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Bosnia-Herzegovina has been shaken by a series of uprisings and riots.Massive protests have now shut down the capital Sarajevo and five other Bosnian cities. To get to the bottom of it SchNEWS spoke to Bosnian blogger Amila Bosnae.

Spring has come early to Bosnia-Herzegovina

If you're not very familiar with Bosnia-Herzegovina, the first thing you need to know is that it has one of the most bloated administrations in the world. The Dayton Agreement which ended the war in 1995 divided the country into many smaller administrative units, completely based on ethnic lines. With a population of less than 4 million, it has a state government with three (3) Presidents—one for each of the main ethnic groups—then two larger entities, Serb-dominated Republika Srpska (RS; not actually a republic) and a Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina (FBiH) with mainly Croats and Bosniaks. The latter is divided into ten cantons, and both they and RS are divided into municipalities. There is also one town that has a special status outside of the two larger entities. Everything is divided, even some schools where children are kept apart according to their ethnicity. At every level there are Presidents, ministers, governments, cabinets—hordes and hordes of bureaucrats producing nothing except a piece of paper now and then. That doesn't stop them from awarding themselves ridiculously high salaries, of course. Corruption and nepotism are rife, youth unemployment is above 50 % and twenty years of severe mismanagement have taken their toll.

The current rebellion is not the first of its kind, although what we are seeing now is different in character from previous waves of protests. Last summer, the Baby Revolution became the first large movement to take to the streets and show solidarity across the imposed ethnic lines, completely freaking the politicians out. Those protests, also called the #JMBG protests, started because the state apparatus had stopped issuing ID numbers for newborns (the acronym for the ID number is JMBG). The politicians would not agree on a law regulating it so it simply halted. When their negligence endangered the lives of infants who needed treatment in other countries but couldn't get passports, people took to the streets. The protests quickly gained momentum, but ultimately fizzled out. However, other protests had and have been going on without gaining exposure in mainstream media: for instance, workers who hadn't been paid in years had been protesting weekly, but their protests were falling on deaf ears.

Precisely one such protest was what sparked this current rebellion. Workers from the northern town of Tuzla, who had lost their jobs when their companies were privatised and then declared bankrupt had for a long time been protesting. Last Thursday, their anger finally spilled over, spreading through the streets of Tuzla. There were reports of police brutality that day. On Friday the 7th of February, the protests not only spread to other cities, but escalated to proper riots. Government buildings were set ablaze, several governments forced to step down. The protesters of Tuzla formulated a list of demands, the first of which was to protect the protests. Other cities quickly followed.

Again, the ruling elites are freaking out because the masses are clearly focusing on socio-economic issues. Everything would be so much easier if people would just stay in their enemy tribes, but a flag won't feed any mouths, and a flag seems to be the only answer any of the politicians in power have. So they have tried to misrepresent the protests, discredit the protesters as 'druggies' and 'hooligans'; they have sent riot police to beat them up, and they are using the pliant mainstream media to repeat the mantra of ethnic animosity. In the Serb-dominated part of the country, this seems to have worked especially well, as hardly any protests have taken place there. But it seems that the ball has started rolling, and even though there certainly are obstacles, it's a pretty big ball.

Watching this uprising after last summer's #JMBG protests, I mostly feel like I am watching a neglected muscle being exercised or new wings being spread. Mistakes will certainly be made as the movement grows stronger and comes into its own, but it moves me to tears to see the immense interest in the people's assemblies being held across Bosnia-Herzegovina these days. This evening, one was held in Sarajevo, but there were so many people present that most of them couldn't even get inside the building where it was held. Therefore, another one is planned to take place on Friday at the Olympic hall Zetra which has thousands of seats.

The demands of the protesters differ from town to town, but have a number of similarities: protect the protests, state salaries need to go down, the governments need to resign and be replaced by people with no party affiliations, rip-off privatisations need to be annulled, transparency ensured, corruption fought. All real and huge problems that those in power are panicking to see addressed out loud. They are working to turn the protests into an ethnic issue yet again; leaders from RS have met with top-officials in Belgrade while the Croatian Prime Minister visited Mostar. They all talk about threats to the stability, and while it certainly is worrying that foreign heads of state feel the need to meddle in Bosnia-Herzegovina—with the country's recent history in mind—more and more people are realising that the only stability they are afraid of is the stability of their own thrones.

Since the uprising started, those of us on the outside have been going on little sleep and even less food as we frantically try to keep up, assist however we can and above all make sure the correct information is available in foreign languages. A group of us are working on a project called 'Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files' where we translate declarations from the protesters, videos, articles and witness accounts. An avalanche of texts is being produced about the uprising at the speed of light. It can be overwhelming and seem chaotic, but we are undeniably watching history unfold. It's all still very early days, but we are hopeful.

There are 2 comments on this story...
Added By: Amila Bosnae - 13th February 2014 @ 8:47 AM
I am told that the bit about the next people's assembly taking place in Zetra is not confirmed, but the organisers will definitely look for a larger venue.

It also needs mentioning that the Bosniak member of the joint Presidency recently met with Turkey's Minister of foreign affairs in Sarajevo...
Added By: Anonymous - 24th March 2014 @ 6:27 AM
Good luck in your struggle, you have a history as a proud and determined people.
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