A Bosnian Spring?

walter crane-ProletariansDavid Wilson looks at recent events in Bosnia.

On 6th February, anti-government demonstrations broke out in Tuzla, Bosnia. They were led by workers who had been laid off by the owners of newly privatised factories. Contracts agreed at the time of the state sell-offs stipulated that they were to invest in their companies. Instead, they started stripping the assets and sacking their workers.

Solidarity protests have taken place in Zenica, Bihac and Mostar. By Friday 7th February a government building was on fire in Tuzla and in Sarajevo special forces soldiers used water cannon to drive off protesters trying to storm the presidential residency. Demonstrators had set fire to the building and torched police cars stationed around it. In Zenica, rioters set fire to another government building, chanting “Revolution!” and “Thieves!”.

In Mostar young people held up banners declaring ‘ Politicians, the Youth Revolution Arrives’. Almost 60% of young people in Bosnia Herzegovina are without jobs.

It is hardly surprising these protests started in Tuzla which, with its surrounding region, has a proud working class history that has survived war and nationalist division.

Representatives of 35,000 miners and metal workers in the region stated in 1969, “No worker should be made redundant due to modernisation or the reconstruction of production workshops.”

At the time of the British miners strike in 1984, the 10,000 miners at the Kreka colliery near Tuzla gave up one day’s pay a month for the British miners, an example taken up by other miners across Bosnia and in Croatia.

In 1987 Bosnian miners led the way in calling for an independent trade union and for the setting up of a new communist party.

In Tuzla, Zenica and other working class towns non-ethnic leftist parties won the 1990 election and maintained control of their local governments throughout the war years.

At a 1992 demonstration in Tuzla against growing nationalist divisions a miner addressed the crowd with these words, ‘the only identity we have is as miners.’

Over the next four years the Tudjman and Milosevicregimes embarked on a programme of violent partition as a conscious attempt to destroy anything other than ‘national’ identity. But the working class of Tuzla stood in their way and played a key role defending multi-ethic Bosnia.

The first defeat of the Yugoslav army (JNA) occurred at the beginning of the war in Tuzla and in 1994 the trade union council in that city issued a declaration, ‘In Tuzla the workers firmly support the multi-ethnic nature of the workers movement … The unions have fought throughout the war to help citizens of all nationalities without discrimination … but we cannot continue our resistance to the attacks without international solidarity from the workers of Europe … If multicultural Tuzla is defeated, can any area of Europe be safe from the racists?’

This spirit survived the war. In 1998 the miners union organised an international conference against privatisation, casualisation and unemployment in Tuzla. Miners leader Memis Music called for a new workers party and for the union to ‘transform itself into a united and efficient working class organisation.’

The following ten years saw galloping neo-liberal privatisation with growing unemployment, falling wages and massive government corruption. Meanwhile the government sought NATO membership and sent troops to Afghanistan in support of the US-led occupation forces.

The next days and weeks will see whether the protests which started in Tuzla spreads further through the region and whether that old slogan of ‘unity is strength’ seals the fate of those forces inside and outside the country intent on benefiting from division.


4 responses to “A Bosnian Spring?”

  1. Mlarkin says:

    History is everything and fuels the imagination when circumstances press down. Can times be more pressing? A salutary message.

  2. Charles Crawford says:

    Come off it.

    The problem with Bosnia is that its Cold War communist-era economy was geared up to support inefficient arms and other heavy industries that ultimately were able to survive only through Western loans. Once Yugoslavia collapsed, all that had to crash too.

    In Bosnia the political elites on all sides latterly have tended to try to stick with corrupt status quo, long after that had shown itself unsustainable. These privatisations should have happened years ago to allow the economy to start to grow normally

    After colossal Western support since Dayton, Bosnia is only a pathetic 101 in the World Economic Freedom Index. A wretched result and 100% down to the former communist instincts of the people running the country, and indeed of the population as a whole.

    Now? No good answers, especially in the ‘Federation’ entity. There are just no leaders there able to deliver a reformist programme that makes any sense.

    • Simon Duckett says:

      Yes that’s really convincing. More neo-liberal crap that has failed and failed again across Europe. Your idea? Why, let’s repeat it in Bosnia. Plus you fail completely to address the points raised in the article. Why? Because you can only parrot the two dimensional arguments of the greedy violent minority in power, for now, across the continent and the world. Come off it mate.

      • Terry Conway says:

        The local government in Tuzla have resigned since David’s article was written – here is the (somewhat stilted) tranlsation from the citizens proclamation. ta terry


        7th February of 2014.

        Today in Tuzla a new future is created! The government has submitted his resignation, which was the first demand of the demonstrators and thus creates conditions for further solving of the existing problems and the fulfillment of the rest of the workers’ demands.

        Accumulated anger and rage are causes of the violent behavior. The attitude of the authorities has led to the fact that the situation in Tuzla escalated. Now, in this new situation, we have to focus this anger and rage on building a productive and useful system of government.

        We invite all citizens to support the implementation of these demands:

        1. Maintaining public order in cooperation of citizens, police and the civil protection, to avoid any criminalization, politicization and manipulation of any protests.
        2. Establishing a technical government, made ??up of professional, non-political party members, uncompromised people, who have not had a single mandate in any level of government, which would lead the Tuzla canton to the election of 2014. This Government shall have the duty to submit weekly plans and reports on the activities and achieve the given objectives. Work of the Government will be monitored by all interested citizens.
        3. Resolve, by emergency procedure, the questions of regularity of the privatization of the following companies: “Dita”, “Polihem”, “Poliolhem”, “GUMARA” and “Konjuh”, and:
        ? bind the length of service and ensure health care for the workers;
        ? prosecute the economic criminals and all the actors who participated in it;
        ? seize illegally acquired assets;
        ? annul the privatization contracts;
        ? do a revision of privatization;
        ? return the factories to the workers and place them under the control of public authorities in order to safeguard the public interest, and start production in those factories where possible.
        5. Balancing the salaries of government representatives to the salaries of employees in the public and private sectors.
        6. Cancellation of additional payments to the representatives of government, as personal income, on the basis of participation in commissions, committees and other bodies, as well as other unreasonable and unjustified compensations that workers in the public and private sectors don’t have.
        7. The abolition of wage to ministers and possibly other government officials, who are getting wage payments after the expiration or termination of their mandate.

        This Proclamation is brought by the workers and citizens of Tuzla Canton , for the good of us all.

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