03/03/2016

Youth activism in Banja Luka
Concrete instead of verdure:
Gray vs Green

Young people came together to ensure that Banja Luka, a city in north Bosnia and Herzegovina (Republic of Srpska), remains the city of verdure, with asubstantial number of green areas, allies, parks, and tree lines. Their actions were triggered by a reckless and covert usurpation of the public green areas in favour of business centre. What is contended about this case, is that it was one of few remaining green areas in the city center, and it was conceded to a controversial businessman.

Rapid urbanisation, as one of main trademarks of today, also left its mark on Banja Luka’s landscape – unfortunately, mostly in negative light. Aided by the abuse of political power, already negligent construction deals became more frequent. It has become a custom to turn parks into parking lots, without paying attention to the balance between urban and green areas. On the other hand, a vast majority of people is opposed to that kind of irresponsible behaviour, but their voice is not heard due to several reasons. Firstly, the media do not problematise these kinds of topics since they are not lucrative enough, and on top of that, the people themselves are not engaged to the point where they can make a concrete change. Of all the activities that took place, the young people were the driving force behind all the actions. Besides the usual ways of distributing information and reaching the public through printing flyers, posters, banners and signing petitions, the most effective mean of rounding people up was the internet and a group on Facebook counting more than 30 000 people.

While the fight was still ongoing the park was frequented by Banja Luka’s citizens in their hundreds on daily basis. The city became the first city in BH in which the public space became the subject of a political battle. The thing that provoked and enraged the public was actually the way the land was assigned.

Everything started on the May 29th, 2012 when the businessman Mile Radišić was given the contested land by his best man Milorad Dodik – the President of Republic of Srpska. The land was fenced, trees cut down and even a private property was invaded in the process where the owner of that property was physically assaulted. That triggered the daily gatherings and peaceful walk of the citizens carrying banners on which they displayed messages accusing the government for theft and usurpation of the green area.

Protests in Banja Luka

After having banned the citizens to gather the police brought into custody the administrator of the Facebook group, Miodrag Dakić, for questioning. The protests started after a public call made by a so-called Crna Nana and followed next was the network collapsing by m:tel, the main communication operator in RS, arguably controlled by the government and the leading party SNSD. The then mayor of Banja Luka, Dragoljub Davidović stated that “it is not a park of any sort, but only an area which was to be used for construction and that similar areas can be found within Banja Luka and that the city authorities are preventing them from turning into a coppice by regularly maintaining them.”

The authorities ignored the problem than tried to put it in a context of local elections. Everybody from the president of Republic of Srpska to the mayor were attempting to justify the construction in the park.

The participants considered themselves a peaceful movement with different political orientations from left to right-wing. Although they were mostly young people, the other age groups were not left out. They point out they are not only fighting for the park but also for ”all future parks the fortress of Kastel, river Vrbas… and the right to better life”.

”We are rebelling because we want to lead a life worthy of a man! We are becoming poorer, more isolated, unemployed and indebted with no prospects and equal opportunities. This city and its citizens are being robbed of their soul and their future.”

The common public opinion is that the politics can be barely influenced so they often tend not to make attempts to change their lives. However these protests have made a change. The first visible result was pointing out that the credibility of the authorities is feeble and that is the reason why they have used force. Furthermore, we have witnessed a change in rhetoric of the city authorities: the candidate for the mayor, Slobodan Gavranović, has started to give statements about investing into playgrounds and parks and about improving public debates on regulation plans drafts.

The most important, however, is to be expected in the long run, through education of the public and change of political attitudes that will diversify the programmes of the political parties.

The protesters have not managed to prevent the construction but they have achieved something more important: they have publicly identified a great peril to public interests and by doing so brought life into the public space! While it is still public! Therefore, this park became a symbol of resistance to the injustice and oppression of authorities over citizens, common sense, and the future. These protests served the purpose of raising awareness and educating young people as well as the generations to come, to continue fighting in this perpetual struggle.

Predrag Bojić and Nemanja Bjelajac, BiH

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