This interview has been translated by Ivana Cvetokovic-Bajrovic and originally appeared here.
An “enemy” threat is more powerful than an empty stomach!
“In Republika Srpska, the burning of the federal institutions was described as an attack on the RS, which is a mantra that – as incredible as it sounds – sticks. People feel an equal amount of injustice here, but a threat of an attack from the Federation is a very effective tool to make them forget about their empty stomach,” says Aleksandar Trifunovic, editor-in-chief of the Banja Luka-based portal byka, for Lupiga. He will also posit that the policy in the RS is to present all those who try to rebel as traitors and enemies. He also believes that it is important to present the current protests as Bosniak because that helps to portray them as hostile, which opens up a huge space for manipulation.
Interviewed by Ivor Fuka
How does Republika Srpska see these protests that are rocking the Federation?
– Judging by the reaction on social networks, I can safely say that the majority is sympathetic to them. This is logical, because most of the problems in the Federation BiH are identical to those in the RS; in fact, mathematically speaking, the RS has a higher debt per capita than the Federation. So people feel the same kind of injustice, and it is logical for them to support the protests, at least privately.
Then, why didn’t the protests spread to the RS territory?
– Why there is no major public support is a different question, and it’s related to the long-standing refusal of the vast majority to confront the disastrous policy which has completely destroyed this entity’s economy. For years, the RS government has been trying to present and preserve the image of the RS as an economic success, not only when compared to the Federation but also to the entire region. Of course, that is not true; without the IMF stand-by payment, the budget users would have lost their wages. A special problem – as admitted to even by Milorad Dodik himself – is how will the RS find 500 million this year to repay its previous debts. However, by controlling the media, above all the public broadcaster, the current government manages to convince the majority into believing even the most unbelievable things. Thus was the burning of the federal institutions assessed as an attack on the RS, which is a mantra that – as incredible as it sounds – sticks.
Does this mean that the people in the RS are both less disgruntled and more full than the people in the Federation?
– Of course not; but a threat of an attack from the Federation, coupled with an adequate response by the Federation partner parties and individuals, is a very effective tool to temporarily divert attention from an empty stomach. How long this will be the case, I don’t know; however, it is clear that this type of political address meets the needs of the ruling majority, as well as the opposition, which consistently reiterates that Republika Srpska does not need protests.
What was the extent and the nature of the media coverage in both entities? Have the dozen or so protestors in Prijedor or the protest walk in Banja Luka reached the broader public?
– Complete disregard is the best way to describe the coverage of the initial days of protesting. It was only in the 23rd minute of the RTRS primetime news that the Tuzla protests were briefly mentioned, without any visuals or explanation. Similar thing happened in the government-friendly media. Only the day after was there more information, but primarily regarding dangers posed to the RS. The Banja Luka protests were covered by the media, but were treated as minor and unimportant, which they might be in size but not significance. The protests that brought Milorad Dodik to power the first time around began with far fewer people.
Why is it important for some political parties and media to portray the protest as exclusively Bosniak?
– If you portray the protests as Bosniak, then it’s much easier to create an image of them as hostile to the RS, just as the Croat leaders describe them as hostile; most people in BiH still firmly believe that the other side is the enemy. This is a heavy burden for our society’s development, while at the same time it is very convenient for all sorts of manipulation. Now some commentators accuse the young people protesting in Sarajevo of supporting Serbia’s interests. Possibilities for manipulation are enormous.
How does one explain the schizophrenic situation in Bijeljina where people are protesting against the protests?
– It is interesting how the government reacted very promptly through media and the police to even the slightest sign of rebellion against the current situation. At the recent student protests in Banja Luka, there were more police than citizens. The reason for this is quite clear. The government is afraid of the protests and anything that would pit it against the hungry and furious people rather than the servile opposition. Thus the strategy is to portray anyone who tries to rebel as a traitor and an enemy. Luckily, there are brave people who are suffering a terrible pressure, but have opted for this legitimate form of political expression with growing support.
It was important for the organizers of the protest walk in Banja Luka to emphasize that their goal is not to endanger the constitutional order of Republika Srpska; at the same time, last year’s student protest were headed by those carrying RS flags. Have things gone so far that the protests are not legitimate if you don’t emphasize that you’re a Serb or that you don’t support the RS?
– I appreciate that iconography in the light of what I have already said. Any other iconography would discredit the protests and result in attacks; for this purpose, the ruling political party has a powerful arsenal of media and commentators who will – in exchange for a substantial appanage – recognize an enemy in anyone pointed to by those sitting in the comfortable entity government cabinets. I believe that the protests’ message – which is that the situation is not good and it will only get worse – is far more important.
Are the people organizing such protests physically threatened, with their heads hanging by a thread due to their civic engagement? Or is the national identity more important than civil rights?
– Right now, the lynching concludes with the media and judicial prosecution of those who protest. I sincerely hope that the government is aware what type of reaction would an act of violence against those few who dare to raise their voice against this catastrophic policy cause. I think that more and more people realize how rare are the politicians who are willing to meet their duty to the citizens, and that nothing will change that in the near future.