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 centre was sold to a private investor at a bargain price and destroyed. The story of the destroyed park in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina, is alarming on many levels, including corruption, bullying of citizens, police aggression, and also court and physical persecution. But what is even more disturbing is the lack of attention this case attracted from those states where such a procedure would be unimaginable.

 

Police oppression and beating, court persecution, and imprisonment for protection of 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 centre to the Grand Trade company for BAM 2.2 million, approximately €1.1 million. Nobody asked the public about their 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 the summer of 2012.

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

Besides the marching protests, the citizens’ initiative has found out certain major discrepancies in the case. The construction permit that was issued only included the lower two floors of the complex – something completely unheard of by the law.

Walking a threat! Call the police

With enormous public support, the “walkers” continued to assemble for the next one hundred days. At one point the astonishing number of three thousand people gathered to openly express their disagreement.

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

Citizens were again shocked when the state began to demonstrate its power over them. The police prevented people from marching towards government buildings, as well as gathering in the park, although the “walkers” were never violent.

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

“The trial reflects the situation in the society very well. 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 under the 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 an especially preposterous one. At the time of the construction of the Grand Trade building, the workers barred 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, and during this he and his son were beaten up in front of Zeljko’s mother. The courts have not recognized him as a victim of despotism and nor did they decide that he should qualify for compensation. On the contrary, in October 2016 the Basic Court of Banja Luka sentenced him to three months’ 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 for land price manipulation, false statements, and abuse of the privatization process. He was found guilty and sentenced to three years in prison. In response Radisic fled the country, only a few days before he was supposed to start serving his sentence, only to return a couple months later and surrender to the state authorities.

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 to Bosnia and Herzegovina, surrendered voluntarily to the authorities, and allowed 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.

 “However, it is not yet clear how the 'wanted' man managed to 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)