Review of the Civic Initiative for Borik

28.6.2016 - Banja Luka

Today, after the fight is over, and with the children’s playground and green surface preserved, we wish to remind you of the steps we took with the Civic initiative for Borik. We also want to share a few pieces of information about the next steps.

The Civic Initiative for Borik was created as a reaction to the neglect of public complaint from the citizens of Borik. They expressed their complaints during the public debate on the draft amendments of part of the regulatory plan for the residential area of Borik.

This draft planned to build an Orthodox church with supporting facilities on a area of over 1000 m² instead of the already existing children’s playground and the public green areas along Bulevar vojvode Živojina Mišića.

It was clear that the city government would not take into account numerous complaints of citizens, and they would not give up the predicted changes in the regulatory plan. The citizens did not want to abandon their intention to preserve this area either. Together with the citizens of Borik, we launched 'Citizens’ Initiative' with the aim of repealing the decision to amke amendments to part of the regulatory plan which affected the residential area of Borik.

We would like to thank all the citizens that were a part of the Initiative Board, the active participants of the Citizens' Initiative for Borik, citizens who gave their signatures of support for the initiative, and the citizens who have collected those signatures. We thank the journalists too because their media support was of great importance.

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Some journalists have repeatedly stated  that the Citizens’ Initiative for Borik was against the church.  This was not the case. Citizens’ Initiative for Borik insisted that they stood exclusively for the preservation of children’s playgrounds and public green areas regardless of the building concerned. 

According to the Law on Referendum and Civic Initiative RS, citizens for the exercise of citizens’ initiatives must educate the preparatory committee of at least three members who have the right to vote. For the Citizens’ Initiative for Borik, the committee members were Sanda Vukojević and Niko Anušić, as representatives of the citizens of Borik, and Miodrag Dakić, as a representative of the Center for the Environment. However, in addition to members of the Initiative Committee, Citizens’ Initiative for Borik members were also Magdalena Kasun, Zrinka Džumić, and Dunja Pejić as citizens of Borik. Alexander Štrbac, Tanja Boromisa, and Branislav Ristić were representatives of the associations “Hi Neighbour,” and Jelena Brkic acted on behalf of the Center for Environment.

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Citizens’ Initiative for Borik was founded 13th of October 2015. This was not the beginning of the struggle for the children’s playground though. This struggle started with the fight for public access to the draft amendments concerning the part about the regulatory plan of the residential area Borik. That fight lasted from July 21 to August 21 of 2015. During the public review, the Centre for Environment on June 20th, through the Initiative “Our space” under the premises of the Ministry of Health Borik organized a public presentation of the predicted changes in the regulatory plan. After this presentation, representatives from the Department of Spacial Planning refused our proposal to organize a public presentation in order to clarify the planned changes to the citizens Borik. To inform the citizens of Borik, we placed posters at all entrances near the children’s playground and public green areas which proved to be an excellent choice. During the public presentation, the hall was full of the local community of Borik who were not satisfied with the selected location or the fact that there were construction plans to be done in the area of the children’s playground, or how Uncle Niko likes to say: “They wanted to take our Jahorina.”

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One of the most important dates in the fight for public green area and the playground is the 17th of September 2015. On that day the public hearing was held in the Hall of the Cultural Centre Banski Dvor. The public hearing was attended by representatives of the City Administration of Banja Luka, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the firm Civil Engineering Institute “IG” that drafted the changes for urban planning, representatives of associations, and a large number of citizens. The hall was full which was a first. Citizens have expressed their views and concerns, and representatives of the “IG” will have to answer. Since our public participation in decision-spatial planning documents is very important to us, the issue was that none of the citizens who opposed the choice of location were refused the right to be heard.

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In order to best coordinate the activities of the Civic Initiative for Borik, meetings were held regularly every week, but most of the activity was carried out on a volunteer basis or during the free time of the members who worked for the iniative.

One of the first official activities was collecting signatures in support of the citizens’ initiative. This was the first citizens’ initiative, which is organized in accordance with the Law on Referendum and Civic Initiative RS, was addressed to one of the institutions of the City of Banja Luka. During the seven days, the maximum period of time allowed by law, a total of 5,110 signatures were collected from citizens of Borik and from other parts of the city. We wish to note that, although the Law on Referendum and Civic Initiative was adopted back in 2010, the city authorities of Banja Luka have yet to comply with city regulations Law which caused additional difficulties. For example, we had problems with the locations of the stands to collect signatures, the exemption from the payment of the stands, and the citizens’ initiative to call for the Assembly of the City of Banja Luka. We hope that our citizens’ initiative will encourage the city government to finally harmonize regulations so that some subsequent initiatives can be free of the same difficulties.

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After the collection of the signatures, the Civic Initiative for Borik, on 24th of November 2015 came on the agenda of the City of Banja Luka which had to decide citizens’ initiative to repeal decisions about making changes to the part of the regulatory plan for the residential area of Borik. After the scandalous discussion councilors, who have not commented on the arguments of the Civic Initiative for Borik, present board members did not give the necessary support for the Civic Initiative for Borik. Nine councilors voted in favor and ten against, with three abstentions, Nine councilors did not attend the vote.

Although we were disappointed by the decision of the Assembly, we were not discouraged. We were only further motivated because we knew that the Civic Initiative for Borik had the right attitude regarding the needs of the citizens. They also had a contemporary approach to spatial planning in urban areas. The first step after the refusal in the Assembly was an appeal to the Ombudsman for Children of RS. This appeal was followed by another appeal to the Supreme Court of RS which is the only legal possibility for questioning the decisions of the Assembly. We had difficulties in re-submission of this appeal because the Supreme Court of the Republic of Srpska did not harmonize their decisions based on the Law on Referendum and Civic Initiative RS. The Supreme Court on the 28th of January 2016 issued a judgment in our favor. However, the court did not take into account all of our arguments. When during the assembly in the City of Banja Luka, a retrial was ordered because of errors in the process and several relevant parliamentary committees did not provide their opinion on the Civic Initiative for Borik.

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The session which again decided on the Civic Initiative for Borik was held on 31st of May 2016. The Civic Initiative for Borik received the unanimous support of the 18 members present. This  process helped us learn as a community about how to be active citizens and use the rights given to us by the Constitution which is guaranteed by law.

After this victory for the citizens of Borik, we hade a meeting with them on Jun 16, 2016 to discuss both the legal victory and the possibility of future planning courses to be held in Borik. Citizens’ Initiative for Borik has fulfilled its purpose for which it received support. The organization's goals, supported by 5,110 people with their signatures, preserved the children’s playground and a public green area. In the future, citizens and representatives of associations involved in the Citizens’ Initiative for Borik plan to continue with activities and further organizing to ensure the preservation of the children’s playground and public green spaces. Also, together we will start an initiative to add funds into the budget for maintaining and organizing this area in the year 2017.

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Dear citizens, this is our victory! The victory is for the 5110 people that signed the petition, 60 of us that have collected these petitions, and for all citizens of Banja Luka who will in the future run similar initiatives in order to fight for their right to have a quality life in the city. We have proved that it is possible!

The initiative “Our space” will continue activities involving citizens in the process of developing a proposal for the regulation of children’s playgrounds and public green spaces. Our next goal is to improve the quality of the current equipment and accquire new playground equipment for children. Also, we plan to write a manual for citizens ‘initiatives which will explain in detail each step that future citizens’ initiatives should take in order to have the least difficulty in achieving its objective.

International activities