Amid calm euphoria, increased state repression, and mass-media lies, people in Bosnia and Herzegovina move from street protests to plenums, or public assemblies. Plenums are about taking back the power: political parties are banned from participating.
Meanwhile, the state of BiH has bought 10,000 rubber bullets to use against the next uprising (one in 90 shot by rubber bullets is killed and 17 are mutilated).
J. ŠARČEVIĆ, SARAJEVO: “Radical changes need to be made for justice. What suffering it is for a man to see he cannot feed his children even if he wakes up every morning and works in the woods or a factory for some marks. This crisis was caused by most of these national businessmen, people who use the nation and religion so they can rule over others and thus keep the people of this country impoverished… ”
Avi Blecherman, our correspondent in BiH, interviews people of Sarajevo:
“The huge state machinery is reinforced by nationalism, corruption, nepotism and opportunism, and it will resist every kind of change, probably for some time,” as Nedzad Ibrahimovic one of the participants at the plenum in Tuzla said. This is one reason why political parties are banned from these people’s assemblies. The plenum in Tuzla has asked that general parliamentary and municipal elections be held as soon as possible, “to stop the political elites from regaining their lost popularity and criminal ties, and not to allow them to put the brakes on people’s liberties and push them in the opposite direction of their will.”
Avi Blecherman, our correspondent in BiH, interviews people of Sarajevo:
In Mostar, Josip Milić, a union leader and a professor were attacked in plain daylight and beaten with baseball bats by unknown individuals.
And while the rebel people of Bosnia and Herzegovina have gained worldwide admiration for their class war, they are increasingly condemned as “terrorists” by the State.
While people at the plenum in Sarajevo demanded that police be investigated for the brutal crackdown and abuse of protestors on February 7th (which resulted in government buildings set on fire), the municipal court in Sarajevo assisted in the repression of dissenters and ordered news outlets to submit all their video and audio material from February 7th protests to the police.
Journalist Rubina Čengić said the protests were infiltrated by the undercover police: “Why they don’t use journalistic investigations on crime and corruption, which give them quite enough evidence to launch a decent investigation against individuals in government, the same way they now look for images and pictures to discover the culprit for demonstrations?”
More and more people come to participate at these plenums – over 1000 stood in the rain in Sarajevo, because the hall was too small for everyone. Almost as many participated in Tuzla, hundreds in Mostar, and other cities. On Sunday In Livno, such a plenum will take place too.
In Sarajevo, after people waited in rain for hours to be able to take part, the plenum decided that the Canton and federation government must resign.
At these plenums all over BiH people discuss their participation in the community. “Collective rights arise from the rights of individuals/citizens. A citizen/individual has (will have) all the rights guaranteed… with respect to the freedom and right to work, health care, housing, retirement, rights to vote and be elected, etc. In principle, all individual/civil rights belong to each citizen, all collective rights belong to each person, in different ways according to the group in question (ethnic, athletic, interest-based, professional, trade union-based, etc),” explained Nedzad Ibrahimovic.
“But the new government will bring us nothing, it will lead us from one cage to another”, said one participant at one of the plenums in Tuzla. You may watch here how such an assembly takes place, we thank @labournettv for translating the second plenum in Tuzla:
Here is a report published by Popular Resistance from the second plenum in Tuzla. People spoke about their daily life and work, and provide some insight as to why burning down the government seems like such a good idea to so many. They introduce you to the life of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and actually, most of Eastern Europe:
Emina who spoke about labor unions at the Tuzla’s second plenum: “Many people ask me these days, ‘How come we never mention the work of labor unions?’ Many workers blame the labor union and I personally blame the labor union for the state in Dita; so called “Yellow” labor union. The labor union did not listen to the workers and was protecting the interests of the company. The leaders of the union are ‘bought up’ people. They isolate themselves from the people when the protests started. Now they emerge as a group to negotiate with the assembly. I have few suggestions, because I cannot let myself to be represented by Ismet Bajramovic. I can’t let myself be represented by Kata Iveljic, who sold me. I and a large group of workers propose that we form an independent labor union for the county of Tuzla, and that the ‘yellow’ labor union does not have the right to participate. I also want to encourage fellow workers that we can’t be quiet, to speak up, and to make them feel fear. We need to show our determination, courage, and that we all stand behind each other.”
An anonymous protest participant speaks about the assembly: “I want to ask: Is it normal when you go to the health clinic to see a dentist and they tell you to come at 5:00 a.m. if you want to be seen by the dentist, because he leaves at 9 a.m. to practice in his private office to make money and not pay any taxes? I want the representatives to mention this when they meet with the assembly. In addition, we do not know who the owners are of many private companies. People work for years but do not know who the owner is; everyone guesses who it is. For years in Croatia as well, they have been promising to release this information, but we are still waiting.”
Mirsad Zafic asks that political parties not get involved in this gathering: “This victory and this gathering is an act of the people. Because of that I want to request that the political parties do not get involved in this gathering. We deserve this gathering; the ones who are not involved in political parties.”
Amir Sisic speaks about injustice in the work place: “I hope that we form a TV channel, or at least a public radio station. We will gather donations to form this channel. It would be a place where the politicians would never be the main news. It would be a place for the people to talk; to voice firsthand experiences of injustice, such as the one the professor shared with us earlier where her superior attacked her for voicing her opinion, and where she was afraid of losing her job. She shouldn’t have to be afraid; her superior should be the one losing her job. There are many similar stories and they have to be brought to light! There are companies who give their employees $50 in warm meals, to get them to sign a paper that they are receiving $250 in salaries. We will bring all of these companies to light! The people should have the main word.” Quotes above courtesy of Popular Resistance.
So far, two local parliaments expressed support for the demands voted by citizens’ plenums – the one in the Tuzla Canton and the other one in Zenica-Doboj Canton. People from Tuzla went to Sarajevo to help them with better organising the plenums.
“The demands are realistic.” You can read here the demands adopted by the people’s plenum in Sarajevo. “We’re expecting more demands, but as a new way of functioning for the plenum it should also now focus on the implementation of these demands. As a person, I’m overjoyed at having had the opportunity to witness this gathering of freedom,” concluded Asim Mujkić, a professor at the University of Sarajevo who attended the second Sarajevo Citizens’ Plenum. Citizens demanded a non-party government of technicians who must report back to the citizens once every few weeks, a revision of financial privileges (politicians earn up to 20 thousand euro a month), the revision of all privatizations of enterprises in the Sarajevo Canton, and an independent inquiry into what happened at the protests on February 7th, when government buildings were set on fire. These are just 4 demands selected from 200 put forward by people, which will be put forward in the plenum’s discussion today and in the upcoming assemblies.There is another protest in Sarajevo at noon today in front of the Bosnian Presidency building.
There’s a lot of talk about government buildings being set on fire. Some try to make the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina feel guilty of it. Well, they ask these people back: why should they?
Here’s the testimony of a retiree textile worker from Sarajevo: “This (the uprising) should have happened ten, twenty years ago, when the factories and the plants started to disappear, and when workers were left with no chance to survive. Protesters had no choice but to burn the government.
The union is supposed to come out on the street, not the people, not our children. And all are silent because they agreed with what they were doing to us.”
Here’s how a participant and witness, Nikola Ćupas, remembers the uprising, and then asks pacifists: “How hungry are you?” – before they judge:
“It was quiet in Kruševac this Sunday. Nothing remarkable happened. No doubt people are waiting for the election campaign to kick off. Election campaigns, as we have learned, mean politicians peddling a great big bag of lies and promises to the people. These promises are always tailored to the broadest possible interest of the people. And then, in spite of it all, we find ourselves yet again struggling with deficits, bills, poverty, unemployment. How are people then supposed to fight for themselves?
Across the river Drina, 350 km from Kruševac, on Wednesday 5th of February, a few hundred workers and inhabitants of Tuzla gathered in a protest in front of the building of the Tuzla Canton. This would have probably ended up like any other protest with the authorities handling it according to the same old plan: by promising to find a quick solution. Except something unexpected happened, something the authorities were wholly unprepared for. The protest gained mass support.
Like a force of nature, other workers, the unemployed, and the students filled the streets in solidarity in the struggle against the system that had robbed and wronged them. They chose to fight for social justice. What followed was an awakening of all the peoples in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a rebellion that spread across the entire country.
The authorities in Republika Srpska tried to spin the protests as anti-Serb and instigated from outside in an effort to maintain the supposed national unity. However, their actions only showed how little they care about the people in this region, and how important they feel it is to maintain status quo and the dominance of the national bourgeoisie. But their cheap shots flopped when the people denounced them. This is a struggle which transcends any ethnic, racial, religious or national concept. The people took to the streets because their bellies were empty. Hunger forced them to fight for justice. But there is no justice as long as there are classes! Not as long as there are oppressors and oppressed; those who exploit and those who are exploited; those who know no hunger and those who are starving. The power holders in Bosnia-Herzegovina showed with their actions that little, indeed, does the fat man know what the lean one thinks.
Realising the anger and the threat from the suffering people, they brought police out on the streets who clashed with the protesters. There was tear gas, rubber bullets and beatings, but the people stood together and firm in their resolve to take on the robbing and thieving ruling classes. At least for now. They occupied the building of the Tuzla Canton. The police in Bihać admirably joined the protesters. They refused to obey the system who manipulates them in order to sustain itself and chose to stand with the working class.
The events in Bosnia-Herzegovina are our lesson of the week. They are proof of how powerful the working masses actually are when they raise a unified fist. They also show how much the ruling political structures fear a working class that unites. I am not insinuating anything and I won’t rattle on about poverty, unemployment, harassment, exploitation, corruption, thieving etc. No, I only have one question for you: How hungry are you?”
Mensud Grebović, a former worker at POLIHEMA, Tuzla: “You should not be surprised this started in Tuzla. Tuzla Canton was perhaps the strongest in the former Yugoslavia for manufacturing and industry, and now it’s all ruined. Imagine how many of us on the street have not been finding work since the war. How do I live? I survive from my mothers pension, which is 308 marks. I worked for 27 years.”
Listen to what Hamel Sejranović, a student from Tuzla has to say: “People keep this anger for 20 years. We have come to a peaceful protest, but nobody listened to us, they would not resign. That’s why it all happened. I know I’m just a student, but I know what the situation is with my parents and friends and lousy their salaries are while, unlike politicians who have salaries and hot meals and they keep stealing. People think protesters exaggerated (that they set the government on fire), but I don’t. This had to happen because there is no other way to make politicians understand.”
Emina Babovic Gojacic, Tuzla: “My mom worked in this building (Government of Tuzla Canton, set on fire). There I learned to type on a machine during the war, it was in ’92. When the building was on fire I told her, “Mom, that is where you worked all these years!” She told me, “Oh, fuck this building, let it burn. Burn them all!” Why have emotions for a building. These workers built it, they burnt it, they will built it again. The building is not important. What is important is that they have nothing to eat. They should have set it on fire 15 years ago, and with it all of them.” Source
People in Bosnia and Herzegovina do know what they want and this explains it well: “While the call for “a technical government, composed of expert, non-political, un-compromised members who have held no position at any level of government” may sound naive to anyone that has experienced unelected, neoliberal “technical” governments in Greece and Italy, the protesters see this as merely a temporary government to get them to elections, and moreover it would “be required to submit weekly plans and reports about its work” to “all interested citizens.”
This demand for such constant public oversight of the government – borne of the experience of decades of detached and arrogant rule by the three “ethnic” wings of the Bosnian oligarchy and suggesting a form of “people’s power” – already looks far in advance of these other so-called “technical” governments, and certainly coming from a different direction.
However, it is the social program the people demand of such a government that makes it day and night compared to these neoliberal, anti-people governments. The third set of demands, regard… issues related to the privatisation of the major former state companies that dominated the city’s economy (Dita, Polihem, Poliolhem, Gumara, and Konjuh).
After decades of neoliberal onslaught, both in practice and at an ideological level, for a rising people to demand privatised factories be “returned to the workers” is an extraordinarily refreshing moment.
For example, in an otherwise useful article that details the theft, Aida Cerkez, writing for Associated Press, tells us that “more than 80 percent of privatizations have failed” as well-connected tycoons have swept into these companies, stripping them of their assets, declaring bankruptcy and leaving thousands without jobs or with minimal pay. ailed? More like succeeded.”
“A demand for factories to be returned to the workers – i.e., to their rightful owners – cuts across these neoliberal illusions, and doesn’t allow them the time of day.” Source
Those elites who try to divide people using nationalism, religion or the ethnic card have been called “assholes” by a group who changed its name so such speculations could be stopped: “Dubioza Kolektiv can be just about anything, but not a ‘predominantly Bosniak’, ‘predominantly Croat’ or ‘predominantly Serb’ band, but it seems to us that the attitudes expressed in your article are predominantly ‘assholeish.’”
This is a country of less than 4 million people, not fully recovered from almost drowning herself in its own blood, kept in humiliation at the feet of the mighty EU (“these BiH people, they just don’t fit the EU godly criteria,” maybe they’re lucky though), that is breathing more democracy lately than the EU ever will.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is actually teaching a lesson to everybody in Europe – the cradle of “democracy” – about how democracy should be. It’s not on papers, and NGO panels, and sterile budgeted-conferences, it’s real and it’s actually quite rare, and usually does not survive the smothering powers of the undemocratic ruling elites.
But this time, it just might, providing the people from Tuzla, Sarajevo, Mostar, Zenica, and other cities do not let themselves fooled any more and don’t let others decide on their name.
Democracy in BiH these days does not mean political parties, or politicians (they are banned from public assemblies), does not mean technocrats in neoliberal suits, it means a voice and a mandate. A decision from below transmitted to delegates to be applied or passed forward to be applied. There are no other conditions imposed on these mandates – such immediate recalling if they break it, but still it’s a huge step.
It means that people are not just voters and tax-payers: they are real decision-makers. It might develop further and begin to generate power from below, and industrial democracy and horizontal decision making at the work-place, but it’s not clear whether they will go that way.
There is a lot of state propaganda, threats and repression trying to silence this movement – which has failed so far.
The ruling power of the governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina seems to be just on paper, while the real power is in the hands of the people who last week set the government on fire to demand space for their continued existence in their own country.
What people in Bosnia and Herzegovina live these days is something EU never had (maybe for a few weeks in Paris, 1968). It’s something that EU is actually working very hard these days to keep at bay. While people in Bosnia and Herzegovina teach the whole world about direct democracy, the great EU destroys every single civil liberty in Spain, and commodifies the lives of people in other countries.
People in Bosnia and Herzegovina should not expect any leaders to represent them. They don’t need to feel inferior to anybody, or feel guilty for burning down some imperial buildings which they hated anyway. They should work among themselves to make it happen. Nobody else will do it for them and nobody else will care for what’s in their best interest. EU does not care about democracy, they care only about their profits. Maybe they should really be told: “Go Home. Sit Down. Shut Up. Let Us Decide. We’re Not Interested.”