with this statement:

The ministry has information that the arrival of certain groups to Banja Luka is being organized, aiming to create incidents which would include a disturbance of public order, mutual clashes and clashes with the police. All this considered, we will increase the presence of police officers in the streets, who will conduct intensified controls of persons and vehicles.

In the past months, a coordinated scare campaign of RS institutions, media outlets and political figures with close connections to the entity’s president Milorad Dodik (from both Republika Srpska and neighbouring Serbia) has been waged. It has peaked in the last few days, with ludicrous claims about an attack planned in Sarajevo, where “50-60 buses are waiting to transport the paid protestors to Banja Luka” who were “offered as much money as the amount of damage the’yre prepared to inflict”.  

(If the claim even needed any debunking, we actually went through all the neighbourhoods where the buses were supposedly parked and haven’t found a single one.)

This coordinated effort created an entirely false narrative about an organized conspiracy to attack Republika Srpska. In the minds of those who believed the propaganda, people who have been peacefully protesting for months are now connected to: “war criminals” from the Federation of BiH; “regular” criminals from Republika Srpska; football hooligans from Sarajevo; foreign and domestic intelligence agencies; US embassy in BiH; NATO; George Soros; opposition parties from both entities - but, somehow, also the ruling party from the entity of FBiH; “experts for colored revolutions” from Macedonia, UK, India and Serbia; the nonogovernmental organizations presented as foreign agents and virtually everyone who either showed public support for the protests, criticized the false claims made about them, or reported correctly on the events.

These and similar claims are now being published by the hour and becoming virtually impossible to track. 

The RS police has already set up checkpoints in Doboj, a town on the "border" of FBiH and RS. As reported, fully armed policemen are stopping and searching buses and private vehicles, emulating a search for "paid protestors" which don't exist.

These scare tactics were seen before -- when massive socioeconomic protests bursted out in FBiH in 2014, the same machine was put in motion to present them as "a plan against Republika Srpska" and discourage the citizens in RS from protesting themselves. Buses, agents, checkpoints, conspiracy theories -- it was all there. However, this time it didn't work. People are in the streets and show no intention of giving up. And the elections are just two days away.

Knowing all this, the statement given by Lukač reads like a harrowing announcement of how the whole scenario can play out -- if the public is persuaded that hordes of violent attackers are descending on the city, a few planted provocateurs will be all that the police needs to launch an actual attack on the protestors. The next few hours will tell. 

Details from the story:

  • The protests in Banja Luka are led by Davor Dragičević, whose son David was murdered in March. 
  • His death was officially declared an accident. Convinced that his son was murdered, Dragičević took to the streets. For weeks, he has been "camping" in the square, refusing to leave.
  • Since April, he has been joined by thousands -- occasionally tens of thousands -- in the central city square in Banja Luka. 
  • Today's gathering is expected to be the biggest one yet.
  • Milorad Dodik, the president of Republika Srpska who is running for a state presidency office in October elections, has recently threathened to "sweep away" the protestors from the city square.
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