Sunday, February 23, 2014

Revolt in Europe: Citizens in Bosnia Herzegovina revolt against privatization, austerity economics and plundering by the political elite

In Sarajevo, and other major cities and towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina , waves of citizen protests are resulting in civil resistance unseen since the civil war of the early 1990s. Citizens are occupying streets and town squares; confronting riot police armed with batons, rubber bullets, tear gas and attack dogs; and destroying the headquarters of local governments and the largest political parties.

The reasons for the protests are many

But at their heart is citizen indignation and anger at poverty, inequality, unemployment, policies of austerity, and corruption and plundering by the ruling elite. The country has an unemployment level at about 45%.

As more and more factories close and the rest are privatized by foreign corporations or a newly formed capitalist class, many workers are working but are not receiving their salaries.

Citizens have had enough of the plundering and corruption that has resulted from privatization of public enterprises and public assets  stripped of their worth and allowed to collapse. In Tuzla and Sarajevo the collapse of privatized entities as a result of plundering and corruption was the trigger for the wave of protests. 

The trigger for the protests was in Tuzlu where former employees of privatized companies demanded compensation from the local Government and Police were set upon the crowds.

The revolt reflects deep contempt for the criminal political and economic elite. This is a socio-economic revolt. 

The citizens involved have also rejected nationalism and ethnic divisions, in favor of class solidarity. Slogans such as 'stop nationalism' have appeared.

And it is further evidence that the global struggle by citizens against market fundamentalism and austerity economic policies which enrich the corporate and political elite continues to unfold. 

As Mate Kapovic writes 
..this uprising is also an integral part of the global uprisings we have seen in the last couple of years. After the beginning of the economic crisis in 2008 and a few years of initial shock, a wave of great protests and uprisings began in 2011 with the Arab Spring, the indignadosin Spain and Occupy Wall Street in the US. Last year, we saw huge uprisings in Turkey and Brazil. Former Yugoslavia was not spared in this wave"
The wave of privatizations and rising unemployment that sparked and fueled the Bosnian protests are symptoms of a wider social crisis across the entire region as a result of the global economic crisis and its specific expression in 'austerity economics' in Europe's southeast states.

The current citizen revolts also have their its roots in the form of power sharing government enforced on the country at the end of the civil war in 1995.

Following the Bosnian civil war the Dayton Peace Accords delivered a deal that allowed the leaders who conducted the war to retain the spoils. The Accords effectively awarded those leaders who conducted the war with control over their ethnically cleansed territory.

The result was 142 municipalities, two highly autonomous entities, 10 cantons, a special district, a national government and an internationally appointed high representative to oversee them all. In total 180 ministers, 600 legislators and an army of about 70,000 bureaucrats.

Writing in the New York Times Leksandhar Hemon and Jasmin Mujanovic note;
Laws passed at the national level are often blocked through “entity vetoes.” Between 1997 and 2007, of 529 proposed laws, 156 were vetoed outright, and another 113 failed to reach parliamentary majority. In the first decade of the Dayton era, international engagement kept this inertia in check. But since 2006 this pressure has disappeared and legislative activity has increasingly been reduced to thrown-together deals on only the most essential questions — usually I.M.F. loans to keep the political establishment on life support a few months longer.
"What the war didn’t destroy has been wrecked by Mafioso capitalism, practiced with equal zeal across ethnicities, in which private initiative is expressed in the form of corruption and cronyism. The political system’s primary function is allowing wealth to be amassed by the leaders of political parties, fully united, despite their presumed cultural and ideological differences, in their commitment to impoverish the people they lead. What is truly amazing in the whole story is that it doesn’t seem to have ever occurred to the Bosnian elites that the situation is not sustainable. They have become so used to ruling over divided ethnic subjects that they were shocked by an uprising of united citizens"
Citizens across Bosnia are forming plenums — an open parliament of citizens where everyone is welcome, and which formulate demands, including a thorough investigation of the privatization process. In Sarajevo, the first plenum had to be rescheduled when the organizers were overwhelmed by the turnout.

The plenums are spontaneous self organized forums resulting from the social and economic (and political) catastrophes confronting Bosnians. Nidzara Ahmetasevic
 describes the plenums as "democracy live".

In an article titled Can the Revolt in Bosnia and Herzegovina send a message to the wider world?,  Stef Jansen cautions against interpreting the protests through an ethno-nationalist framework- that is resisting the tendency to try to find out whether it is a Bosniak, a Serb or a Croat happening, or perhaps a trans- or anti-ethno-nationalist one. 

Jansen argues that such an approach reproduces the ethno-nationalist matrix that paralyses the country. Jansen calls for an analysis of local events which reflects wider global socio-economic issues, but also sees current events as a manifestation of domestic attempts to politically articulate questions of social and economic justice.

The site Balkan Insight is a valuable source of information about events across the Balkans.

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