Nine Theses on the Protests


This article originally appeared 12 February at:

Author: Emir Imamović

1. On the reactions to the not-staged and “staged” protests

Long time journalist Mufid Memija claims that some of the protests in some of the Bosnia-Herzegovina cities were staged. According to his opinion, there is nothing spontaneous about the chain reactions and the equal methods used by citizens in these street revolts. Starting with Tuzla, where it all begun, all the way to Zenica, Sarajevo, Mostar, Bihac and other places – protesters came up with similar demands to those voiced by the Tuzla citizens. But if the protests were staged, what do we call the joint response to them? Only after five-six days from the first protests in Tuzla, the causes for the protests and of the dissatisfied citizen disappeared from public discourse: these concern the catastrophic economic situation, the widespread poverty in the country which Bosnia has not experienced in the past fifty years, on class differences, on the privatization in which every possibility to proposer from one’s hard work was annulled, on the society in which the majority are hungry so that a minority political elite can fatten up…and on everything important.

So, what are we actually talking about today when we talk about the revolts taking place in parts of BiH? Do we mean violence among some demonstrators, an ethnically defined revolt and inter-ethnic consequences, involvement of various political factors, threats to the existence of BiH… all those things that there would be silence about if behind the protests there was a serious organisation of structures, which was dedicated among other things to predicting the consequences of particular actions, and which was capable of articulating demands so as to leave no space for a general mobilisation of those people whose activity over two decades has generated mass dissatisfaction; those people who, instead of speaking out about their own roles in our downfall, have only spoken out about the guilt of citizens who have, and this is the thing, dared to say that they are – hungry…

2. On citizens’ anger: against whom or against what

“There are no factories, there are no jobs” declared a participant in the Tuzla protests, while behind him the camera showed the smoke rising from the Soda So building [salt factory]. That building was the economic centre of Tuzla, it was the Headquarters of economic power and a place where important decisions were taken which turned the north-east part of Bosnia into an industrially important place during the socialist self-government. One should not blame the young men of twenty-something for this – their future prospects are worse than their present situations – for not understanding that in a capitalist order the institutions of the governing structures are not the places where one can come with a complaint “no factories, no jobs”. In socialism, without too much explanation, the state and its institutions planned its own economic development, opened factories in public ownership and initiated production which let’s say, took care of the owners of the production. In capitalism, the state and every other structure of power create an ambience for economic development, for foreign and domestic investments, for development of the private – always the private! – Entrepreneurship, making sure it functions smoothly.

In translation: the role of the state and every other governing structure is to enable cheap access to public goods – construction land, factories, raw produce, energy… – so that flexible markets can work i.e., be able to fire workers and enable temporary employments; and to reduce wages, so that the products it manufacture may be sold cheaply. Capitalism has no responsibility towards anyone or anything other than to profit and towards those who already own the profits. This makes it very normal to buy a factory for less than its real value, destroy it and on its place erect residential and business malls, or, as the maths suggests, to dismantle the factory machinery and sell it for scrap metal, to ensure the owner capitalises further on what they have invested in.
Therefore, whoever stands up to the government in anger, demanding jobs and factories, can in the short term only demand the resignation of various functionaries, but in the long term they are looking for a change of the system. This is not necessarily a return to socialism, but new foundations for it: replicating the experiences of formally socialist societies is simply wrong and it is a call for a failure. However, the ideas of socialism are still very good.

3. On “ethnic” and “supra-ethnic” protests

We should not close our eyes to the fact that the majority of the protests are happening in places with majority Bosniak citizens. It must be emphasised, and professor Asim Mujkic has already noted this, that the protests are happening in former industrial cities, because the effects of the privatization are most keenly felt there.
We cannot see the consequences of the privatization robberies in places where tobacco kiosks were privatized. In the former Yugoslavia, Western Herzegovina was punished by the State, partly because of the support the region gave to Ante Pavelic’s regime during World War II. For this, Western Herzegovina was kept on the edge of survival for decades. Its working age population was practically expelled to outside the borders of Yugoslavia. Therefore, it is only logical that massive protests did not start from Čitluk or Posušja [village and municipality in Western Herzegovina]. This does not mean that citizens there are overly satisfied people. What could reduce the revolts to a monoethnic angle and therefore jeopardize the movement is not the uneven social conditions of the people of Bosnia, but any attempt to use the justified revolts towards advocating a speedy change of the Dayton agreement. The majority of the citizens in Republika Srpska [RS] see Dayton as a mechanism for protection of their rights, while the majority of Croats in Bosnia consider themselves to be less of a constituent people than the others.
Therefore, channelling the workers’ anger towards altering the internal structures of the state system could marginalize the attitudes of a significant number of Serbs and Croats. This in turn could limit and reduce the protests to one third of citizens, which could make them stop.

4. On revolution or evolution

The easiest thing to say is: we do not need a revolution, but an evolution: it sounds good and clever, and it carries no risks and demands no action. But, there is no evolution without a revolution, as much as there can be no spiritual growth without a material base. Hungry people have no desire to think of anything else but their next meal, and as such they are the most liable to manipulation: from blaming others for their condition to living in fear from them. A good number of so called left-oriented intellectuals often behave as if during the past twenty years nothing at all has happened in Bosnia, as if the war was some kind of natural storm, with consequences that can be sanitized through construction work and traumas that can be healed through forgetting. The nations and nationalities in Bosnia, and their attitude towards the state and towards other nations, are defined through the prism of the war and war trauma, and it is seasoned by the opinion that nobody really lost the war but nobody won it either. For those of us, with a living memory of the war period 1992-1995, it is hard to ever be able to rationally talk about “the present”, let alone about the past or about some future for Bosnia. The time is ripe indeed for an evolution, but [only] for those generations we will not live long enough to see, who will end our drama in the way that suits them best, which does not have to reflect our current expectations. Rational discussion about subjects of utmost importance is only possible in a rational society, which is not burdened by the trauma of the past and the existential insecurity of the present. We can only discuss a common future if we are free from the fear of our historical experiences, and instead we have opportunities to measure real-life interests and compare those with the consequences of political aims. There can be no evolution without revolution, and a successful revolution cannot happen without people who know what to do the day after the revolution.

5. On the politicisation of the revolts

On one side we have the people, the protesters who are working with full effort to show that no political party in Bosnia-Herzegovina secretly supports them. On the other side we have the political leaders who work with an equally full effort in some parts of the country, on presenting their views about the revolts. Both sides present a problem. The uncontrolled wrath of citizens can serve political elites who are already racing to profit from the revolts.

We have Bakir Izetbegović who accuses Fahrudin Radončić of direct complicity in the damage so far incurred. Fahrudin Radončić panders to the protestors, while Social Democratic Party [SDP] puts blame on Željko Komšić, while Željko Komšić accuses his former party [SDP] of failing to live up to its ideals. Dragan Čović sees a chance for further unitarisation, while Milorad Dodik warns of attempts to attack Republika Srpska.

It will be no miracle if political leaders come to an agreement for early elections. According to SDP, it would take three months to organise elections and to simultaneously break the revolts, and start using factions to manipulate people.

On the other side, if the protestors who are not run by any of the political parties or other serious organisation do not come up with a model of transforming the protests into some kind of political movement, unsatisfied citizens could easily become, against their own will, pawns in the new divisions of power between the same old actors, whose success would be proportionate to the extent to which they were able to manipulate recent events.
If the street has no solution for the day after the revolution, it is condemned to fail.

Those who read this in disbelief should remember Egypt: everything was romantic on Tahrir Square, until the elections were won by the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, the situation was no longer equally bad as under Hosni Mubarak, but it became worse. Those who find Egypt a faraway comparison, take Slovenia: the citizens’ revolt caused a change of government, but those who won it on the streets are still not represented in the structures of power. In fact, they are as yet unorganized, and it all seems as if changes only happened so everything can remain the same.

6. On Fahrudin Radončić, as he is

The President of the Alliance for a Better Future is using every opportunity and all of his publications – now owned by his ex-wife (who had no trouble producing 200 million convertible marks [100 million Euros] to buy her ex-husband’s property) – to support the national outrage and accuse the government for all the ills the citizens of Bosnia are currently undergoing. However, Fahrudin Radončić is part of the Bosnian government: he is a minister for security at the Council of Ministers! Before he became part of the governing power structures, he was a self-declared Bosniak Donald Trump –an oligarch whose property grew on the ruins of overall industry collapse. Radončić did not enrich himself because he is capable, but because he was privileged. He did not win his cash on the lottery or inherit it from his father. It was handed to him by the Party for Democratic Action [SDA]. The high circulation of his newspaper was not because of the quality of the content, but only because SDA ensured that all institutions are subscribed to Avaz.

Radončić was not saved from paying taxes by the fairies but by the political party SDP, while a colossal monument [the Avaz Twist Tower] to this author of the collection of Sandžačke Chehaje [a collection of folk stories from Sandzak region] was erected on the place of the strategically destroyed family business ALHOS.

7. On Zagreb and Belgrade

The Dayton Peace Accords [DPA] gave legitimacy to all sorts, including the lack of political culture in international relations. In fact, DPA insists on a lack of political culture, to a certain extent. Croatia and Serbia are DPA signatories, and as such they can always find justified reasons to meddle: like an unannounced visit by the Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović to Mostar, or Milorad Dodik’s trip to Belgrade to meet with Alekandr Vučić and Mladen Bosić. In an interview for Federal TV, Žarko Korać noticed how Vučić, in spite of the looming elections in Serbia, spoke about Bosnia and Republika Srpska in a more rational and mild manner than his guest expected. This caused Dodik to make his well-known notorious verbal outburst, so as to cause some drama about the common conclusions from the meeting, even though there were no such important conclusions.

Bosnia was visited from the other side of the border by Zoran Milanović , who spoke of himself as a foreigner in Mostar. He represented Croatia not as some care-taker of the Bosnian Federation, or parts of it, but as a member of the European Union, which wants to offer Bosnia a future perspective. Twenty years ago, the Bosnian problems were manufactured by her neighbours. Today these problems can easily spill over from Bosnia to neighbouring countries. Serbia and Croatia, and Zoran Milanović and Aleksandar Vučić , would rather Bosnia did not exist; not because they would like to annex parts of it, but because they do not want to have to be concerned with it at all.
They are not bothered about our troubles, just about seeing that no conditions exist that could make the social protests spill over into their territories.

8. On whether the “Bosnian Spring” is over or how it will end

The combined forces whose aim is to immediately calm down or take over the citizens’ revolt are opposed by the hungry and angry workers, against whom colossal damage has been inflicted by the mindless and expensive pyromania.
It is not about how much of the State Archives burned – ninety nine percent or nine percent – but about how and why these fires happened. This still attracts much attention, while the real cause for the workers protests is kept quiet. Though the protests spread with speed, today, the only speed that matches the initial enthusiasm of the workers is the speed of how they are being suffocated and abused for various reasons: conspiracy theories, political actors, neighbours, intellectuals whose phone bills are higher than an average pension.
Hunger still remains as the only cohesive factor among the people. It does not mean, however, that one failure will permanently suspend the class struggle. This class struggle can only fail if the crisis is used to simultaneously solve national questions.

9. What if the protests are, after all, being staged?

Who would benefit from staged protests, if someone intelligent enough to stage them even exists? The list is long: in the Bosniak part of the Federation, everyone apart from SDP, and mostly Fahrudin Radončić and Željko Komšić. The latter is still perceived as a political proletarian, while the first is seeking the road to Alija after Izetbegovic; in the Croat part of the Federation, the Croatian Democratic Party [HDZ], of course; in RS, Milorad Dodik, who, after the economic collapse of that entity, can still hope to profiteer from the alleged threat to RS.
Our neighbours are not really concerned. The International Community? They have a hard time deciding what to do with a Bosnia at peace, let alone with a Bosnia in conflict. Whatever theories about “staged protests” emerge, this staging would be impossible were it not for one crucial factor: poverty! And poverty can be manipulated, and even if protests on the streets were to calm down, poverty will not cease to exist.

After all, it is worth learning from other examples which have shown us that problems do not disappear just because we are hoping they will. Just as we have learnt that the most effective way not to solve a problem is to invent a new one.

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