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News 14 May 16

'War of Rallies' Underlines Bosnian Serb Divisions

Two parallel rallies, organized by ruling and opposition parties, passed without incident but underlined the tensions and deep political divisions among Bosnian Serbs.

Danijel Kovacevic
BIRN
Banja Luka
Two parallel rallies, organized by ruling and opposition parties, passed without incident. Photo: BIRN

Tens of thousands of Bosnian Serbs gathered at two parallel rallies on Saturday in Banja Luka, the administrative centre of Bosnia's Serb-dominated entity of Republika Srpska. Supporters of the ruling coalition gathered in the central Krajina square, while1.5 km away opposition supporters occupied Mladen Stojanovic park.

A strong police presence kept the rallies peaceful. More than 2,000 policemen secured both gatherings and established a wedge separating the two locations.

Media loyal to the RS government claimed the ruling bloc gathered 30,000 people and the opposition less than 10,000. Media organizations supporting the opposition said that bloc gathered more than 20,000 and pegged attendance at the pro-government rally at less than 10,000.

The contradictory information underlined both bloc’sintentions to use the Saturday’sdemonstrations as a show of power ahead of the upcoming local elections scheduled for October.

Each bloc in Saturday's "war of rallies" gathered around 10,000 people according to police and independent journalist’s estimates.

Both blocs assembled supporters from throughout Republika Srpska.  Police officials told BIRN that 390 buses came into Banja Luka from different parts of the country to feed both rallies.

Other sources told BIRN that the ruling coalition ordered all employees from the administration and public companies to attend or be sacked on Monday.

Drago and Ilija both came from the eastern town of Zvornik, but each arrived on different busses. Drago is unemployed and came to support the opposition, while Ilija works in the Zvornik municipality and supports the ruling bloc.

"We are fed up with thieves in the government. We should have done this long time ago," Drago said at the rally in the park.

"There are problems, but the opposition will not be able to resolve it. They already had a chance when they were in power, but they did nothing," said Ilija, at meeting in the main square.

The rallies reflect deep divisions among Bosnian Serbs and can be seen a loss for both Bosnian Serbs, and all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both groups failed to offer concrete solutions for the ongoing political, economic and social crises in RS, but the strong Serb nationalist statements coming from both meetings threatened to further increase tensions between Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats.

"Party infrastructure dominated both meetings...there were more party activists than ordinary citizens," Srdjan Puhalo, Banja Luka-based analyst told BIRN.

"I believe that neither side will try anything similar soon, as I do not believe they have much more strength and resources," referring to public queries about the costs which the two blocs had to pay for Saturday's events.

"Now the media war would ensue about who brought more people, who sent strong messages, who was right, who was wrong, and so on," he concluded.

"Both meetings have turned into a competition of loving Republika Srpska, while the atmosphere at both of them were obviously against Bosnia and Herzegovina," Sarajevo-based veteran journalist and analyst, Vlastimir Mijovic, told regional N1 TV station.

The most radical statements came from the RS president Milorad Dodik who said at the rally that he would fight until RS becomes an independent state.

"Without the state we will be herded and slaughtered. We have to fight for the state. ... I do not care what others say, but for me RS is a state," Dodik said. He finished his statement and the rally by singing the lyrics of a popular folk song, "Those who do not like us can only hate us."

Less than two kilometres away, the opposition bloc criticized Dodik and called for his resignation, but also glorified Bosnian Serb war criminals. Opposition leader Sonja Karadzic Jovicevic won the most applause. She relayed a message from her father, Bosnian Serb war-time leader, Radovan Karadzic, recently sentenced in the first instance to 40 years in prison for war crimes.

Speaking at the opposition rally, Mladen Bosic, the leader of the Serb Democratic Party, SDS, called for the immediate resignation of the RS government and the establishment of a national unity government that would prepare early entity elections concurrent with local elections in October.

But the opposition lacks the political and public support to carry out such plan.

Recent polls suggest that the ruling party of Milorad Dodik , the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, is maintaining and perhaps increasing its edge despite perceptions of corruption and inefficiency. Experts believe that the opposition is too focused on power struggles and is failing to highlight differenceswith the ruling bloc.

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