Bosna on fire

It all really started 30 years ago. Since the early 1980s, living standards in Yugoslavia (as well as in other Eastern European countries) had started to decline sharply, falling 40% by the end of the decade which brought it back to the level it was in mid 1960s. The Yugoslav working class actively answered this pressure with a series of strikes in the 1980s. In the first nine months of 1987 over 1000 strikes were organised all over the country in which some 150,000 workers of all nationalities participated. In 1989, the number of workers on strike rose up to 900,000. It was by then obvious that things have changed for good.

The old Tito-led Yugoslavia based on brotherhood-and-unity princip failed. The 1980s were definitely years in which the ruling party finally lost its ?innocence?. The differences between ordinary workers and the party elite and the managerial technocracy became drastic. With time, the aspirations of the alienated layer became much bigger. Part of this layer already had well-established relationships with different western mentors and had foreign bank accounts in which they stored money obtained through the abuse of their positions and the privileges they enjoyed. The workers lost all illusions and began to leave the party massively. Already in 1985 it was calculated that only one out of every 11 semi-qualified and one out of five qualified workers was a member of the party. Until 1987, only 30% of the party and 8% of the Central Committee consisted of workers. On the other hand, 95% of company managers and 77% of intelligentsia were members of the party. The ruling elite in all republics had no other choice but to try to ride out this wave of dissatisfaction and turn it to their advantage. The easiest way to do this was to play the old card of chauvinism. All of a sudden the ones responsible for unemployment and falling standards in Serbia were not the fat fishes in the parliament, but the Croats and Albanians. The same scenario played itself out in each republic where the responsibility was placed on people of other nationality. The leadership of the different republics easily abandoned the brotherhood-and-unity princip and embarked nationalistic hysteria. The ruling classes in the making had to conduct the initial accumulation of capital and split the zones of influence, but above all they had to destroy the idea of a unified Yugoslavia. The monstrous crimes committed in the nineties in ex-Yugoslavia were not a coincidence, nor simple thrills of sick minds. Blood had to be split in order to burry the last hope of a unified republic. Today, if you ask an average worker in any of the former republics what he thinks about the former Yugoslavia they will tell you that it is a fantastic but impossible idea. Some would say that the example of Yugoslavia simply had to be horrific so that all other people in the Balkans and all over the world could once and for all see that socialism was ?impossible?. The substantial role in this process played by the German and American ruling classes deserves a separate article.

The inferno of war was definitely the major step towards the destruction of all the progress the post-WWII Yugoslavia brought about. Most likely its phenomenon was the most progressive historical experience in that region ever. But this path had its consequences. The gangs that emerged in the times of war became more and more powerful. The old bureaucrats who had based themselves, in the ideological sphere, entirely on nationalism and chauvinism welcomed the possibility of allying with freshly emerged warlords and thus happily formed the new oligarchic clans who were going to rule different republics. It is clear that in such circumstances only further radical degression was possible. And it happened so. In some countries things went a bit better for a while, though for different reasons. Slovenia for example (and Croatia to a certain level)  which became de facto a German colony benefited to an extent from Austrian and German FDI and the Serbian population was not let to starve by Slobodan Miloshevich, who — as an old bureaucrat — had this princip, typical all in all for almost all Eastern European elites from before 1989 — that you cannot let your population drown into complete poverty. But this was momentary and even though it did not mean a disaster one could compare to Rwanda it did mean a complete economic collapse and a decline of an average of 80% in the living standards (measured in 1993 to 1980 which was a pretty critical year anyway). The emergence of all kinds of crime — from organized to petty, the complete financial collapse of health-care and social-security systems as well as education and sharp decline in all public services quickly brought about its most visible side-effects: the complete destruction of any cultural development, political passivity and confusion and the widespread feeling of helplessness. What the ruling classes in Europe and the Balkans have definitely achieved is the drastic lowering in terms of expectations of life in all the populations in the Balkans, but in ex-Yugoslavia especially. They became — as Marx used to describe it — ?a raw material for exploitation?.

But all kinds of abuse and exploitation have limits. And the pathological post-Yugoslav reality is now being actively challenged in Bosnia.

The roots of the present protests in Bosnia-Hercegovina go right back to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Civil and religious war, two decades of privatisation, plunder and peripheral mafia-style capitalism. On top of that come years of brutal constant humiliation by the EU protectorate — Office of the High Representative. The constant state of frozen conflict became the new normality on the background of which poverty, joblessness, crime and all kinds of abuse and pathologies brought by capitalism exist.

The younger generations took to the streets of Tuzla in the manner of Egyptian, Greek, Latin American or Occupy Wall Street protesters, demanding some form of change and directing their anger at the ruling class.

It did not start with burning government buildings. It only then got onto the international media headlines. The police reacted with excessive force, radicalising the movement to the point at which there was no way of stopping it. Social media played an important role here Very soon, the cantonal government building of Tuzla was in flames with the words ?Resignations!? and ?Death to nationalism!? sprayed over its walls.

Protesters holding signs saying “Goodbye thieves!” and “Get lost! We want a better tomorrow”. As usual in such cases the protests has no clear class or even strictly political profile and it is obvious it can be manipulated and that there is space for all kinds of political postulates and conclusions. Or, should one say, nearly all. Because, this is at least the situation for the moment, the protesters have clearly rejected all ideas that could be in any way linked to nationalism which was and the basis of the prevailing ideological paranoia wich shaped the public sphere. Protesters mostly see themselves as the underdog. Those who are devoid of rights and representation, who see the need to fight against the mafia and the corruption. The most organized elements in the protest are liberal NGOs and one cannot be sure of what role they would like to play and to what extent — beyond obvious things like ?down with the corrupt political elite? — they will be ready to support the movement. Although the movement originated in the labor protests in Tuzla, unions so far have not even attempted taking a lead.

Amidst the general confusion, the protesting people formulated some general demands that seem to have the potential to unite regardless of national and religious backgrounds. They were put forward in the Declaration of Workers and Citizens of the Tuzla Canton. No matter how simple they might appear at first glance, they certainly deserve to be noted as pure expression of collective consciousness and an obvious call for a perspective. It cointains six points:

  1. Maintaining public order and peace in cooperation with citizens, the police and civil protection, in order to avoid any criminalization, politicization, and any manipulation of the protests.
  2. The establishment of a technical government, composed of expert, non-political, uncompromised members. [They should be people] who have held no position at any level of government and would lead the Canton of Tuzla until the 2014 elections. This government should be required to submit weekly plans and reports about its work and to fulfil its proclaimed goals. The work of the government will be followed by all interested citizens.
  3. Resolving, through an expedited procedure, all questions relating to the privatization of the following firms: Dita, Polihem, Poliolhem, Gumara, and Konjuh. The [government] should: a) Recognize seniority and secure health insurance of the workers, b) Process instances of economic crimes and all those involved in it, c) Confiscate illegally obtained property, d) Annul the privatization agreements [for these firms], e) Prepare a revision of the privatization, f) Return the factories to the workers and put everything under the control of the public government in order to protect the public interest, and to start production in those factories where it is possible.
  4. Equalizing the pay of government representatives with the pay of workers in the public and private sector.
  5. Eliminating additional payments to government representatives, in addition to their income, as a result of their participation in commissions, committees and other bodies, as well as other irrational and unjustified forms of compensation beyond those that all employees have a right to.
  6. Eliminating salaries for ministers and eventually other state employees following the termination of their mandates.

?This declaration is put forward by the workers and citizens of the Tuzla Canton, for the good of all of us? — says in the closing sentence. Again, it should be noted, that there are no national inclinations pointed out in the document. All nations and ethnic groups fought together for a political and economic cause. Certainly, apart from the uncontrollable violence unfolding in the streets of the major cities, this must have been the one political element which the local (and European to a certain extent) ruling class feared most. All in all this was — until now (or for now) as it seems — the most effective mean of execution the divide-and-rule princip. It immediately rang the red bell at the office of the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko and he threatened the demonstrators with the use of EUFOR troops to crush the ongoing revolt. Before now, the only mass protests in Bosnia and other post-Yugoslav states were about ethnic or religious passions. In the middle of 2013, two public protests were organized in Croatia, a country in deep economic crisis, with high unemployment and a deep sense of despair: trade unions tried to organise a rally in support of workers’ rights, while nationalists took to the streets against the use of cyrillic letters on public buildings in cities with a Serb minority. The first initiative brought a couple of hundred people to a square in Zagreb; the second mobilised hundreds of thousands, as had an earlier fundamentalist movement against gay marriages.

The movement has toppled some of the cantonal governments and threatens to escalate further, but so far it has just posed the question of who rules society, but has not solved it. And one cannot be sure of how things are going to unfold from now on. We have got he examples of neighborhooding Bulgaria where a mass movement of a similar profile slowly evolves into a right-wing sectarian hysteria and a more dangerous one — Ukraine. Where neo-fascist gangs became one of the main streams in the current anti-government protest. However, the clear anti-nationalist position obviously shared by all of the protesting in Bosnia might make a significant difference.

Bojan Stanislawski

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