New Banja Luka Mayor: My city belongs to all people, divisions are pointless

NEWS 18.11.2020 21:52
Source: N1

Banja Luka belongs to all people and everybody is welcome there, the new mayor of the administrative centre of Bosnia’s Serb-majority Republika Srpska (RS) entity, Drasko Stanivukovic, told N1 Wednesday, countering the policy of the party that ruled the city for 22 years and whose leader had declared it a Serb city.

“In Banja Luka, there is a place for every human, everybody who loves Banja Luka and who feels nostalgia for it, who might have left long ago or plans to leave, I invite them to stay,” Stanivukovic said.

He said that he sees politics as something similar to a football match, “where you exchange positions and ideas.”

“Here it has become a matter of life. I call upon Banja Luka to be an open city,” he said, adding that he does not classify people according to their nationality but according to whether they are honest or dishonest.

The new mayor said that there will be a place for members of any ethnic group, including Bosniaks and Croats, in his team and mentioned that this is already the case for Ivan Begic, a Croat.

“That kind of division is unimportant,” he said. Stanivukovic also commented on his success in Banja Luka which was seen as a major surprise of the election.

“It’s always dangerous to underestimate someone, nobody should ever be underestimated,” he said.

“The key reason (for his victory) was that we used love, understanding, optimism and open-mind as our main instrument,” he said, arguing that his political opponents had a completely different approach – one based on power.

“These are two opposing policies and the people have recognised the difference between them,” he said.

According to Stanivukovic, his victory is the beginning of the fall of Milorad Dodik, the long-time leader of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the ruling party in the semi-autonomous entity and the Serb member of Bosnia’s tripartite Presidency.

“This is not what I think, this is what I know. He will fall all by himself,” he said.

Stanivukovic said that it would be a “liberation” and that he would have defeated Dodik even more easily than he did Igor Radojicic, the former Banja Luka mayor from the SNSD.

“More than 70 percent of all citizens saw me as a politician they like a lot. I will dedicate myself to Banja Luka for the next four years and will actively participate in changes over the next two years,” he said.

Bosnia will hold general elections in 2022.

“No ship sinks within five minutes. Their ship will sink, it has been punctured on all sides,” he said, referring to the regime in Republika Srpska.

Stanivukovic also mentioned “many unfortunate events” that former Banja Luka mayors would not speak of, including the still unresolved 2018 murder of David Dragicevic, a young man whose lifeless body was found in a river near Banja Luka.

Investigators first told the media that the cause of death was likely drowning and that Dragicevic had taken drugs. This sparked a series of protests, especially since another autopsy performed on David’s body showed a different time of death.

The case was later reclassified into murder.

Led by David’s father, who believes police and prosecutors in the semi-autonomous entity of Republika Srpska are protecting whoever killed his son, numerous citizens have joined the ‘Justice for David’ group and had been protesting at the central Krajina Square in Banja Luka for more than a year.

The Justice for David group has “directly and indirectly” participated in the changes in Banja Luka, Stanivukovic said.

Every time activists from the Justice for David group would set up an improvised monument for David at the site where he was killed, city authorities would remove it.

This will stop now, Stanivukovic declared.

Stanivukovic was also criticised for a photo in which he was posing along with two other men with a flag of the ultra-nationalist Chetnik movement.

The picture drew harsh criticism from Sarajevo and many Bosniaks commented on social media that Stanivukovic was actually no different than other Serb nationalists.

The new mayor said that two young men asked him for a photo and posed next to him holding that flag but that the picture is not reflecting who he is and that everything can always be misused.

”I am a patriot, I love my people but I also love and respect every other human being and every other nation. That’s me, I’m an altruist, ready to leave the past behind,” he said.

He announced that he will visit Sarajevo in his official capacity and invited all the newly elected municipal mayors in Sarajevo to visit his city.

He said that it would be a good thing for the youth of Bosnia’s two biggest cities to start visiting each other.

”Why not? I can’t believe we have to emphasize his at all. It goes without saying,” he said.

Stanivukovic stressed that he is willing to cooperate with Sarajevo, primarily in terms of economy.

“The essence of this is economic relations, for two cities that are economic centres to connect because our people suffer chronically from unemployment,” he said, adding while he could elaborate on what kind of relationship he wants with Sarajevo a few days ago, he can not do so now because he is an official and has to consult with his institution, the city and the people he works with.

“That is now not only a question for Drasko, but for all of us,” he said, adding that he has extended his hand toward Sarajevo.

As for neighbouring Serbia, Stanivukovic said that it is important that the country realised that “Republika Srpska is not only Dodik.”

Many media organisations from Serbia contacted him, he said, arguing that this represents an “affirmation of the policy that we are representing.”

“I wish that Banja Luka continues its friendly relationship with Belgrade and I invite Belgrade officials to visit us,” he said. “I am ready for us to initiate investments and I hope that all the efforts made by the Government of Serbia and President Aleksandar Vucic in Banja Luka and the RS will continue in that direction.”

As opposed to Dodik, Stanivukovic stated that it must be clear that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a state and that it must be acknowledged that there is a border between it and Serbia but that Serbs are living on both sides of it.