Bosnia: The wheel has started turning

February 21, 2014
Anti-government protesters chant slogans during a rally in Sarajevo February 9.

Three years ago, the Museum of Broken Relationships was set up in Zagreb by former lovers Olinka Vistica and Drazen Grubisi to display items symbolising the end of various personal relationships.

This museum is a metaphor for how the nationalists in the countries of the former Yugoslavia view their past ― a broken relationship remembered with mementos and nostalgia, but nothing else.

The recent uprisings in Bosnia-Hercegovina are the biggest attempt to rebuild that relationship since sniper fire broke up the Sarajevo demonstration against national divisions in 1992.

For 20 years, Bosnians have suffered war then rule by oligarchs using ethnic and nationalist rhetoric to hide their plunder of the nation’s wealth. The post-Dayton Peace accords that ended the war in 1995 excluded ordinary citizens, workers and students, helping to impose the neoliberal orthodoxy of privatisation, factory closures and job losses.

Youth unemployment has hit as much as 57%. Pensioners are left to dig through waste bins.

The first protests in Tuzla, Sarajevo, Zenica and Bihac involved attacks on government and political party buildings. In Mostar, a city still physically divided by the battle lines of the war, Croat and Bosniak protesters came together to attack the offices of their respective ethnically based political parties.

Since then, daily demonstrations and popular assemblies have been taking place in many towns and cities.

The movement is explicitly anti-capitalist. In Tuzla, workers and students have issued a list of demands, including: forming non-ethnic state and local governments whose members come from outside the existing political class; the prosecution of economic crimes; reversing privatisations; restoring workers’ rights; and equalising the pay of politicians with that of workers.

They are also demanding the collectivisation of the privatised formerly state-owned factories.

A system of self-management dates back to 1950 when then Yugoslav leader Tito broke free from Stalin. It was in many ways a farce as the Communist Party ensured they controlled the management of most enterprises. But it was never totally bogus.

For the moment, the political elites are on the defensive. Prime Minister Nermin Niksic said: “We are ready to cede the power to anyone legitimate.” The prime minister of the Sarajevo canton, Suad Zeljkoviv, said: “No one has reasons for unrest … nor does any sector of society have reasons for dissatisfaction.”

The next day he resigned. The regional governments in the Tuzla and Zenica-Doboj cantons have collapsed. The federation government has called for a review of the privatisations that caused widespread anger.

The director of the Directorate for Police Coordination of Bosnia and Hercegovina has resigned. There are unconfirmed reports that special force police officers removed their helmets and joined protesters in Sarajevo.

There should be no doubt that the oligarchs and their international backers will be working out their counter-attack. Valentin Inzko, speaking for the United Nations, said: “If it comes to escalation, we would have to consider the intervention of EU forces.”

A Sarajevo police chief said: “The international community and the EU should consider deploying international military forces if widespread rioting occurs again.”

On February 14, president of the independent trade unions Josip Milic was attacked on the streets of Mostar. There are reports of nationalist thugs beating up people trying to reach the main square for the daily unity demonstrations.

The Bosnian Serb leader, Miloran Dodik, has accused supporters of the Bosnia protesters of being a “Muslim fifth column”.

There is urgent need for solidarity across the region and beyond. Solidarity demonstrations have been held in Banja Luka (in the heart of the Serbian region of the country), in the Serbian capital Belgrade and Croatia’s capital Zagreb. In the Montenegran capital of Podgoricam demonstrators called for the resignation of their government.

On a Tuzla wall, a sign reads: “You must all resign! Death to nationalism!” In Sarajevo, graffiti said: “He who sows hunger reaps rage.”

A friend in Mostar told me: “The wheel has started turning, and it is too huge to be stopped.”

[Abridged from Left Unity.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.