Larisa Kurtović: The spectre of a lost future

This article originally appeared at Mediacentar Online,

The spectre of a lost future
Larisa Kurtović

“Dissatisfaction is like a monster, powerless when it is born,terrifying when it grows strong.”

(Meša Selimović, Derviš i Smrt)

In the sea of press reports and commentaries that have assaulted us over the past few days, one of the themes that has attracted great interest, especially in Sarajevo, has been the question of whether these – the most radical protests ever in BH – were staged or are the result of political manipulation. The lessons learned from the past have lead the average citizen to inevitably maintain a high level of skepticism toward official versions of events – everybody is convinced that that the truth is hidden behind the scenes, that the picture of reality they are offered is just an illusion, and that citizens are always the victims of some kind of manipulation or conspiracy. Considering the types of journalistic and political “spin” we have witnessed over the past few days, this kind of critical analysis has its place. However, in the case of these protests, even if some of the violent tactics used by the protesters were indeed motivated in part by private political interests, what has happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last few days absolutely transcends the frame of this alleged manipulation. Even if paid thugs were brought to the various headquarters of the government , a simple truth remains: on the streets of cities across the country, there appeared in the very same moment thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of mistreated, abused, humiliated and defeated workers, pensioners, youth and citizens, a mass of people so diverse in its political orientations, thoughts, fears and hopes, that the only thing that could hold it together was a shared, long-suppressed and above all justified anger.

War and the postwar nightmare of BH.

What we have been witnessing over the last couple of days is a response to more than two decades of multifaceted political violence that has been visited on the citizens of this country on the part of criminal, arrogant, and incompetent political structures, which are not only uninterested in public problems, but have managed to grossly enrich themselves by pillaging state property, factories, companies and public goods that belonged to all of us. On top of all that, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina paid the highest price for the collapse of the former joint state, not only by having to survive the hells of war, but also through the postwar nightmare that imprisoned them while they were still drowsy, disoriented and full of hope that the Dayton peace would lead to some kind of normal life and a future worth hoping for. To say that what has been happening is just a scene from the political scenography of parties that hope to win the upcoming elections would mean to dismiss the collective indignation (which is nearly universally shared, regardless of different positions about violent methods) and the political significance of the massive injustice and dispossession that took place here under the guise of ethnonationalism and the “ethno-emancipatory” post-Dayton division of power.

A new collective political subject

The protests have opened space not just for a changing of the guards in political parties, whose moves are more or less predictable, but also for the articulation of a new political platform that will genuinely serve the interests of the citizens of this country. For the first time in several decades, it is possible to imagine a collective political subject that is not equated with the ethnos or nation, which unites different classes and generations, and has the potential to contest the existing governing structures. That potential has to be seized and productively channeled–otherwise an even greater hopelessness awaits us. In this regard, the people of Tuzla have gone the farthest, by offering the authorities a clear list of demands together with recommendations as to how they can be realised. All the other protest centres are lagging behind Tuzla, especially Sarajevo, where the public is instead debating whether the use of force was justified, and whether the “hooligans” are members of or a threat to the entire political community. One part of public opinion recognises that the young demonstrators are also victims of the system in which they grew up, and sees them as the faces of a new, aggressive and out-of-control generation, which no longer has anything to lose because nothing has ever been offered to it. For others their appearance has awakened the well-known “local patriotic “ impulse to exclude anyone who does not fit into the useless mythological narrative about the „spirit of Sarajevo“ (earlier: “peasants”, „primitive“ people, now „hooligans“). Alongside such petit-bourgeois sentiments, a different kind of fear is emerging among the people who the scenes from the centre of the city remind too much and too painfully of the war. This is a real, justified pain and fear (shared by the author of this text), but it also a sign that many are still relying on the old mantra „everything is okay as long as they are not shooting,“ which has in part prevented events like these from occurring earlier. This phrase may still have some force in Sarajevo, whose residents are tolerating (not to say enjoying) the highest living standard in BH, but it no longer seems to have such power in Tuzla, which boasts the highest concentration of unemployment.

Act before the powerholders regroup

Whatever the case may be, violent acts like stone-throwing, setting fire to and looting administrative buildings, as well as confrontations with police, however unpleasant and disagreeable they might be in our eyes, are the only thing that have momentarily upset the arrogant powerholders, who up until now have not felt the need to respond to friendly and peaceful civic demonstrations that have tried to draw their attention to problems that their neglect and intentional obstruction have brought into the lives of small, ordinary people. Before the powerholders regroup – and they have already started, with their appalling claims about how they are the least irresponsible and corrupt of all, and how they had tried to draw attention to problems even before – citizens have to act. They have to redirect their focus away from the debate about young “hooligans,” many of whom have already been severely beaten and punished, and toward organizing logistically, creating a new framework for action and a long term strategy, and finally, toward articulating a list of concrete demands along with suggestions on how they can be met. In the process of developing and implementing these plans, the most important thing is to keep in mind the central goals and motives for the mobilisation, so that it does not end up, as has happened many times before, lost in pointless arguments, in the fit of “fractionalisation” and internal conflict, on which the political elites are certainly counting. It would be good to begin, for example, with pressure for radical reductions in salaries and other forms of compensation in the legislative and executive branches of government at all levels, and with quick and efficient prosecution of people charged and suspected for political and economic crime and corruption. Those kinds of demands, in contrast with appeals for the wholesale reconstruction of the state, will secure support from the entire public. The slogans heard in Banja Luka, in Sarajevo Tuzla, and in other cities were none other than: “Thieves!”

Elections are not a good option

Finally, one must stress that some of the solutions that have been offered, for example early elections, are not a good option, because they rely on a system that is deeply rooted in the status quo. The idea that elections in this post-Dayton regime are the only legitimate way of bringing about change is the biggest lie that has been served to the public from the end of the war until now. During  elections, in which nearly half of the resigned population does not even participate, voters choose  among the existing political options—vetted by the parties themselves—whose representatives can distinguished from one another according to the following taxonomy: “bad, worse and worst.” The established political parties use a whole arsenal of time-tested methods, including threats, blackmail, promises of contracts and work, ideological manipulation and “good” old ethnonationalism to persuade voters that there are their only game in town. To make things even more absurd, after the elections, even the losing parties have the opportunity to occupy influential positions if they enter the right coalitions. That system suits political parties perfectly well, allowing them to become masters of the fates and managers of all the resources needed by the residents of all of the localities in BH. That same system,  despite the parties’ apparent competition for support, makes possible for them to function in perfect, perfid symbiosis.

The right to dreams for all

What has to change is the basic relationship between the powerholders and the citizens who pay their absurdly high salaries for very little meaningful work, the citizens who are the source of the tax revenues from which the state lives, and who through their work created the factories and firms the governing parasites squandered to build their private villas and buy their luxury Audis. Those are the same leeches who have brought citizens to the end of their patience, and sometimes to the edge of existence. The children of this arrogant, self-satisfied oligarchy do indeed have “much to lose” – but they do not have greater rights to life,  future,  security, ambitions and dreams than the children of workers in Tuzla or than the young “delinquents” who set fire to the buildings of the cantonal governments and other localities on Friday, 7 February. In the name of those sacrificed children – for whom the citizens of this country protested in 2008, 2013 and 2014, children which this octopus-state has betrayed by destroying the firms where their parents worked, the entire system of social protection, health care, public education, and even the miserable means for issuing identity documents – citizens must continue to come out to the streets and by considered methods demand a different, better future than the one that is cynically smiling at them from the abyss into which they have been staring for the past 22 years. The floodgates are open – forward!

3 responses to “Larisa Kurtović: The spectre of a lost future

    • Bruce I fully agree, excellent commentary. Am just back from the region, should get together soon.

      Best Wolfgang

  1. Pingback: A Primer on the Bosnian Spring | Emerging Democracies Institute·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s