Tens of thousands of people rallied in rival demonstrations for and against the government of Bosnia’s autonomous Serb Republic in its capital Banja Luka on Saturday (May 14).
An alliance of opposition parties organised the anti-government rally as part of efforts to bring down the government of nationalist leader Milorad Dodik, who is the President of Republika Srpska, one of Bosnia Herzegovina’s two constitutional entities.
The opposition accuses the Bosnian Serb government of corruption and dictatorship, and blames it for the region’s depressed economy. Tensions run high ahead of local elections in October.
Both camps brought in supporters by bus. Authorities banned them from marching across the city and the protests were kept apart by police barricades to prevent clashes.
Political tensions in the Serb Republic have risen since elections in 2014, when the ruling party of President Milorad Dodik lost its place in the Bosnian government to the Alliance for Change, a reformist, pro-European group, and remained in control only of the Serb Republic government.
Dodik, who favours closer ties with Russia and has threatened to pull his region out of Bosnia, say those who support reforms meant to bring Bosnia closer to the EU are traitors.
Saturday’s rallies ended peacefully. Any violence in Bosnia is potentially explosive, following the civil war that ravaged the country two decades ago.
Since the end of Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war the country has been split into a Serb-dominated Serb Republic and a Federation of Muslim Bosniaks and Catholic Croats, linked via weak central government.