The faces of the protests – We just want a normal life in BiH

This originally appeared on 15.2.2014 on SlobodnaEvropa.org.

Saturday [15.2.2014] Sarajevo will hold its third citizens’ plenum. Friday’s plenum was described as a celebration of democracy. Journalist and activist Nidžara Ahmetašević has been going to the protests from the beginning, strictly, she points out, as a citizen who wants to change the situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In conversation with Radio Slobodna Evropa she talks about the importance of the Plenum of the citizens of Sarajevo, the protests and social justice, as well as about complaints recently raised regarding the work of certain media.

RSE: General consensus in regards to the second meeting of the citizens’ plenum is that it took place in a positive and democratic atmosphere. It resulted in four concrete demands. The next plenum is planned for Saturday. What are your expectations?

Ahmetašević: I am convinced that the citizens will be just as positive and willing to attend and participate in the discussion. What took place in Sarajevo this Friday was a beautiful thing. It was wonderful to be a part of it all. At the same time, it was also sad because some of the things people were saying hurt all of us who were listening. It’s very painful hearing someone talk about how they don’t have anything to eat, how they lack the most basic necessities. No one there was talking about advanced politics. People were talking about everyday things and the things that pain them. We formulated four demands, which I think are very good, and I hope we will continue in the same vein. Using the Tuzla Plenum as our example we’ll try to form working groups who will form conclusions which we will pass on to the authorities and force them to act, and make sure that it’s in accordance with the law. Meaning, make sure that no one can reject any of the demands of the Plenum and say ‘this is against the law’. We’ll try to form various other teams who will work on things they want to pass on to the authorities.

RSE: Everyone is already talking about the four demands. Among them are audit of privatisations and the establishment of a government of experts which is basically the most important one. However, it’s very important to note the demand concerning the commission of experts whose task it will be to verify the facts of the events of the 7th February. Can you tell us more about that?

Ahmetašević: At the moment, as far as we know, three people have been charged with terrorism. It’s absurd, scary and incredible that someone would accuse people who were so hungry they took to the streets to fight for their rights of terrorism. It’s equally absurd that the police and prosecution still, and we are on the tenth day of the protests now, persecute people, perform identity checks, take people from their homes. We have heard from people who were severely beaten and abused at the police stations. I don’t know whether it’s true, I’m just saying what I’ve been told on the streets during the protests. This is absurd and scary. It’s absurd how they lie that these people are hooligans. They’re spreading lies about the extent of the damages as well. Anyone can go outside and see for themselves. If this had been hooligans, they would have demolished everything they could have gotten their hands on. But only the buildings of the power holders were attacked, the buildings of the people against whom everybody was protesting. It’s absurd that that’s the way they try to characterise these peaceful protests, which actually consist of people who are fighting for their basic rights.

RSE: As a journalist yourself, what do you say to the fact that the police have called on TV stations to hand in footage especially from the first day of the protests, and that if they fail to do so, they will be heavily fined?

Ahmetašević: I have to say that I am fully aware of the fact that prosecution in a criminal case has the right to ask this of journalists. On the other hand, I don’t understand why they ask it of journalists and in this way intimidate both the public and the media, bearing in mind that the entire time they’ve had police in the midst of the protests and that they have images and everything they need to carry out a satisfactory investigation. I believe they’ve only taken this step to frighten people. And it’s already having that effect. The citizens’ plenum, which was supposed to be completely public, which was supposed to be broadcast live so that as many people as possible could be informed of what’s going on, wasn’t broadcast because people are afraid of being filmed, they’re afraid that the police and prosecution will use that against them. That’s how far we’ve come. What I’m saying is that the police have, unfortunately, achieved their goal and frightened these people. Our task now is to fight that.

RSE: Many people are complaining about the work of the media. How happy are you with the way the media have covered the events so far?

Ahmetašević: I’m really just a citizen. I try to read and follow the media who cover the events and sometimes I wonder: where am I and where are the journalists who have been reporting? I think it’s sad that after 20 years many media outlets in this country aren’t at a stage where they can claim to be professional. I won’t talk about independence, I am not someone who has utopian beliefs. There are no independent media, all media depend on something or someone. At the same time, I am very happy and find courage in the fact that there are some excellent professionals and media who really cover the protests in a way we could expect from any professional media outlet in the world.

RSE: You are on the streets of Sarajevo nearly every day, you hear what the people want. Their demands could, of course, be condensed into that sorely missed social justice in this country. How optimistic are you that these protests really can change the situation?

Ahmetašević: I am very optimistic.The people on the streets are wonderful. There is so much love at the protests, the people are so clever, so decisive. Their message is simply that they want a normal life. That’s such a small wish, but we can achieve so much with it. I am really optimistic that we will succeed this time. I believe in the people who live in this country.

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