David Wilson of Islington Left Unity looks at recent developments in Bosnia
Three years ago, the Museum of Broken Relationships was set up in Zagreb by former lovers Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubiši?.Displays include an axe used by a woman to smash her ex-girlfriend’s furniture together with a splintered chair, a wedding dress with its note saying, “I liked the idea that I could give something away that awakened painful memories for me,” gall stones, a Vespa and a nasal spray. There is even a wooden leg from an amputee who lost it during the 1992-5 war and who fell in love with his nurse. The card next to it says, “This prosthetic had a longer life-span than the relationship.”
This museum is a metaphor for how the nationalists in the countries of the former Yugoslavia wish to view their past – a broken relationship which may be remembered with mementoes 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 divisionsin 1992.
For twenty years Bosnians have suffered war followed by the rule of oligarchs using ethno-nationalist rhetoric to hide their plunder of the nation’s wealth. The post Dayton Peace accords which ended the war in 1995 excluded ordinary citizens, workers and students from all this, helping to impose the neo-liberal orthodoxy of privatisation, factory closures and job losses. Unemployment has been at 40% and 57% among young people. 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 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 studentshave issued a list of demands which include forming non-ethnicstate and local governments whose members come from outside the existing political class, the prosecution of economic crimes, reversing privatisations, restoring workers’ rights, and equalizing the pay of politicians with that of workers. They are also demanding the collectivisation of the privatised and formerly state-owned factories.
A system of self-management dates back to 1950 when Tito broke free from Stalin. It was in many ways a farce as the Communist Party ensured that they controlled the management of mist enterprises, but was never totally bogus. The Tuzla workers will have remembered all this.
For the moment the political elites are on the defensive. Prime Minister Nermin Niksic has 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 following 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. The Director of the Directorate for Police Coordination of Bosnia and Hercegovina (his Orwellian title evidence of the extent of the bureaucracy in the country) has resigned. There are unconfirmed reports that special force police officers removed their helmets and joined protestors 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 UN, has said, “If it comes to escalation we would have to consider the intervention of EU forces.” A Sarajevo police chief has said, “the international community and the EU should consider deploying international military forces in BiH if widespread rioting occurs again.” Two days ago the President of the independent trade unions, Josip Milic, was attacked in the streets of Mostar and there are reports of nationalist thugs beating up people attempting to reach the main square there for the daily unity demonstrations. The Bosnian Serb leader, Miloran Dodik, has accused supporters of the Bosnia protestors of being a ‘muslim’ 5th column.
There is urgent need for solidarity across the region and beyond. Solidarity demonstrations have been held in Banja Luka (at the heart of the Serbian region of the country), in the Serbian capital of Belgrade and in Croatia’s capital Zagreb. In the Montenegran capital of Podgorica demonstrators called for the resignation of their government
On a wall in Tuzla a sign reads, “You must all resign! Death to nationalism!” and in Sarajevo a graffiti says, “he who sows hunger reaps rage.” A friend of mine in Mostar told me “The wheel has started turning, and it is too huge to be stopped. If it gets quiet it won‘t be for long and if they don‘t change this sick system, the next explosion will be their private properties and them. It will be absolute chaos.”
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