Activist Emir Hodžić attended the Sarajevo protests on Friday, February 7th. He believes that a day after the protests media manipulation has appeared on the scene, and that the story of the protest is being spun in a completely incorrect way. All participants of the protests have been called vandals and hooligans – which is not true, says Emir, who saved the life of a policeman on Thursday.
Interview by Marija Arnautović
08 Feb 2014,
First published on Radio Slobodna Evropa. http://www.slobodnaevropa.org/content/svjedocenje-demonstranta-nismo-vandali-i-huligani/25257671.html
RSE: Emir, you participated in the demonstrations on Friday.* How does it all seem to you now, a day later?
Hodžić: I am very bitter about the fact that certain media are presenting all demonstrators and all citizens who were on the streets yesterday as hooligans and vandals. This is simply not true. A lot of women, unemployed people, and pensioners were there. It is not clear to me how thousands of people in numerous cities of BiH could suddenly become vandals? To me, it is very hypocritical that the political elites now claim that the people – who took to the streets in anger – are all at once vandals.
RSE: It was reported that you saved a policeman yesterday. Could you briefly tell us about this?
Hodžić: Yesterday I attended [the protest] as a citizen and I photographed everything that was happening. At one moment, when the police started charging, I miscalculated how far away they were – because I was holding my camera – and it turned out they were right behind me. I received a few blows to my back, where I now have bruises and wounds. I then started running because I saw – despite the fact that I raised my arms and held my camera – that the order had been given to attack. At that moment, I stopped and saw that the police was retreating because many protesters had started a counter-attack. While the police were retreating, one of the special forces policeman fell on the ground while angry protestors, who had earlier received blows, charged towards him and started kicking him.
One of them picked up a rock as if to throw it at him. At that moment, I saw that they were very angry and that they could not control themselves. I threw myself onto the policeman and hugged him. He was in the fetal position, he didn’t budge an inch while the others kicked him. I lay on him and started to scream: “People, you will kill him, they will call you murderers!” I held him and received a kick in the kidneys from one of the demonstrators. Two-three more people arrived and started moving the protestors away from me and the policeman. Then two more people came who took the policeman away and literally saved his life.
Today I went to MUP [municipal police building] because I heard that they had arrested one of my acquaintances. They had gone in front of his house because they considered him one of the organizers of the protest – it was apparently claimed on one of the portals – but he simply had a megaphone and, at one point, he even discouraged people from throwing rocks. We went in front of MUP, we were all carrying ID, but they didn’t let us approach. They took our bags, they searched them, and then took our IDs. At that moment, I said to one of the special forces policeman, “Yesterday, one of your colleagues received blows to his body, around 2.30pm, could you tell me how he is?” He told me that the policeman lost two teeth, that he had a mild concussion, and that he was not all that well. Then I told my colleague, “I was the one who saved his life with my body.” The policeman said nothing. They simply turned us around; they didn’t let us approach.
RSE: In your view, why are yesterday’s demonstrations being manipulated? And why is the story being transformed into that of hooligans and vandals, and people who burnt and destroyed, away from the substance of the matter which is that this is a social rebellion of the citizens?
Hodžić: Well, we see what is happening here – the government fell in Tuzla. Simply put, politicians have seen that the people are angry, that the people have gone out onto the streets in a score of cities across BiH – and suddenly their positions have been threatened?. Those politicians have for 20 years been working exclusively for their own interest. The fact that they robbed this country, that they truly damaged and divided this country — that’s not theft according to them? that’s not criminal! But it is criminal that angry and hungry unemployed people go out onto the streets. That’s criminal! They want to present all those unsatisfied people – and let’s be honest, there’s tens of thousands of them across BiH – as vandals.
When we had other protests, when people stood peacefully, when there was no damage, when various demonstrations were held without disturbance and appeals were made through NGOs etc., nothing changed. The moment that angry people began to go out and demand their rights and change, that’s when resignations started to happen. But all of a sudden we are vandals – people who demanded that change, our legitimate right. I am against vandalism, I personally saved a man’s life yesterday. I didn’t burn anything, but I understand that rage of people who are hungry, unemployed and who have had enough of corruption, nepotism and criminality.
RSE: What do you think, how will all of this end?
Hodžić: That is very difficult – that is the question of all questions. I don’t know where all of this is leading. It is difficult to judge, but drastic changes have already taken place. We’ve had resignations, the government of Tuzla canton has fallen, and we’ll see more changes yet. But this time, we’ve truly seen that this is a socio-economic rebellion. There’s no story here of ethnic divisions, there’s no story about the very thing that’s been served to us for years. I think this [the protest] will continue, but we will see how and in what shape. But at the same time, I think that there will still be further arrests of demonstrators, while intimidation and repression will be much more significant because they [the politicians] are holding onto their seats, just like Milošević hung on to his. But how it will all develop, I don’t know. I am just amazed that many citizens of this country are surprised that this happened. It was only a matter of time.
*Translator’s note, the original article stated that he attended the protests on Thursday, but this is a typo as the protests in Sarajevo began on Friday, February 7th.