Bosnia: Attack on Journalist Causes Anger at Dodik As Elections Approach

On the evening of 26 August Vladimir Kovacevic, a journalist, was attacked in Banja Luka, the administrative centre of the Republika Srpska, by two men armed with metal bars. The attack took place twenty minutes after Kovacevic, from the Independent BN TV based in Bijeljina in eastern Bosnia, had left a protest rally which was taking place in the city’s central Krajina Square. The two assailants escaped in a waiting car after the attack had taken place. Kovacevic was subsequently treated in hospital for injuries to his head and body. The Public Prosecutor for the Banja Luka region has announced that the case is being treated as a case of attempted murder.
The public rection to the attack was swift and angry. BN TV, the station Kovacevic worked for, broadcast a blank screen and a message calling for the Republika Srpska police to quickly bring those responsible to justice. On 27 August several hundred journalists, NGO workers, and members of the public gathered to protest in central Banja Luka. The Bosnian Journalists Association released a statement blaming Milorad Dodik, the Republika Srpska President, for creating an atmosphere in which attacks on journalists could take place. On 28 August around 200 journalists took part in a meeting in Sarajevo to protest at the attack. Similar solidarity actions were staged in Mostar and Zenica. The attack was also condemned by diplomats including the US ambassador.
Milorad Dodik, and politicians from his governing Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), have sought, not entirely successfully, to distance themselves from the attack on Kovacevic. Milorad Dodik has stated that: ‘It is not true that there is a lynching atmosphere.’ Nedljko Cubrilovic, the Speaker of the Republika Srpska Assembly, has also condemned the attack.
The meeting that Kovacevic had been reporting on prior to the attack was a demonstration to protest at the death of David Dragicevic, a young student who had died on 18 March 2018 in unclear circumstances, amidst accusations of a cover-up by the authorities. Demonstrations demanding a resolution of David Dragicevic’s case and the circumstances surrounding his death have been taking place on a daily basis since March. These demonstrations have a normal daily attendance of several hundred protestors, but the largest demonstrations, such as that which took on 7 July, have attracted as many as 15,000 people. Kovacevic has stated that he has convinced that he was targeted because of his reporting of the street protest movement in support of David Dragicevic. The David Dragicevic protests and those taking place in the aftermath of the attack on Vladimir Kovacevic are both notable for the fact that they have attracted support not just from the Republika Srpska, but from towns all across Bosnia.
Presidential and parliamentary elections are due to take place across Bosnia on 7 September. In the run-up to the elections Milorad Dodik has been seeking to cling on to power by presenting himself as the nationalist defender of the Republika Srpska, and by delegitimizing the opposition. In recent weeks Dodik and his supporters have repeatedly suggested that the opposition are planning to stage ‘incidents’ to disrupt the elections. This formuala may not, however, be enough to guarantee election victory for Dodik as the Dragicevic demonstrations strengthen the sense amongst the public that the institutions over which Dodik presides are increasingly corrupt and unaccountable. The attack on Vladimir Kovacevic, and the reaction to it, seems likely to add to the public alienation from Dodik’s administration and undermine his position in the run-up to the September elections.

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