Picin Park: its defenders earned hardline and fierce retribution

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA/2014-2016
The park is ours!, protesting walkers in Banja Luka

The last remaining green area in a city center sold to a private investor for a bargain and destroyed. The story of the destroyed park in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is alarming on many levels including corruption, citizens bullying, police aggression and also court and physical persecution. But even more disturbing is the lack of attention this case earned from the states where such procedure would be unimaginable.

 


Police oppression and beating, court persecution and imprisonment for protection of a greenery

In 2010 the city of Banja Luka surprised its citizens when the politicians decided to sell the only remaining green area in the city center to Grand Trade company for BAM 2.2 million, approximately € 1.1 million. Nobody asked about the public opinion. Fully grown endemic trees (serbian spruce among others) were cut down and the popular green leisure area, referred to as “Picin Park”, transformed into a construction site for an enormous office complex.

In response, local residents launched the “Park is Ours" initiative and decided to demonstrate their disapproval in summer of 2012.

“We are the voice of every citizen who is denied of his rights.”

Besides the marching protests the initiative of citizens has found out certain major discrepancies in the case. The provided construction permit only included the lower two floors of the complex - something completely unheard of by the law.

Walking thread! Call the police

Having an enormous public support, the "walkers" have continued to assemble for the next one hundred days. At some point astonishing number of three thousand people gathered to openly express their disagreement.

“The judicial institutions and the police are in the service of state
authorities and of one political party.”

Citizens were again shocked when the state began to demonstrate power over them. Police prevented people from marching toward governmental buildings as well as to gather in the park, although the "walkers" have never been violent.

The case resulted in several activists being prosecuted at Basic Court of Banja Luka for road traffic offences. In January 2014 the court found several activists guilty and sentenced them to a fine and obligation to bear the costs of proceedings. Some of them pleaded guilty at the very beginning of a trial and therefore were sentenced to a milder verdicts.

"The trial very well reflects the situation in the society. What can be done when
the powerful ones plot wildly against the interests of mere citizens?”

Three of the activists filed an appeal to the District Court of Banja Luka. Acting upon the activists’ appeal, in June 2014 the District Court of Banja Luka revoked the Basic Court’s decision due to statute of limitations.

My name is Zeljko Vulic and I can’t get home

By now, one might think this case should not be getting any worse, but wait until you hear the testimony of local car repair service owner Zeljko Vulic, for his story is one of the especially preposterous. At the time of construction of the Grand Trade, the workers have barred the access to his family home and the office building as well.

Soon enough he demanded justice and restoration of the public road.

When protesting against the usurpation of his property, Vulic was arrested during which he and his son were beaten up in front of Zeljko’s mother. The courts have not recognized him as a victim of despotism nor did qualify him for compensation. On the contrary, in October 2016 Basic Court of Banja Luka sentenced him to a three-month imprisonment.

"I had to remember each moment, even before the event
itself and the so-called treatment. It’s been very difficult."

Now, Zeljko Vulic is waiting for an appellate decision of the District Court in Banja Luka.

When justice finally arrived

In 2014, the owner of Grand Trade Mile Radisic was prosecuted of land-price manipulation, false statements and abuse of privatization process. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. In reaction Radisic has fled the country, only a few days before he was supposed to start serving his sentence.

Since then, the convicted businessman has been avoiding justice and frequently publishing statements in various media, saying he will reveal  his companions and the details of the fraud soon enough.

In the end, Radisic returned back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, voluntarily surrendered to the authorities and allowed the justice to be served upon him. It is not yet clear how he managed to return to the country unnoticed by the border police and the prosecuting authorities.

In 2014, the owner of Grand Trade Mile Radisic was prosecuted of land-price manipulation, false statements and abuse of privatization process. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. In reaction Radisic has fled the country, just a few days before he was supposed to start serving his sentence, only to return couple months later and surrender to the state authorities.

"However, it is not yet clear how the 'wanted' man managed cross the borders
unnoticed by the border police and the prosecuting authorities."

Although the protest did not stop the construction itself, it has mobilized thousands of citizens. The "Park is Ours" initiative has gradually transformed into a collective movement campaigning for broader structural changes such as larger government accountability or social and economic reforms.


Further reading:

BiH 07/09/2012 Protest in Banja Luka: “Everyone, hit the streets!” (Buka.com)

BiH 08/06/2013 Želko Vulić, the man tortured by Dodik’s police: Policeman finger-stabbed my eye and I went mad! (Tacno.net)

BiH 26/07/2013 Fight for aroad: Željko Vulić and his sons were brought in (Kurir.rs)

BiH 31/07/2013 Željko Vulić conducted in District prosecutor’s office (Kontra PRESS)

BiH 06/09/2016 Željko Vulić, the establishment opposer: It’s difficult when the powerful ones tread on the little ones (Buka.com)

BiH 04/10/2016 Željko Vulić is awaiting the verdict concerned (Blic.rs)

BiH 06/10/2016 “Picin Park” case: Željko Vulić from Banja Luka sentenced for three months, appeals against the verdict (Blic.rs)