Bosnia: notes on the workers’ protests

By Tash Shifrin | 9 February 2014
Protestors in Sarajevo. Pic credit:  Refik Hodzic via Twitter

Protestors in Sarajevo. Pic credit: Refik Hodzic via Twitter

Angry protests have broken out in Bosnia over the past few days, with government buildings set on fire. The situation is developing rapidly, but here are some quick notes.

1) These are working class protests with working class demands. The protests began in the town of Tuzla when workers from factories that had been privatised and then went bankrupt demanded action over privatisation, jobs – unemployment in Bosnia is around 40% – unpaid salaries and pensions.

The protests then spread to other towns, including Sarajevo, Mostar and Bihac.

You can read the protestors’ demands here.

2) The demands also include the resignations of various levels of Bosnia’s labyrinthine and stagnant system of government, which among other things embeds ethnic divisions in its structure. This system was imposed under the Dayton agreement of 1995, driven by the US and European leaders. The whole country has a population less than half the size of London.

Politicians in Bosnia are generally regarded as corrupt. The protestors have already forced the resignation of some canton governments and the director of police coordination in the Federation.

3) At the top of the tree is an unelected “high representative” – put in place by the “international community” including the US, EU and Russia – who has enormous powers, including the ability to sack elected politicians.

In fact Paddy Ashdown, the Lib Dem peer, did just this when he held the post a few years ago. The International Commission on the Balkans has described this set-up as “neo-colonial rule”.

If you want to know what this means for the protestors right now, it is this: the current high representative, Valentin Izko, has threatened to bring in EU troops if the protests escalate.

4) The BBC notes that the protestors “have been avowedly anti-nationalist”, although the protests have taken place in the mainly Bosniak areas of the Bosnian Federation, and has not spread to the Serbian republic that makes up the other half of the country.

[UPDATE 10.02.14 The protests have now definitely spread to the Serbian entity, with demos reported today in Banja Luka and Prijedor.]

The anti-nationalist stance is particularly important given the legacy of division following the Bosnian war in the 1990s.

There are reports that demonstrations have been called later this week in solidarity with the Bosnian protestors in the Croatian capital of Zagreb and in Belgrade, capital of Serbia.

It’s not clear how big these will be – but in the context of the bitter conflicts in the former Yugoslav republics in the 1990s, such solidarity demonstrations could be a step forward for internationalism and working class unity in the Balkans.

5) There have been some comparisons made between the protests in Bosnia and those taking place in Ukraine at the moment. I think the idea that the two movements are similar or together make up a “Eastern European Spring” are badly mistaken.

While the Bosnia protests are pursuing a clear working class agenda, the Ukraine “Euromaidan” protests are unfortunately doing no such thing – instead they are mobilisations in support of a faction of the ruling oligarchy that would prefer to turn towards the EU rather than Russia. The Ukraine protests also have a very significant open fascist presence.


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