Can Europe Make It?

The situation in Bosnia is big news in Croatia...but for the wrong reasons

Marko Boko
20 February 2014

For the last ten days or so, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a hot topic in Croatia as well as in other ex-Yugoslav countries. The whole situation has been ''analysed'' or interpreted through the complex relationship between Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian people in ''post-Dayton'' Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are very few mainstream socio-economic analyses of the situation, and the main public discourse is, unfortunately, the ethno-nationalist one. Unfortunately the situation became big news in the Balkans because some groups wanted to characterize it as a nationalist movement, instead of listening to the workers and protestors who were trying to keep the focus on its social character.

In short, the uprising began in early February when workers of five factories in Tuzla began protesting against privatization of their companies, which is often a bad omen in the context of the post-Yuglosav era, characterised by a misguided hope of building capitalism overnight, only resulting in the further deterioration of people's economic and social conditions. Following a violent police intervention, ordinary citizens joined the protests and by the end of February 7, several cantonal governments buildings, various local institutions, political parties and some banks were burned down and demolished. These buildings were not attacked by mistake, for people considered them as emblems of the responsibility for the whole situation of corruption and misuse of power which had led to the mass protests.

Of course, the fact that protests ended up violent was used by the media (Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian) mainly to discredit protests and protestors' demands and to show that they are just hooligans looking for trouble. In parallel with that, Croatian and Serbian media have been focused on running stories accusing protestors of ''Bosnian unitarism'' and the centralization of Bosnia, totally ignoring the socio-economic background of the protests. Moreover, Croatian and Serbian politicians have called for stability and peace, but Croatian PM Zoran Milanović went a bit further as he has visited Mostar (a town with a Croatian majority, but not the BiH capital) to bring a peaceful message. The real purpose was to keep the Croatian people removed from the truth behind the uprising. And what about the EU? EU High Representative Valentin Inzko stated that EU troops could be called upon for reinforcement if violence escalated.

Although protesters have been opposed and sabotaged by the media, political structures and political elites, protests are still marked by social motivations and workers are keeping their nationalist ideologies. A really strong message was sent out when one of the protestors said, ''It is cynical and rude to ask people who are hungry 'Are you hungry together or separately?'''

But, the primary intention of the blog was not to explain what is going on in Bosnia, as a limit of 700 words does not permit this. My idea was to do a short parallel with the general situation in Croatia, as in a few Croatian cities rallies were organized to support workers in BiH. Also, various groups were trying to motivate Croatian citizens to start protests against the Croatian Government, but they were much more successful on Facebook than on the streets as only dozens or a few hundred people have shown up.

Some interest groups are trying to present protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina as nationalistic. Unfortunately, when it comes to Croatian citizens, they are indeed more focused on your world-view and nationalist questions rather than on social ones. What could motivate Croatian citizens to take to the streets and show how they live and what they think of the political system and the elites, mostly formed overnight during the war and post-war period?

To prove this statement I will just mention a campaign launched by a right wing NGO (supported by right wing political parties and the Catholic church) which gathered 749,316 signatures for a referendum to constitutionaly define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus creating a constitutional prohibition against same-sex marriage. The other example is a campaign driven by a group demanding a referendum to end the official use of Serbian Cyrillic script in some parts of Croatia. They have gathered over 650,000 signatures, but it is still unclear what will happen with it, as EU and Croatian Government do not support the cause, which is inherently provocative, but also as the referendum question still has to be decided.

These days people are protesting in BiH, in Montenegro and Serbia, and it happened a year ago in Slovenia. There are more than 383,000 unemployed people in Croatia. The youth unemployment rate is more than 50%, large scale de-industrialisation is all around us, privatisation of public utilities and commons, corruption, ineffective public administration... It is clear that we do not live any better than other Balkan countries, but how do we find out what people think of it?

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