This article originally appeared on 15 February 2014 at Lupiga.
Franjo Šarčević on violence at the protests:
Last summer in Bosnia heads rolled because of politics. Children’s heads.
by Ana Benačić
In the crowd of rebellious people on the streets of Sarajevo this Monday we recognised the face of our young mathematical genius, an assistant at the Scientific-Mathematical Faculty and founder of the excellent website http://www.prometej.ba, Franjo Šarčević. We discussed with this pacifist, now a former supporter of the Croatian prime minister Zoran Milanović, the violence that took place in Bosnia last Friday. The violence provided a pretext for the government not just to issue indictments against the angry citizens who set fire to institutional buildings, but also to try to prevent further more decisive protests; they warned that the protesters ran the risk causing fatalities. The sonic background of this interview was the crowd shouting: “Resignations! Resignations! Thieves! Thieves!”
When I ask protesters in Sarajevo where the unions are, I always get the same answer: “What unions?” What is happening with them?
I don’t know what is happening with the unions, I have not seen any of their representatives here or heard them make any statements. I don’t know how independent they really are, or what they want or how want to make change.
If the unions are not at a workers’ demonstration, then who is here?
There are member of different organisations of civil society, people with different motivations and reasons. For the most part it is people who have had enough of the situation as it is, and they are socially aware enough that they can see that something has to change. As many as 75% of the young people in this country have no chance of employment, not to speak of whether they are able to work in the field for which they were trained. A huge number of young people want to leave the country because they see no way of living and raising children here. Having children here is like science fiction! They have rebelled for good reason and I hope that the criminal political elite will not try to turn them back. I am afraid, because there is a danger that once again after so many times in this region they could try to sell the old nationalist story.
Do you think that eliminating the cantons, which in Croatia is described as the main demand of the protests, is a move directed against Croats in BiH?
In Mostar a good number of people have fallen for that story, that this is an attack by one ethnic group against another. Zlatko Lagumdžija is basically saying “they want to get a third entity through the protests.” In one Islamic newspaper I read that the protests were begun by German and anti-Croat circles with the goal of destabilising the Federation and creating a third entity. Then Milorad Dodik says that in Republika Srpska everything functions fine and there is no need for demonstrations, and that these protests are an attempt to destabilise RS, that otherwise fantastic state, as he likes to sell the story. Dragan Čović, for his part, says that the goal is to destabilise the Federation, but in order to eliminate the cantons, which are the last assurance of the constitutive status of the three largest ethnic groups. I am sure that all of these people in the comprador, criminal elite are working together.
In Bijeljina we recently saw a united front of all of the local political parties who met together and then called on their members not to participate in the demonstrations. Is that also happening in other Bosnian institutions?
I expect that it is definitely happening. By following the events on social networks I can see how some groups of people are orienting themselves toward the protests. The ones who are close to the political parties are against them because they do not want to offend the bosses from whom they expect something. People are in good measure led by the thought, “Serbify, Croatify, Bosniakify, even if you end up having to eat straw.” That is, the important thing is to maintain the position of the nationalities, and it does not matter how it turns out for the rest of us. Do you see the paradox? You have a political elite that impoverished people, humiliated them, stepped on them, took their rights away, and has persuaded those same people that this was the best thing they could have done for them. And people are happy with this and defend the folks who brought them to edge of survival, believing the assertion that for everything that is wrong a politician from a different ethnic group is responsible. So Komšić and Izetbegović were guests on a television programme on Sunday and they were asked who is responsible. Izetbegović said the politicians are, but not me. And he is not responsible because he fought and is fighting for the state, and the responsible ones are the ones who do not do that. Now what does it mean to fight for the state? A state is a product of an agreement among people, it is not an abstract being. What does it mean to fight if everything you do makes things worse for the people?
Demonstrators are being blamed for the destruction that took place on 7 February. How did you experience that?
I would have preferred that the destruction did not happen, and I personally would not participate in setting things on fire. But I can understand the people who did that. But too much importance has been attached to that. What is a building compared to the concrete life of a person? Here they have been destroying over the last twenty years, not just the last five days, numerous families because people have not been able to get jobs or have lost jobs. And nobody makes any displays of mourning for them. And then a building gets destroyed, an artefact that cannot think, cannot feel, has no human characteristics. Last summer we saw that children were dying because of the way that these people do politics. In that case heads were rolling. And how many children in this country have no access to education because their parents do not have money? The estimate of damage to the buildings in 25 million Euros, but what is that compared to a person’s life? How many of those were destroyed?
Tuzla has shown that it can devise a step further than demonstrations, organising the plenums which were organised afterward in other cities as well. What do you think of that idea?
It is a good thing and they should be organised in every city where people have rebelled, plenums should be called and people should get the chance to think about how political life should be led, what kind of people should have public functions. Nino Raspudić and compromised intellectuals like him, who get thousands of reasons a month to talk the way they do, are trying to show that this is a Bosniak rebellion in which Serbs and Croats are not participating. It is already clear that this is not the case, and when the rebellion comes to cities where Croats are in the majority it will be even clearer, although I expect that they have already come up with an explanation in line with their political and ideological position. It is regrettable that Zoltan Kabok, the correspondent of the Croatian state television in Sarajevo, has also repeated those positions.
You are rebelling. Are you Bosniak, perhaps?
Ethnically I am Croat, but nationally I am not anything, thank God.
One of the more bizarre moments in this whole fracas was the applause that Zoran Milanović got in front of the burned out headquarters of HDZ in Mostar. How do you explain that?
I shuddered when I saw that. In the first place because I am a socialist by political conviction, and in the softer edition a Social Democrat. When I lost faith in the SDP in this country, the SDP in Croatia seemed to me like a force that was still worth something and could bring about some change. Now it seems like they are tied to one another by scandals and that HDZ taught them very well how to steal. I doubt it, but I still do not know whether they will be able to change things for the better internally. But as far as foreign policy goes, Milanović is showing that there is no change at all – he leads it the way it was defined by Franjo Tudjman. Don’t take this as too radical, I can’t equate Milanović with a criminal like Tudjman, but in some areas it is clear that he is pretty much following his policies. From the way he interprets the events in BiH, it is clear that he does not understand how BiH functions and that he does not understand that BiH, such as it is, is an independent state. What reason does he have to come to Mostar? That is like Angela Merkel going to Sweden to calm down tensions because of immigrant protests in France, when those protests too are protests of poor people.
He came to offer support, but it is not clear to whom.
He showed his solidarity with the reigning political elites among the Croats of BiH. Solidarity with Dragan Čović, Ljuba Bešlić and Vjekoslav Bevanda, who are directly responsible for the situation being as it is, and particularly for the fact that BiH could end up without any Croats. He is solidary with that kind of people! I don’t know what he is trying to achieve by doing that. Knowing how people think in our parts – my family is from the Herzegovina-Neretva canton – the people there will not vote for Milanović no matter what he does. He will not get their votes no matter how much he sucks up to them. They might give him applause, they might accept his support, but only because it suits their needs, because they can use it against others, against Bosniaks and the SDP of BiH. But those people will not stop hating social democracy or the SDP no matter what it does. I considered voting for him, I have that right as a Croatian citizen, but now I will not. He has lost my vote and from those other people he will never get a vote.