Report from Bosnia:
I went with two friends last week to Bosnia (3 days in Sarajevo and 2 days
in Tuzla) to try to understand the situation there. Here is some of the
information we gathered. This is far from being a proper analysis, as we
need more time to try to make sense of these facts. We’ll keep following
what is happening and will write more when we find more information.
Protests in Sarajevo:
They take place every day since the government building of Sarajevo’s
canton was burned. People meet at 1pm in a place they call ?the square?
but which is in fact the intersection between two streets in front of the
burned building. The protest looks small at first, but people come and go
from 1pm to around 9pm every day so it means that a lot more people in
total are coming to protest.
It should be said that the rest of the city functions (so to speak) as
usual, and this is true of Tuzla as well.
There is little police around the building, we heard that those remaining
in power are very afraid of what is going on and are trying not to provoke
the demonstrators by massive police presence.
Those protests started in solidarity with the events in Tuzla, but quickly
the protesters in Sarajevo started having their own demands and assembly.
They burned the government building of Sarajevo’s canton on Friday the
7th. According to some of the participants, the people taking part in the
riot were very diverse, many young people but also many pensioners, men
and women alike, and apparently the big majority was not political before
or involved in any organization. One young woman we met was very proud of
having been part of the riots and insisted she was not the only one, and
that older women joined as well.
In Sarajevo it seems that young people and retired people are the most
present in the movement, or let’s say those with the most anger. We met
many old people who told us it was great that the government building
burned, and that a lot more should be burned.
Young people named massive unemployment as a cause of protest; pensioners
complained that they were still receiving the same pensions than years ago
even if the prices had gone up dramatically and they couldn’t possibly
survive on that money.
Protests in Tuzla
We were only two days in Tuzla and have less understanding of the
We met some workers of the Dita factory, one of those which got bankrupt
after its privatization. They said that they have already been struggling
for more than a year to get their wages, health insurance etc? that they
tried many different ways to struggle (including a hunger strike) but that
nobody cared. But when they went to the streets on the 5th of February and
got attacked by the police, that provoked immediately a massive movement
of solidarity by younger people and unemployed, who took to the streets
and stormed and burned the government building of canton Tuzla. The
workers of Dita we met said that they were very happy that that building
burned and people protested in the streets, and that they were proud that
their struggle had initiated such actions. They said that they were not
organized in any union as the official union abandoned them 10 years ago.
The ?assemblies of the citizens of Tuzla? are pretty big (more than 500
people as we were there) and apparently it is the first time such
assemblies took place, at least in the last 20 years. Most of the
participants were over 30 years old, all sorts of people, not really the
kind of typical ?Occupy? crowd. Still, workers of the Dita factory told us
that it was younger people who had the idea of meeting in assemblies, so
maybe there were a few younger people (maybe students) who had somehow
heard about the whole Occupy/Assemblea thing abroad. In any case there was
apparently never any mention of these examples.
We went to one assembly and it was very well organized, those who put
their hands up got the chance to speak, the decisions were written in a
document that was projected on a white board. It looks that there was a
massive need for something that looks transparent, that contrasts with the
corruption of everyday politics. The content of what was discussed was
very far from being revolutionary, people said they wanted a government of
experts, ?the continuity of institutions? (not yet quite sure what that
means) etc? Problems of form were central to the discussion: that the
delegates of the assembly were not to be part of any political party, that
they were not to be paid? People insisted as well that there should be
women among the delegates (at first only men were proposed). Of course
these are only formal things but they seemed very important to people.
Critique of nationalism
This is a point that was constantly raised and one of the main point that
was making people euphoric: nationalism (which means there: the division
of Bosnia into ethnic groups) has been the major axis around which any
social relation, political and social demand etc? was supposed to be
articulated and understood. And all of a sudden, anti-nationalism turns to
be the cement of the protests, the common value that makes very different
people come together.
Anti-nationalism means there something very different than what we would
mean by it. It is in no way a form of internationalism. In fact, most of
the people we met did not have a clue of what is going on outside
ex-Yugoslavia, and never heard of Occupy or the Arab Spring (which does
not mean at all that it is impossible to make parallels between these
movements and what is happening in Bosnia.)
Sometimes anti-nationalism was combined with a call for a real Bosnia,
which seems to be less of a nationalism per se (there is not really a
Bosnian-Herzegovina identity) than a call for a functioning state
(possibly understood as a functioning welfare state): because of the
division of the country in three parts, with three governments and three
presidents, the administration and the institutions are a big mess, so
people don’t get their benefits, laws that are voted don’t go through,
etc. We met many people who were pissed off by that and said they just
wanted a ?proper functioning state?.
Obviously many old people were nostalgic of Yugoslavia, but I don’t think
it was much present among young people, and this was normally more
expressed implicitly than explicitly.
It is still not completely clear to us what is happening in the Serbian
part of Bosnia (Republika Srpska). The president of that part is claiming
that the protests are only an ?ethnically? Bosnian phenomena and that
Serbs should not join the protest. But there is at least a small minority
that is trying to join the protest and is getting into trouble for it. We
heard that there were curfews in some of these parts to prevent people to
join the protests but we still do not know if that is true. It should be
said that this part is generally poorer that the Bosnian part.
Formal demands were far from being revolutionary: a government of experts,
a proper functioning of the state etc? Still it is worth questioning if
the participants really believe that such a government could actually
exist, and if they do think so, it is very likely that they will be
disappointed soon. And, from the level of anger we could see, it seems
highly probable that what we are witnessing is only the first round in a
series of protests.
Solidary protests in other ex-Yugoslavia countries
There were protests in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and last Saturday there
were riots in Montenegro.
To be continued?