Today Bosnia and her protests are in the news once again. Three days ago, rustic Tuzla in the northeast, was the scene of initially calm protesters gathering against corruption and unemployment in their home town. Last night, a map on Facebook, made it’s way through my feed. It was a call to Bosnians asking them to show solidarity with the aggrieved citizens of Tuzla. Tired, I ignored it but when I checked Twitter in the morning I was quickly engaged in a game of catch up.
Bosnia exploded today and some say it is reminiscent of 20 years ago, when violence destroyed this country. I don’t agree with the comparison, but I am afraid. Initially, laid off factory workers screwed over by money mongers who had bankrupt the only employment available in town and then fled, stood around grumbling, signs in hand demanding restitution. Corruption is rampant in Bosnia and government institutions are legendary for their ineffectiveness, having been brokered by the myopic Dayton Accord in ‘95 with no room for change. The Tuzlans and their counterparts in Sarajevo, Zenica, Mostar apparently can’t take it anymore as of today.
The protests spread, just like the little map had suggested - soon morphing from peaceful march in the streets to rock pelting ‘hooligans’ (quote unquote) attacking the police, sent out presumably, to keep the citizens safe. After government buildings were set on fire there in the afternoon, the PM of Tuzla canton promptly resigned and rather set the pattern for the rest of his ilk as Sarajevo, Zenica and other towns became scenes of protests and destruction. Addressing the escalation of violence Nijaz Hlivnjak of the weekly ‘Novo vrijeme’ posted on Twitter that ‘ordinary citizens’ stood apart once the peaceful gathering gave way to unrest. The young men in black hoodies and covered faces seen in a lot of the pictures posted on the internet, throwing rocks and generally being violent, where, at least in Tuzla, where the first fires were started, not recognized as locals. None of the original protestors in any canton seem to have organized for planned violence, something that Bosnians have had in spades for generations. Hlivnjak tweeted that the Mayor of Tuzla said he had no idea where the young guys instigating violence came from, giving rise to speculation that they were outsiders. Undoubtedly everyone will have an opinion about gate crashers by the morning.
The protests in various cities, especially the capital of Sarajevo, repeated a pattern. Mass gatherings. Eventually, firebombs thrown, cars and buildings set on fire. Who can know if these were organized or by whom? The Presidency Building in Sarajevo center caught fire and seems to have at least partially burnt to the ground, taking along with it the remnant historical archives from the Austro-Hungarian era that were housed there. These same archives had made it through two world wars and the three year Serb siege of Sarajevo.
What the hell was going on?
I could not contain my tears when I read about the senselessness. Again this need for obliteration of history, of culture. That was something familiar from the war. The burning of the library in 1993 was already too grim, too stunning a show of stupidity to bear. But two with out three… and there went Mostar, where among other buildings, the newly renovated city hall was set ablaze.
Bosnians that I know, have spent the last years crawling through a maze of post war trauma, bullied by an ineffective government and a very effective mafia along with outright putrification of their civil rights. The goal for many is just trying to get by. Hammered by the shadow of nationalism and the brutal apathy that comes with powerlessness I believe they would be the last people on earth comfortable burning buildings and throwing Molotov cocktails.
We don’t know what tomorrow brings but in a few short hours it will hopefully be apparent. Someone on Twitter said people were organizing to clean up the streets in the morning. I am excited at the prospect that there might be a version, albeit idealized, of a Bosnian ‘Spring’ , where the people voice their grievances and stand up together to change a system that has kept them impoverished both physically and emotionally. Nothing is quite as simple as it seems, this we know from observing the recent revolutions in the Middle East, the Ukraine and all throughout history. Things just too often implode into the vicious circles of hell. Be careful, beautiful Bosnia.