BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina – The protests he leads have drawn thousands of people for months and have become a symbol of resistance ahead of Bosnia’s tense election on Sunday. But Davor Dragicevic says all he wants is justice for his son.
When the body of 21-year-old David Dragicevic was found in a river in March, police said that he drowned in an accident. But the family didn’t believe them, launching a quest for truth that has grown into a wider civil movement against injustice and top-level corruption in the Balkan nation.
Months of such rallies in Banja Luka have posed a challenge to President Milorad Dodik, a hardline Serb who is running for a seat in the three-member Bosnian presidency in the country’s general election Sunday.
Chanting “Killers!” and “Who killed David?” thousands joined the protests Friday.
The demonstrations have also been a display of popular discontent with the situation in Bosnia, more than twenty years after 100,000 people were killed in a war and millions were left homeless.
On Saturday, Dragicevic was still at the square, camping in a small tent by a heart-shaped shrine for his son, where other Bosnians constantly stop and light candles or lay flowers. His “Justice for David” group also has drawn huge support on social media.
Authorities have denied allegations that they are covering up David Dragicevic’s murder or protecting his killers from prosecution. Pro-government media and officials have described the protests as part of a plot to weaken the government.
Dragicevic told The Associated Press on Saturday that his son was beaten, tortured and brutally killed before his body was discovered.
“We are seeking justice. Whoever comes to power, we won’t let go,” Dragicevic said. “We will not give up. They will never again be able to kill another child in such a way.”
Police initially suggested that David Dragicevic was involved in a burglary prior to his death and used drugs, claims that his father vehemently denies. Dragicevic does not say specifically why he thinks David was killed but insists the killers remain free because they have ties to the police and to the authorities.
One person has been detained but the investigation is ongoing.
On the other side of Bosnia’s ethnic divide, protesters on Friday in Sarajevo, the capital, also sought justice in the death of another young man, a Muslim, Dzenan Memic. That protest was also led by his father.
The parents’ grief has managed to bridge Bosnia’s ethnic divide, as the two men held join protests in Sarajevo few months ago.
The peace accord that ended Bosnia’s 1992-95 war created a Bosnian Serb and a Muslim-Croat entity linked together in a federal government. Still, the country remains ethnically divided and politically stalled. Tens of thousands of young people have left the country to seek better lives elsewhere in the last several years.
In Sunday’s election, some 3.3 million Bosnian voters will choose officials for a vast array of institutions in the complex — some say unworkable — governing network that was created by the peace deal.
Dragicevic said he never meant for his movement to be political. He plans to create a fund for children and others in need once his son’s killers are behind bars. He described David as “unique, daring, brave and proud.”
“I am only interested in justice for my child,” Dragicevic said. “I will never again see him or kiss him. There is nothing to live for. Nothing.”