A ’Bosnian spring’ emerges from a long winter of discontent


The mass protests in Bosnia & Herzegovina – dubbed by some as the ’Bosnian spring’ – have been a long time coming.

They began on 5 February in the north-eastern city of Tuzla, a former industrial powerhouse where the workers’ movement has a strong tradition.

Former workers from several large factories, which had been driven into the ground following ’rip-off privatisation’, took to the streets to call for redundancy pay and the reimbursement of healthcare and pension payments.

Bosnia & Herzegovina has never recovered from the war that ripped apart the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

The country has the highest unemployment rate in Europe, officially standing at over 40 per cent. Among young people aged 15-24, that figure is close to 60 per cent.

Those who work barely eke out a living on low-paid temporary jobs, informal work, donations and remittances from family members abroad.

Last week, the people of Tuzla had enough.



Following a call-out on Facebook, protesting workers were joined by ordinary supporters who were also protesting over mass unemployment, corruption and two decades of political failure.

Aldin Širanović, the main organiser of the demonstrations, told protestors: "This is the voice of the free people...We are going to government of Tuzla Canton to tell them what it means to be hungry, what it means to be unemployed."

On the first day, around 1,000 demonstrators marched on the cantonal government where they were confronted by excessive police force, including indiscriminate beatings, police dogs and tear gas.

Širanović and several others were promptly arrested.

The following day, an estimated 6,000 people rallied in front of the government buildings to demand, amongst other things, the immediate release of Širanović and the resignation of the Cantonal premier Sead Čaušević.

Government representatives refused to meet with the protesters. As a result, police and government buildings were pelted with eggs and rocks.

The police once again responded with strong force and scores were injured and arrested. A solidarity protest took place in Sarajevo and Širanović was released that evening.

On the third day, the protests spread to major cities across the Bosniak-Croat majority Federation of Bosnia & Herzegovina, one of the two entities that forms Bosnia & Herzegovina (the other being the Serb-majority Republika Srpska).

Police were attacked with rocks, buildings were set on fire and several stores looted.

Most of those involved in the violence were desperate young men who felt this was the only way to get the government to listen to them.

One young protestor told Equal Times: " The state hasn’t provided anything for us. My father’s pension is late. I don’t think I will be able to achieve much in Tuzla, but at least I will be able to express my dissatisfaction."


Protestors’ demands

Since start of the protests there have been several high profile resignations, including the premiers of Tuzla and Sarajavo.

There is a widespread belief that cantons, which exist only in the Federation, and come with their own premiers and ministries, are an unnecessary layer of government and a heavy strain on an already tight national budget.

Many citizens believe the canton governments are redundant and should be eliminated, but political parties are reluctant to address this issue because of the opportunities cantons provide for local politicians.

In terms of demands, the protestors also want to see the establishment of a social state responsive to the basic needs of its citizens.

They are also calling for an effective and less costly public administration, a policy of job creation and the easing of national tensions.

But these demands have been raised by the workers’ movement in Bosnia & Herzegovina for years, and the trade union centre for the Federation, the Savez samostalnih sindikata BiH (Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, or SSSBiH, which is a constitutient member of the KSBiH, the Confederation of Trade Unions of Bosnia and Herzegovina), is firmly in support of the protests.

In a statement signed by SSSBiH President Ismet Bajramović on 11 February, the union declared that the "SSSBiH supports the legitimate demands of the workers, the unemployed, especially the youth, but also other citizens deprived of their rights.

"SSSBiH has already earlier called for a change in government on all levels in accordance with the Constitution and laws. We call for political formations to take responsibility and offer solutions for the demands of the SSSBiH."

Despite one or two small scale protests, the situation in the Republika Srpska has so far been much calmer even though the socio-economic situation there is marginally worse than in the Federation, where the country’s economic and industrial base remains.

On Sunday, leading politicans recently met with the Serbian prime minister Ivica Dačić in Belgrade to call for stability and to prevent the protests from "spilling over".

Serb opposition parties are calling for the government of Republika Srpska to resign, as well as early elections.

The major political parties in the Federation have been blaming each other for creating a situation which has forced citizens onto the streets.

Strong divisions within the national governing coalition has the two main blocs engaging in heated arguments and calling for the resignation of their respective functionaries.

Meanwhile, as the political bickering continues, the protestors are focused on having their demands met.

When asked by Equal Times, what the protestors want, one young man who asked to remain anonymous, said real political change.

"All of them must go. The people of Bosnia have been let down by our leaders. Now is the time for something new. "