By Medina Malagic – Sarajevo
A wave of protests has hit cities and towns throughout B&H, accompanied by the regularly scheduled and increasingly organized Plenums, or citizens’ assemblies. While in cities throughout the FB&H protests have been ongoing nearly every day for a little over three weeks, in the RS entity the second protest is taking place in Banja Luka today.
In Banja Luka, veterans of the RS, as well as citizens of Banja Luka are organizing the protests. They began to gather at around 13:00 and started on a protest march through the city, and there were around several hundred citizens who took part in the protests and about 2000 former soldiers. The protests ended around 14:30.
While the protests in Banja Luka, the biggest city in the RS entity of B&H, are chiefly organized and propelled by veterans, their grievances and demands being put forth can be compared to the wave of protests and raising of citizen consciousness and action in the form of Plenums in the FB&H. Veterans in the RS are protesting against their poor social standing, and accuse leaders, as well as the head of the RS Veteran Association, of enriching themselves while impoverishing their citizens. They are also demanding an audit of the privatization process, creation of opportunities of employment for demobilized soldiers and their families, free health care for RS veterans, revision of the status of veterans from the National Assembly of the RS and the government and a modification of the entity laws on the rights of soldiers.
While the protests in the RS and the FB&H are taking place at the same time, the reasons behind the protests are strikingly similar, and reveal the non-ethnic nature of the demands and citizens. This is the first time since 1995 where citizens from all over B&H, from both entities, have begun to gather en masse. The purely social and economic demands put forth and the continuing protests and increasingly organized Plenums in B&H demonstrate what the priorities of the citizens actually are.
In contrast, the politicians in B&H have had a different reaction to the protests and general citizen uprising in B&H. While citizens are demanding drastic social and economic changes at the local level from the leaders in their entities, political leaders and members of ethno-nationalist political parties in B&H have resorted to allocating blame for the protests to outside forces, and not to their own incompetency, thereby failing to address citizens’ demands.
Regarding the protests in Banja Luka today, President Dodik said that even though everyone has the right to protest, it should be kept in mind that the day of protests, 28 February, was not a coincidence, since it took place one day before the Independence Day of B&H, 1 March. He said that this is not acceptable to the RS. Like leaders of the SDA and HDZ political parties, Dodik blamed the organization of the protests on some ‘center of power that seeks to destabilize the RS’.
In response to his comments, the former RS soldiers chided President Dodik. They held banners and shouted ‘thieves, thieves’ and emphasized the cause of their protesting-that they are disenfranchised. They are shouting out the same thing that protestors in the FB&H have been doing for the past few weeks.