By Medina Malagic – Sarajevo
Over the past week, Bosnia-Herzegovina has returned to the international spotlight. What started in the formerly strong industrial town of Tuzla has quickly spread to other areas of B&H. The images, footage and key phrases used in many articles had probably made many think that the violence that characterized B&H in the early 1990’s would return.
Government buildings were set on fire in Zenica, Tuzla, Mostar and Sarajevo. Protestors demanded the resignation of cantonal governments and their prime ministers. So far, the Prime Ministers of Tuzla, Zenica, Sarajevo and Bihac cantons have resigned. Some global media has resorted to using key phrases such as violence and unrest in Bosnia again, which is meant to compel readers to think, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that this country is predisposed to violence and it is its instability that has led to an eruption of violent protests.
However, despite the ethno-nationalist rhetoric that has engulfed this country of nearly 4 million and the ethnic institutionalized division of B&H, it must be noted that these protests have nothing to do with nationalism or ethnic divisions. The causes of these protests, in particular the violence that culminated last Friday, were misinterpreted, and the cause was initially confused with effect.
To put this in the right context, the protests in Tuzla began when workers of several companies in Tuzla began to protest against the privatization of their companies, which left thousands of workers unemployed. These workers had been protesting in front of the Tuzla Canton government for years. It was the first time that people began using the word ‘privatization’, with the full awareness of exactly what it means and the direct impact it had on their lives.
Now, citizens Plenums are being organized throughout B&H. They have articulated their demands to the Assemblies of their cantons, which include reducing the salaries of ministers and eliminating the so-called ‘white-bread’, which is the compensation paid to ministers and Prime Ministers. They would receive one year’s salary after they no longer serve their post. In Tuzla, the Assembly has already accepted this demand from the citizens’ Plenum.
In Sarajevo, protestors are still demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister of the FB&H, Nermin Niksic, and the entire FB&H government, and have vowed to continue protesting and blocking the main street until he resigns. Protests are also springing up in other cities and towns throughout B&H, with Plenums slowly emerging and the people of this country have jumped into first-hand experience in direct democracy.
For the first time, people in this country are articulating en masse what most citizens here have already known-that the problem lies not in blaming particular political parties for the economic, social, political and cultural malaise. Rather, they are learning how to connect their own concerns and problems, within the context of B&H’s complicated and bloated bureaucracy with a wider struggle, one in the struggle is against privatization, which is taking place all over the world as part of the neoliberal agenda. The struggle has been directed against the EU and the international community, who are seen as collaborators with the very politicians of B&H who have brought people to the brink of their existence, while they continue to receive high salaries without doing anything to help revive B&H out of its existential misery. Thus, it should come as no surprise why the protests throughout the country continue unabated, with more demands being articulated, and it can be said that this is the beginning of the transformation of the political culture of B&H, one in which the citizens themselves have taken the directors seat.