Articles on the Bosnia Conflict



Report #2 – Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina
By Peter Lippman
July, 2013

2013 Report index

Report 1:  Kosovo, mid-July, 2013
Report 2Sarajevo, July 2013
Report 3Sarajevo, continued July 2013
Report 4Tuzla, July 2013
Report 5Mostar, July 2013
Report 6Srebrenica, August 2013
Report 7Srebrenica, continued, August 2013
Report 8:  Prijedor and vicinity, August 2013
Report 9:  Prijedor and vicinity, part two, August 2013
Report 10: Tomašica, December 2013

Previous journals and articles

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I went from Kosovo up to Bosnia in mid-July for about three weeks. It’s not so long since I was there last fall, so some things are the same, but on the other hand there’s big news, especially in the area of activism. As usual, there are a lot of details and some of it is complicated. I’ll start with an overview here, and follow with notes on my various encounters.

Late last year I participated in the municipal elections as monitor for the “I will vote for Srebrenica” campaign, and wrote about that. Soon after that event, the campaign activists, led by Emir Suljagić, initiated a more wide-ranging campaign, the March 1st Coalition, which I also wrote about a few times. This campaign aims to register and encourage voters to participate in the general elections set to take place in October 2014. The aim is particularly to target the Republika Srpska, with the hope of capturing a critical number of seats both in the entity and state-level parliaments. If there are enough “pro-Bosnia” representatives elected, that could unblock the way to crucial constitutional changes.

My report on the Srebrenica elections is here.  For my previous writings about the March 1st Coalition, see this and this. This and other upcoming reports will update that information.

The March 1st Coalition campaign is an ambitious project, but it has contributed to the expansion and strengthening of a grassroots human rights movement in various parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina. I witnessed this last fall, and now it is even more the case that activists are in touch with each other, and collaborating, in many directions – across entity boundaries and across ethnic lines. A new generation of activists is maturing and making an impact.

I also wrote extensively last year about increased action in the movement for memorialization – not a new thing, but an expanding campaign – and its special manifestations in the Prijedor area. The campaign for the right to commemoration of the notorious concentration camps at Omarska and Trnopolje continues. I happened to be in the Krajina during commemorations this year at these two camps. There has been some progress as a result of various organizations’ persistence, in that people are, at least on limited occasions, allowed to visit the camps and to memorialize their dead and missing, and remember their traumatic experiences, on location. But obstruction from Prijedor’s Mayor Pavić continues, and the placement of memorial monuments continues to be blocked at these places. Harassment and threats against activists are also ongoing.

I wrote about the White Armband Day that was commemorated in Prijedor by lone activist Emir Hodžić last year on May 31st. Well, this year Hodžić was joined by a couple hundred activists from around the country and beyond, demonstrating in memory of the wartime edict that Muslims present in Serb nationalist-controlled Prijedor must wear white armbands. For my writing about activism in Prijedor, click here.

The significant increase in solidarity in Prijedor and the accompaniment during that action by visiting fellow activists was a reflection of the strengthening of the human rights movement as mentioned above. Just days after the May 31st action in Prijedor, activists throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina had the opportunity to come together around a universal issue that galvanized much of the population for a month or so.

Stenciled graffiti in Sarajevo, summer 2013, agitating for the reestablishment of a standardized citizens' identity number.

The issue that sparked the protests was an absurd legislative snafu: from February through June of this year, there was no mechanism to register the identities of newborn babies. As a result, some 5,500 infants were lacking citizenship rights because they did not possess a Standardized Citizens Identification Number (jedinstveni matični broj građana – JMBG). Lack of a citizen identification number prevents one from acquiring a passport. By late May, people around the country were learning, primarily via Facebook, about the case of the three-month-old baby Belmina Ibrišević. She was in urgent need of medical care that was not available in Bosnia, but she had no identification number and thus no passport that would enable her to leave for hospital care in central Europe.

The legal problem with the identification numbers arose in January and February, when Bosnia’s Constitutional Court nullified the law regulating them. The Court made this decision at the same time that it required that Bosnia-Herzegovina’s two entities—the Republika Srpska and the Croat- and Muslim-controlled Federation—to standardize some of the names of towns. The latter issue was related to the problem of identity numbers because discrepancies in place names could create confusion in people’s identification documents.

As it happened, parliament at the state level was unable or unwilling to unblock the registration of newborns. The main obstruction stemmed from the fact that Serb representatives from the RS, under the leadership of its separatist President Milorad Dodik, wished to attach citizen identification numbers to the entities instead of allowing the universal identification system to continue to be performed at the state level. However, ordinary Bosnians also saw that the problem was not only caused by Serb officials, but also by a long-lasting political standstill in governance on the part of Croat and Bosniak officials. People considered that a solution was available to save Belmina and to prevent her plight from being replicated among potentially thousands of other newborns, and that all the politicians were collectively responsible for endangering these most innocent of Bosnian citizens.

The controversy simmered and grew throughout March, April, and May. Parents protested, saying, “They are making Palestinians out of our babies.” In addition to the passport problem, parents of babies born after February 12th were not able to receive tax breaks that they were entitled to, nor were women able to receive subsidies owed to them as mothers of newborns. Most critically, hospitals were technically not able to admit newborns who, legally, did not exist. For the parents and their sympathizers, it was as if the clunky state of Bosnia had come to a full standstill.

The entity Parliament of Republika Srpska and the District of Brčko both instituted identification numbers in their own autonomous territories, but these were of questionable legality. The state-level Council of Ministers could not agree, and meanwhile, by the end of May, the number of “non-babies” approached 5,500. In the Federation, none were able to register.

On June 5th, some fifty citizens, including parents with their newborns in carriages, gathered in front of the state Parliament building to protest with signs that read, “We’re not even a number to you” and “No numbers for babies, no exit for you” (from the Parliament building). There was an inscription on one baby carriage that read, “You’re not leaving until I get my JMBG.” In the course of the day, the Council of Ministers decreed the establishment of a temporary identification number, to last six months. Under the force of this law, Belmina Ibrišević was allowed to receive her identification number, but the demonstrators were not satisfied and refused to withdraw what was becoming a blockade of the Parliament building. They announced that they were going to remain in front of the building overnight.

This problem was proving to be the last straw for many people. Some simply wanted a sincere and long-lasting resolution regarding identity numbers. But others saw the problem as a systemic one related to all the other problems of life in Bosnia-Herzegovina. One man, Sanjin Čepalo, interviewed in a local newspaper, said,
“I’m here, first of all, because of the JMBG, because of the children, but also because of all the other people who have a problem, because it’s not only the children who are in question…The youth have no prospects, and this case is just one example of the problems in our state. Every day we are witness to fascism and nationalism that are implemented through state institutions, and how can we expect things to get better, if we don’t make an effort about it?”

Towards the end of the day there were a reported three thousand protestors, with riot police massing to control the demonstrators. Mothers pushed their baby carriages in front of the police, preventing them from pushing back the crowd. Some of the Serb representatives tried to leave the Parliament building by climbing through windows, but demonstrators prevented them from doing so, yelling, “Go back to work!
” Meanwhile, some cab drivers and others used their vehicles to block traffic in the area.

Tarik Čelik, quoted by a news service, said, “This is not just about the ID number. It is about their attitude toward us. It is about how unimportant we are to them as citizens.

Before the day was out, officials from the Republika Srpska were already putting their spin on the events. Aleksandra Pandurević, member of the SDS party (previously headed by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić), stated that the demonstration was a veiled “nationalist gathering,
” a “lynch” of Serb representatives, and that the Bosniak officials were involved in it. Other RS politicians called the demonstration “politicized” and the “start of next year’s election campaign.” RS President Dodik announced that conditions for work in the Parliament building “were not safe,” and that this “could be a problem in the future.” He directed the RS Minister of the Interior to mobilize special police units for a possible intervention.

The demonstrators delivered a set of demands:
--that the Parliament and Council of Ministers immediately pass a law on the identification numbers;
--that the Ministry of Civil Affairs form a state fund, financed from the state budget, for the medical care of seriously ill persons who cannot receive the necessary treatment within Bosnia-Herzegovina;
--that the members of the Council of Ministers and both houses of Parliament donate thirty percent of their monthly payment to this “solidarity fund” until the end of their mandates;
--that no participants in the ongoing demonstrations be subject to prosecution for their activities (added later).

The demonstration carried on, with people blowing whistles and honking their horns. Sarajevo Mayor Ivo Komšić joined the crowd and criticized obstruction of the law on identity numbers. He said, “I think that you are right; do not give up. You are not only fighting for the children, but also for the state of Bosnia.”

It was a complicating factor that besides the state legislators, 250 international bankers who were attending a finance conference were also blocked in the Parliament building. I read that politicians who were calling themselves “hostages” avoided contact with the bankers so that they would not be forced to explain to the bankers why they were all stuck in the building.

When the police were called to unblock the Parliament, Minister of the Interior Nermin Pećanac responded, “This is a job for the politicians, not for the police.”

Aleksandra Pandurević weighed in again via the internet. Responding to a sign outside that read, “shoulder to shoulder against fascism,” she posted the message, “That says it all – that these protests are, first of all, directed against us representatives from the Republika Srpska.” This comment, naturally, caused widespread amusement. It also led to the creation of a petition calling on Pandurević to resign from office, or at least from her position as chair of a joint parliamentary commission on human rights, children’s rights, youth, and ethics.

In the course of the night, Bosnian Prime Minister Vjekoslav Bevanda managed to escape from the Parliament building by climbing through a window.  He ran to a waiting car as bodyguards roughly pushed aside bystanders, causing injuries that necessitated medical care.

Several hundred protestors continued to surround the Parliament into the night of June 6th. Finally, High Representative Valentin Inzko arrived and negotiated with them to unblock the building, promising that he would exert pressure to have an identity law passed. The representatives and foreigners trapped in the Parliament were able to evacuate at 4:00 a.m.

In the aftermath, Dodik called the event the “biggest hostage crisis that ever took place in the former Yugoslavia.” Serb and Croat politicians declared that they were going to stay away from Sarajevo until their security could be guaranteed, as if their own obstruction of state proceedings was irrelevant to the problem. Local authorities began delivering infraction notices to some participants in the demonstrations. But the protests continued.

Solidarity protests took place in Tuzla, Zenica, and Mostar, as well as in Zagreb, in neighboring Croatia. Protestors continued to focus on the problem with identity numbers, but often acknowledged that this issue was but one manifestation of the breakdown of Bosnia’s state functions. One activist in Mostar said, “There is a saying that the people deserve the kind of government they elect. But that is not accurate; no one deserves this government.”

Demonstrations continued throughout the month of June. Politicians in the RS continued to spin the issue, saying that there had been an attempted “coup d’état” in Sarajevo. Member of Dodik’s party Dušanka Majkić blamed the whole event on the March 1st Coalition. Serb officials boycotted Sarajevo and called for the indictment of top police officials. In response, Pećanac said, “The citizens have been hostages for years, for decades. They were only seeking their rights, and the police secured that gathering. We are neither a governmental nor a non-governmental organization. We are police who protect the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina.”

During the ongoing demonstrations supporters joined arrived from many parts of the country; when supporters arrived from Banja Luka, capital of the Republika Srpska, they were greeted joyfully by the demonstrators. Nikola Kunić, an activist from Prijedor, said, “I don’t know who still believes that these protests are an attack on the smaller entity [the RS]. Media in the RS, which work completely on the North Korean model, are promoting that idea. No insult intended, but whoever thinks that should be hospitalized, because everyone can see that these are children here.”

People came from Prijedor as well, and from some smaller towns in the RS. There has been argument about how much ordinary people and activists in the RS supported the protests, which were mainly based in the Federation. Simply put, there was some support, and it was not unanimous. But towards the end of June, a research agency polled over 500 people in both entities of Bosnia, asking them about their support for the Baby Revolution. In the Federation, 95% of the respondents said that they agreed with the protestors. In the Republika Srpska, support also ran as high as 77%.

A week after the first demonstrations, the largest one took place. News outlets widely reported a turnout of ten thousand, though other estimates were as low as five thousand. High Representative Inzko spoke out in favor of the demonstrators’ right to protest. The series of protests took on the name “Baby Revolution” (bebolucija). You can see a photo of one of the demonstrations here.

Subsequent demonstrations took place across the street from the Parliament building, with some people holding signs that read, “Quiet –Parliament is working!” This was in sarcastic response to the fact that Parliament was not even convening in Sarajevo, due to the continued boycott by representatives.

In the middle of June Berina Hamidović, not quite three months old, died in a hospital in Belgrade, Serbia. Berina was born in Sarajevo with a birth defect that required an operation outside of the country. She did not have an identity number nor a passport. Her departure for Serbia was thus delayed, and when paperwork was cleared for her to be brought to Belgrade, she was delayed again at the border. There, border police asked her parents, “How do we know you are not trafficking children?” It was too late to save her when she arrived at the hospital.

It is not absolutely certain that Berina would have lived in any case, but her death added to the bitterness that ordinary Bosnians felt regarding the identity number problem and the carelessness of their leaders. Berina’s parents participated in subsequent protests attended by some thousands of demonstrators. Organizers of the demonstrations publicized a deadline of July 1st for the creation of an identity number law, saying that on that date, they would demand the resignation of their representatives if they did not meet the deadline.

The protests continued with renewed wind in their sails. Activist Refik Hodžić was quoted as saying, “This is the first time since the war that we have seen that people, regardless of ethnicity and however many there are of us, have finally said ‘enough hate’ and ‘enough fear.’ This is all up to us. We can complain, and we can leave the country, but at least today, we know that we can do something different. What we do after this is up to us.”

Not long after Berina’s death, protest organizers scheduled a concert across from Parliament, hosting many of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s top artists including Frenkie, Dubioza Kolektiv, Letu Štuke, and Zoster. Leading up to the date, High Representative Inzko commented, “Their message [to the politicians] is plain and clear: ‘People, do your work, that is why we elected you, that’s why we pay you, so it’s high time for results.’ Personally, I am surprised that the citizens, as dissatisfied as they are with the situation in this country, have not expressed themselves earlier, because really, there are so many accumulated problems.”

There was a persistent buildup to the July 1 demonstration, including a call for people to strike on that day, and not to spend any money. In the end, the turnout was modest. Participants came from at least a dozen towns in both entities, but the crowd probably did not surpass four thousand. There was some blockage of traffic, but the event remained peaceful.

After this last demonstration, summer happened. People went back to work, or prepared to go on vacation. No more protests were scheduled.

There was a variety of comments from activists and politicians alike around the time of the last demonstration. One sympathetic politician suggested that a fund for sick babies could be started by selling off the luxury cars owned by the top politicians. And the writer and professor Dževad Karahasan said that the obstructionist Bosnia politicians should be sent to Guantanamo.


The rest of this report will share the thoughts of some friends and activists I spoke with when I arrived in Sarajevo. Conversations covered all kinds of subjects, as you’ll see. There’s the Bebolucija, and much more.

In speaking to various activists and observers, I became acquainted with the inevitable conflicts that arise among organizers and participants during events such as the Baby Revolution. It's not my place to take sides nor to discuss these in detail, but there were important arguments in circulation. In the rest of this report and in the rest of this series I will be sharing various people's opinions on the pluses and minuses of the protests, without weighing in heavily myself on these issues.

One argument was over whether the protests should focus exclusively on the problem of the identity number. Everyone knew that behind the massive response to this issue lay deep dissatisfaction with long-term problems in Bosnian society and in the government that was supposed to address those problems. But there were people who, for tactical reasons, argued that the best way to have unity and impact with the demonstrations was to avoid the introduction of any issues at all other than the i.d. numbers.

Secondly, there was great resistance among organizers to the official presence not only of political parties, quite understandably, but also of non-governmental organizations. People did not participate as members of NGOs or political parties. There were people who thought that this restriction was over-stressed. I heard from some activists that not only were some NGOs
“exploitative” in jumping onto the already-organized demonstration and presenting themselves as organizers, but there were also those that had more power than they deserved by virtue of the donors’ funds to which they had access. On the other hand, there are some sincere grassroots NGOs that could have contributed more to the demonstrations if organizers had been more open to collaboration with them.

Night scene in Ploče neighborhood, near Vratnik, Sarajevo

My story of Sarajevo tends to start and end with Fata, my landlady of 15 years. She’s one of tens of thousands of retirees whose average pension of 350 KM doesn’t cover their needs for food, heating, and medicine. She’s also the one who once told me that they should “burn down the Parliament.”

Now, Fata told me that in the case of the Baby Revolution, getting ten thousand people out on the street “isn’t enough. There will only be change if there are massive protests everywhere.”

Before I even I arrived in Sarajevo I contacted Darjan Bilić, a local activist who was closely involved in the protests. In my previous talks with him I have felt that we shared
very similar instincts about activism and organizing. Here are some of his comments about the events.

The best thing was that there was no violence. At first, the police were looking for a conflict. But then, when there was no violence, they behaved completely correctly. They feared an escalation. But when Patrick Moon and Nigel Casey came out [US and UK Ambassadors], and Inzko, and said that the people had the right to demonstrate, things were calmed down very much.  

And in Mostar there were four hundred people who demonstrated. That’s not big, but 400 is better than nothing. And there were people who participated in Mostar from both sides of the city, from all three ethnicities. People came there from Ljubuški, too. All of the people who demonstrated in Prijedor on May 31st were here.”

Q: Do you think that the events represent a new movement?

When you consider that the participants in the demonstration represent only two percent of the population of Sarajevo, it is difficult…We forbade flags, party representation, etc. People had no party to identify with, so they only came as individuals.

It is a difficult situation, but we have taken a big step. If there hadn’t been Dosta in the mid-2000s, and the big demonstration in 2008, there wouldn’t have been this. Fear has been reduced, it is an important thing. And it is good that many young people came, people who don’t remember the earlier activism.

It costs money to organize anything. Here, it was the ordinary people who collected money for the demonstrations. We raised our own money. There were times when someone would collect one thousand KM in a day. And lawyers offered their help to us voluntarily.

Al Jazeera followed the events better than the local papers. People followed Al Jazeera, and that helped us a lot.

“Now the repression is beginning.
People who were in the demonstrations are being served with fines for infractions, for 100 to 500 KM. That includes the seven car owners, and some demonstrators who were filmed. This is a tactic of frightening activists. The RS officials are also preparing to file criminal charges against the demonstrators.”

Discussing general problems in Bosnia, Darjan noted,
Every day there is a scandal, and there is never a resolution of those scandals. There is illegal construction; this is a manifestation of the neoliberalism that is afflicting Bosnia. But the educated people have left the country; it's the villagers and farmers who have remained. They have never heard of neoliberalism. It is easy to manipulate them. ”


My friend Jadranka is the “den-mother” of CURE, a Sarajevo-based feminist organization of young activists who have been working creatively to fight patriarchy, to strengthen the women’s movement and to educate the community about women’s rights.

Jadranka criticized the Bebolucija for lack of strategy. She said that the real activists mostly left after midnight on that first overnight, and people who stayed were drinking and taking drugs. She was unhappy with activists for criticizing the NGOs and preventing them from participating.

 “There was disorganization in the Baby Revolution and lost opportunity,” Jadranka said. “There was no coordination of the actions.” She compared the recent events with the very coordinated work of Žene u Crnom, the Belgrade-based Women in Black, with whom Jadranka has much experience. She said, “If there had been 200 real activists after midnight, the outcome would have been different. Inzko came out to negotiate with the demonstrators about releasing some of the people inside the Parliament. But there was no one who could really represent the demonstrators. It was suggested that the staff of the building, and the foreigners, be allowed to leave. But people objected to this.”

On other subjects, we talked about domestic violence. I had read recently that one of every two women in BiH is subject to domestic violence. Jadranka said that in the institutional culture of the police there is a great obstacle to confronting this problem. That when women go to the police to register a complaint about domestic violence, the police don’t want to get involved, and say, “That’s not violence.”

Stenciled graffiti in Sarajevo announcing a July 1 demonstration and calling for the dismissal of public officials.

I met with Elmina Kulašić, a returnee to Bosnia whose family fled Kozarac when she was quite young and ended up in the United States. Currently she works in Sarajevo with the Cinema for Peace Foundation, for the Genocide Film Library. This project interviews survivors from Srebrenica and preserves their recollections on film. Elmina tells me that to date, the Foundation has finished 1107 filmed interviews, and she has worked on some 300 of them.

The interviews give the survivors the opportunity to talk about their loved ones who were killed, and to describe them, not just stating names and ages. People talk about their lives before the war; what happened during the war; and how they are living now. They are also given the opportunity to state what they think should be done to prevent genocide in the future. In this way, the films can be useful to viewers from other countries around the world.

We also talked about the well-being of the care-givers and activists who may be in danger of acquiring secondary trauma. Just like doctors and other people who stare in the face of death, people who are involved in this kind of work have to know their own boundaries and take care of themselves.

We discussed the importance of the survivors’ opportunity to relate their personal memories as part of a healing process. I mentioned a recent article by the Serbian scholar Sanja Pesek that weighed the difference between the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) proceedings and a potential truth commission. The ICTY focuses on the guilt of the war criminals, not on the experience of the survivors. (See “Making Amends After Collective Crimes: On Reconciliation” by Sanja Pesek

Pesek calls upon the truth commission as an effective way to achieve what people call “restorative justice” which, as she writes, deals more with restoring broken relationships and healing than with punishment. Pesek outlines the advantages and disadvantages of truth commissions, not proposing them as an alternative to the court system, but as a supplement that hopes to achieve a different element of justice from what the court can accomplish. The courts do not work to chronicle or even acknowledge the suffering of the victims of war crimes, both of which are necessary components of justice.

Pesek writes, “Although in Serbia the criminal regime has been ousted, the criminal ideology has survived.” Some war criminals are being prosecuted, but on the personal level, there is precious little work being done institutionally to help both victims and passive supporters of the crimes to evolve. Pesek asserts that the establishment of legal accountability in what amounts to a few symbolic cases is not sufficient. Therefore she advocates the establishment of a truth commission to engage in fact-finding, breaking the silence, banishing atrocity denial, and documentation of the crimes from a grassroots standpoint.

I have heard that in best practice concerning post-trauma recovery, surivors need to be able to tell their story as soon as possible and to repeat it as much as necessary. They need people to listen to them and they need to feel that they are being heard. That is one of the goals of the film project; another is to make the interviews available in an archive.

We agreed that the expression “to move on” from the trauma is nearly equivalent to saying “get over it.” I have developed what I think is a more appropriate description of the necessary healing: to pull oneself together to live in a reasonably functional way in order to survive. People need to understand and accept what happened. This has nothing to do with forgetting, never mind forgiving. And there should not be an expectation that the memory of the trauma of the past will disappear; it is always with the survivor, and he/she has to learn to live with it and still function.

I mentioned that I have heard from some people that they are “recovered.” Elmina has heard this as well, and she considers that when people say this, it usually means that they are just starting to heal.

I asked Elmina about her opinion of the Bebolucija events. She said that she approved of the mobilization and that she was present at the demonstrations. But she felt that there were problems in that the organizers did not think about the long-term consequences of their campaign. But Elmina says that the Bebolucija was needed “to wake us up.” She hopes that it will be ongoing. The i.d. number problem was a starting point, a wake-up call. “The politicians have to know that they must do the job for which they were elected. Now there is a movement, and there needs to be escalation.”

I noted a connection between the activities of May in Prijedor and the immediately subsequent Bebolucija. Elmina was in Prijedor, and she says that ninety percent of the people who were there came to Sarajevo afterwards. People who took part in the first activities were encouraged to engage in the second.


I met with Democratization Policy Council analyst Kurt Bassuener, whom I’ve mentioned before (see my writing about them here). Kurt compared the Bebolucija with the Occupy movement (now passing its second anniversary), and he
mentioned various activists who participated in the Bebolucija, who lined up on two sides of the question of focus in the movement. He also recalled, I was in the Ukraine with the OSCE in 2004, training people. During the Orange Revolution I witnessed the demonstrations and the development of a feeling of power among the crowd. People were looking at each other and saying, 'Are we doing this?...we’re doing this!' It was like that here during the Bebolucija.”

Another relevant protest that was welling up as we were talking about these things was the one in Istanbul. In an episode very reminiscent of the Banja Luka Picin Park protest (see this), the mayor of Istanbul had decided to allow his cronies to build a shopping center in Taksim Square, in one of the few remaining open parks in the city. People protested at length and were answered with robust police violence.

I asserted that the protests in Turkey, the Occupy movement, the Bebolucija, Picin Park, and more, were all responses to the expansion and encroachment of the neoliberal trend. Kurt asked me to define this. Roughly, I said, neoliberalism is the accellerated consolidation of wealth in the hands of corporations as facilitated by political leaders. It is accompanied by austerity measures; anti-human construction (Picin Park, Gezi Park in Istanbul); “pre-emptive” wars and militarist answers to all problems; reinforcement of borders for ordinary people and erasure of them for corporations; the shrinkage or disappearance of all manifestations of the welfare state (health care, pensions); and general increase in racism, sexism, and the assault on the world’s environment…among other things. This is an off-the-cuff definition, but I think it addresses what’s happening around the world and what protestors are responding to.

In Seattle in 1999, in New York in 2011, and in Turkey and Bosnia this year, people have been responding to these problems.

For a long time I wondered what the hell kind of member of the European Union Bosnia-Herzegovina was eventually meant to be. Eventually, looking at the relationship of “transitional” (post-socialist) countries, the answer became obvious. Bosnia, like Romania, Bulgaria, and now Croatia, is to be a second-class citizen of the EU. The question is, as posed by Emrush in my last report, “What is the alternative?” The alternative is globalization from below and local/regional control of wealth, but this can only be organized and achieved as a result of massive grassroots pressure (cf. Fata’s comment above), and it’s a tall order.

In Bosnia, people have the greatest obstacles because the Dayton system, with its ethnic key, segregates the ordinary people who have the most in common so that they can’t organize together. The Bebolucija was a wake-up call because it helped people to imagine – at least – that they could overcome that obstacle.

At present, activists in Bosnia are fighting the local arm of neoliberalism – the Dodiks, Miškovićs, and Radončićs (among many others) who are happy to take parks and playgrounds and turn them into shopping centers, and to sell off Bosnia’s socially-created wealth to foreign companies (from Russia, Austria, Germany, etc) at profit only to themselves. The encroachment of these regional neoliberal tentacles foreshadows an accession to the European Union that might never happen.

Enough about neoliberalism, for now. Kurt and I talked about current political trends in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in its two entities. In the main, there is political stagnation. You’ll recall that the SDP broke up its coalition with the SDA last year and tried to form a new parliamentary majority with other parties, both at the state and entity (Federation) level. The SDP collaborated with Dodik’s party, the SNSD, to remove SDA ministers at the state level, but it has been thwarted in removing them in the Federation because the president of the Federation, Živko Budimir, did not comply. So the SDP and the SNSD arranged to have Budimir arrested this spring for corruption – always a possibility, since pretty much all the politicians have skeletons in their closets. Another government official, from the SDA, was also arrested and spent part of a day in jail.

I commented on these blatantly political arrests, and ongoing investigations of the fishy dealings of other uncooperative politicians, saying that even though those people probably should be in jail anyway, it’s obvious what is going on. This is not about the essential personality of the actors, but of their political roles. They are each behaving according to the political template of the role in which they find themselves. Kurt replied that Budimir was a fascist before fascism was cool. But he is in trouble because he has been obstructing the SDP’s moves.

In Sarajevo I saw a statement on someone's t-shirt: “Same shirt, different day.
This ongoing, esoteric struggle that I have been describing is only interesting on the day-to-day level; in the long run, it's just the same shirt, summed up by the word “party-ocracy” (stranokracija in Bosnian). The leaders of the political parties care less and less about the social effects of their power struggles, and more and more about their chance to stay in power.

Kurt notes that the common interest between the SDP and the SNSD is “to insulate themselves from the voters: to fleece the state; to avoid prosecution; and to preserve their power in their respective entities.

One of the effects of the wanton carelessness of the party-ocracy is the sinking of the economy in ways that exaggerate the world economic crisis. As a result of this, as reported by the Institute for Youth Development, “KULT,” more than 150,000 young people have left the Bosnia since 1995.

General elections will take place in the fall of next year; there’s talk about the defeat of these parties. Kurt says, “
The SDP is going to get reamed. Their best hope is for a low voter turnout. Then, their rank and file can have a more weighty vote. The closed electoral list (a maneuver that the two parties are concocting) won’t save the SDP. However, if they abolish centralized vote counting, then it will be easier for them to manipulate the count at the local level.

This reminds me of when I asked my friend Emin M. whether he thought the SDP had a chance next year, and he responded, “Tell me, have you heard anyone say they like the SDP?

In other another ongoing political exercise, there are the simmering negotiations over how to deal with the Sejdić-Finci discussions. This refers to the 2009 decision by the EU Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg finding that the Dayton constitution was not in conformity with EU standards – and was anti-human rights – because it does not allow a Rom (Sejdić) or a Jew (Finci) or, for that matter, anyone else but a Croat, Serb, or Bosniak, to be elected to the three-part state-level presidency.

From 2009 up to today, leaders have been finagling and sparring over how to conform to the Strasbourg decision, in the face of the threat from the EU that it will not recognize the 2014 elections if the problem is not resolved. And it has to be resolved this year, not at the last minute. RS president Dodik has declared simply that the member elected from his entity will not be required to be a Serb, and that anyone can be a candidate. In an entity where at least 80% of the voters are Serbs, that's an easy solution.

One question is, will the Bosnian authorities even care if the EU does not recognize their elections?

Croats and Bosniaks in the Federation have tried to come up with other solutions that will in fact, similarly, guarantee that while it looks like anyone from the ranks of the “others
can become president, a Croat and a Bosniak will still be elected. Some arcane solutions have been proposed by one party or another, and true to the spirit of party-ocracy, as soon as one party floats a solution, another shoots it down. (For an illustration of this ongoing story, see “Bosniaks and Croat Election Reform Plans Criticised, September 19, 2013.)

Kurt says, “The EU is interested in implementation of the Sejdic-Finci decision, but that process has hit a wall.

Q: Isn’t the SDA pressing for implementation?

Kurt: “No, nothing will come of that. The RS says that the Federation can elect a president however they wish, but we will do it directly. We can remove the ethnic label, thus technically the post will be open to everyone. The Croats oppose the removal of the ethnic label. They would like to establish a territorial unit or an electoral unit based on territory. The Bosniaks could go either way; they are secure in their numbers. They would be ok with removing the ethnic label, and they would be ok with the establishment of the post of a single president.

“The EU made a compromise proposal involving having electoral (territorial) units where there would be a weighted vote for the majority ethnicity in that area. The criticism of this is that it would unfairly skew the vote in favor of that ethnicity. The international community's approach to Bosnia is infantilizing, as if the people of Bosnia don’t know what is going on.

Connected to all this is a project to reform the Federation's constitution, as politicians and international officials alike are avoiding the question of reform of the state (Dayton) constitution.

Kurt says, “The US put up the billboards calling for support of the reform of the Federation constitution. There was a five-member team of experts who created a proposal two months ago. But it was underwhelming. It doesn’t resolve things; it’s vague, timid. There is an over-fetishization of income. Proposed reductions of politicians’ income wouldn’t resolve things. The US didn’t want to touch real constitutional reform, but [US Ambassador] Patrick Moon needed to do something to show that he was still relevant. The Americans have put all their eggs in that basket, but 'there’s no there, there.' ”

Continuing on the theme of the international community's involvement, Kurt says, “Meanwhile, the US policy is not to create new state institutions. For example, an Agriculture Department is desperately needed, but the US is bowing to Dodik. And Patrick Moon says, 'We believe in one state with two vibrant entities.' They are digging the Dayton trench deeper.”

Kurt has a poor opinion of the High Representative's ability to promote any change in Bosnia, calling him “an absolute dud.”  I ask, “But isn’t this a reflection of the lack of support from the international community for robust changes? ” Kurt says, “Yes, but it’s not only that. Inzko has no support from the Peace Implementation Commission, but it’s also a temperamental problem. He is, after all, the HR. He has authority. He can work, he has leverage... There is no policy, strategy, or forward vision on the part of the international community.”

I commented, “There is no policy because Bosnia is not that important to the international community as long as it is not bleeding and thereby disrupting the EU functions. ”

Kurt: “Yes, Bosnia is not a priority. And, for example, the Germans don’t want to use financial leverage to pressure Bosnia. As long as there is social peace, they don’t want to do anything difficult. If there are no riots and unrest, then there is no problem.”

Kurt further offers, jokingly, that Rudolph Giuliani would be the ideal High Representative. But I know he likes the idea of an American High Rep, which would be a first.


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