Breaking up with lame: protests in Bosnia

On the fifth day of ongoing demonstrations in Sarajevo, a routine is establishing itself and there is a feeling of something new in the landscape of Dayton-constitution Bosnian purgatory – citizens are breaking up with their fears.

Sumeja Tulic
12 February 2014

On the fifth day into the ongoing demonstrations in Sarajevo a routine has established itself – at noon, citizens meet around the tram station across from the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the shouting starts (Resignations! Thieves!). Someone steps on the street, everybody follows. The street is blocked. Some time passes, more people gather, then everybody starts walking towards the Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After spending some time there, everybody is back on to the main crossroad overlooking the burned down buildings of the municipality, Canton and the Presidency.

The hours there are filled with conversations between people who have just met, often from different walks of life and different socio-economic backgrounds.  A glare of surprise, and silent shock over how similar their outlooks on the situation are and, how much, actually, the other is lovable and “ok” takes place. Past dawn everybody is still warning each other’s of the infiltrators paid by this or that political party.

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Photograph courtesy of the author.

Most often, suspicion falls on the political party of the rich Minister of Security who did nothing to prevent the burning of the state institutions last Friday. Other conversations are more practical – Should we have a band playing here? Why not have sit up demonstrations? This eight hour standing business is tiring! That sight is deserted after seven or eight o’clock in the evening, when everybody is leaving with by-then cold coffee in a plastic cup and an empty and greasy wrapper from the bakery.

While all this is happening on the crossroad, others are carrying on with their regular activities – taking long walks along Tito’s street, drinking coffee in one of city’s shopping malls. It is not clear why they are not demonstrating, but on the fifth day into the demonstrations, this sight which renders the ‘every day Sarajevo’ is almost comforting. As if it promises that down the road from the crossroad life will be good, almost perfect.

However, this passive phenomenon is not a novelty. Those who remember the days before the outbreak of 1992-95 war, could go on and on about how they sat and had lunches in sunny Sarajevo while Eastern Bosnia was being taken by the military and paramilitary forces of Serb nationalists. Even with the tanks pointed at them from the hills above the city, life felt too warm and unclouded to actually worry and take precautionary measures.

ostavke bando.jpg

Photograph courtesy of the author.

Going home from the demonstrations is the hardest. Firstly, there one realises how tiring is “this protesting business”, and secondly, there is the TV where what just happened on the street looks different.  It is too painful to name all the adjectives and prospects that the media coverage attributes to the demonstrations. The imagery is subtracted from, among other interviews, interviews with the political establishment. These interviews are collages of statements offending common sense.

A winning statement among many of this sort was that the demonstrators were ‘energised’ by 12 grams of narcotics. One wonders how someone – if not for reason’s sake, then out of superstition – can use the same arguments once used by Qaddafi, a crazy dictator who died suffocating in his own blood. But, the multitude of some humans’ ability and desire to underestimate, insult and subjugate simply never fails to impress.

sarajevo protest.jpg

Photograph courtesy of the author

Before sleep comes the masochism of reading the statuses of Facebook friends who are still, days after, fixated on what things have burned out and how savage was it. To be honest, that is a fading trend. The new opposition to the demonstrations, how ever I try to elevate its essence here, boils down to a well known fear of people from Sarajevo – to be part of something that is ofirno (lame). The social perception of ofirno or ‘lame’ is that it is worse than death. Whilst you are lame or part of something lame, people are judging you, most probably laughing at you, days and nights, and you are a live witness to it all. Here, I should say that writing like this is an exemplary of what is ofirno.

In general, immunity towards fears generated in smaller places is something banal, looks funny in sitcoms, at times is embarrassing or annoying, but like quitting inhaling and exhaling less than 1 gram of tobacco wrapped in paper, it is really hard. What people do in Sarajevo each day looks easy but it is really hard. Every day they are breaking up with fears of the other; fear of being incapable, weak and insignificant; fears of all that being pointless; fear of being lame.


Photograph courtesy of the author.

Due to its entertaining qualities, the wisdom of Back to the Future films – even the wisdom contained in its well-picked title – is often overlooked. Simply, sometimes one needs to go back and forth in time to establish a just equilibrium in the present, and secure a bearable one in the future. Today in the afternoon citizens of Sarajevo will time-travel to the practices of ancient Greece – after twenty years of no meaningful ‘citizenship’ under the Dayton constitution, a citizens' plenum will convene in the heart of the student campus. Unlike in ancient Greece, however – to this plenum, women are invited.

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