Sarajevo Protests: rave, rainbow or resolute?


[wzslider]Most likely all of the above.

At times the protests certainly resembled an early 90’s UK rave party with youth dancing and whistling to Dubioza Kolektiv’s hoppy sounds and socially driven lyrics. The thud of the Sarajevo Drum Orchestra shifted the energy to a more rainbow gathering type of atmosphere. But there was a lot more to it than just rave or rainbow. There was strong resolute in what has been coined the Baby Revolution. A wave of protests have hit Bosnia and Herzegovina, all sparked by an unregistered newborn unable to leave the country for medical care.

The youth of this nation have often been accused, and rightly so, of being apathetic and passive observers of the dismal political and economic situation that has plagued this country for well over a decade.  They were always easily spotted, sitting in café’s sipping an espresso and complaining over the state of affairs with a cigarette in hand.  The week long protests, led by activists from the 30 and 40 something generation of Sarajevo’s creative corps, have stirred the pot, however. And it may just be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The people of this country are pretty much fed up with just about everything. The only ‘group’ the status quo seems to work for is the governing elite.  It would be naive to say their days are numbered.  But many sense the winds of change.

It would be too easy to be cynical and label the protests as yet another useless attempt to jump start this government to do their jobs. These protests were the first legitimate protests since the peaceful gatherings in front of the very same parliament 21 years ago. Those protests were the first chapter in a long and brutal war. These protests, however, are quite different. It has created a shift, if nowhere else but in the hearts and mind of many ordinary citizens and, in particular, BIH’s youth. The young people of this country got their first taste of the joys of collective protest and self-empowerment.

There was a fair share of pensioners, actors, professors and ordinary folks to accompany the hordes of Sarajevo taxi’s that blocked or slowed traffic throughout the city center but it was the students, as is the norm in most social movements,that made their voices most heard. The organizers kept the message of the rally on queue – keep it peaceful and have a good time. And they did just that. It was one of the rare protests that I have witnessed where the atmosphere was no less than jovial. For a country that at times seems to be falling apart at the seams, I found the approach admirable.  Scenes from Greece, Turkey or even Sweden have shown how violence can flare. But with baby carriages leading the frontal assault on the parliament building, the protesters have made their peaceful intent clear.

Perhaps the most disappointing spin to the protests was the reactions from the powers that be. Conspiracy theories were and are flying left, right and center from the RS and some Bosnian Croat parties accusing that the protests were arranged by SDP, SBB and SDA. Milorad Dodik, president of the RS, demanded that an emergency meeting of the council of ministers be held in another ‘safe’ location, implying that Sarajevo was too dangerous for them to even come to work.  A similar story came from HDZ, siting fears for their personal safety as the reason they would not come to work.

From the protester point of view, the revolt was directed at every single ruling party and the government as a whole. It is adamantly denied that any political party directed the events that led to the largest protests since the anti-war protests of 1992. There was a considerable share of the criticism directed towards their bitter disappointment in both Zlatko Lagumdžija, the autocratic leader of Social Democratic Party, and the president of SDA Sulejman Tihić. To label these protests political is absolutely correct. According to protesters, to label them an inside job is pure nonsense.

The sad truth, however, is that the entire political establishment is now trying to use the protests to further one agenda or the other. This could, and most probably will, lead to even more stagnation and a complete blockade of the state parliament. Bosnia and Herzegovina lives in a constant state of Catch 22. One thing we can be sure of is that the protests have spurred an early commencement of the pre-election season. The mud-slinging and antagonism has already begun.

The protesters have given a deadline of June 30 to pass the law that would provide all newborns with personal ID numbers – the infamous JMBG that has been plastered on banners and signs.  Knowing Bosnian politics and with 18 years of precedent, there is no doubt that this deadline will not be met. And there is little doubt as to the resolute of the protesters. They promise to be back and in bigger numbers.

The political elite of this country, assisted by the many mishaps of the international community (starting with some of the less practical aspects of the Dayton Accords), have created a swamp of political quagmire that will be difficult to liberate this country from.  The message(s) from the protesters are clear, however:  stop using babies for political purposes. It’s time to clean house, grow up, and start acting like the caretakers of the people who put you in your place of privilege.

Photos by Maria Hetman

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