Protests Over Government and Economy Roil Bosnia
Thousands of angry Bosnians took to the streets on Friday for a fourth day of protests against the political paralysis and economic stagnation that have engulfed one of Europe’s poorest and most divided countries.
In protests being called the Bosnian Spring for the sheer depth of their intensity, unemployed youths, war veterans and disgruntled workers, among others, set fire to government buildings in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, and across the country.
The Bosnian news media reported that hundreds had been injured during the protests, including dozens of police officers, with bursts of violence in Sarajevo, in the northern city of Tuzla, in Mostar in the south, and in Zenica in central Bosnia.
Srecko Latal, an analyst at the Social Overview Service, a research organization based in Sarajevo, said in a telephone interview that the capital looked like a “war zone,” with cars set on fire and overturned, buildings burning, and smoke from tear gas billowing into the sky. He said protesters had attacked the headquarters of the Bosnian presidency on Friday, a potent symbol of the country’s chronic dysfunction.
“We haven’t seen violent scenes like this since the war in the 1990s,” he said. “People are fed up with what has become total political chaos in Bosnia, with infighting over power, a dire economic situation and a feeling that there is little hope for the future. The protests are a wake-up call for the international community not to disengage from Bosnia.”
The protests started on Tuesday in Tuzla, a former industrial center, when more than 10,000 factory workers gathered in front of a regional government building to voice their anger over factory closings and unpaid salaries, for which they blamed poorly executed state privatizations. The anger soon spread to other parts of Bosnia.
The political and economic deterioration has its roots in the aftermath of the brutal ethnic war in Bosnia, which ended in 1995 after more than 100,000 people were killed. The Dayton Peace Agreement, brokered by the United States, ended the war. But it also divided Bosnia and Herzegovina, a former Yugoslav republic, into two entities — a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian Republic — and created a complex and unwieldy power-sharing system that has helped engender political infighting and stagnation.
Over the past several years, the poor and ethnically divided country has teetered from one crisis to the next. The political instability has undermined the country’s prospects of joining the European Union, and fanned economic hardship, including unemployment of more than 27 percent.
In June, about 1,500 lawmakers, government employees and foreign guests were held hostage for hours after thousands of angry demonstrators formed a human chain around the Bosnian Parliament building in Sarajevo to protest an impasse over a law on identification documents.
Mr. Latal said the current protests were primarily in the Muslim-Croat part of Bosnia but had also spread to its Serbian Republic. He said the disenchantment with the political paralysis transcended ethnicity, and paradoxically was unifying disparate ethnic groups around a common cause.
As the protests flared this week, Nermin Niksic, the prime minister of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, acknowledged some of the grievances of the protesters, including that workers had been deprived of pensions and health benefits. But he said that hooligans were taking advantage of the situation to foment chaos.
Suad Zeljkovic, the prime minister of the Sarajevo regional government, drew anger this week when he said that the people of Sarajevo were not justified in their dissatisfaction.
“In Sarajevo, no one has reasons for unrest and actions like this,” he told reporters on Thursday. “There is not a single unpaid salary, nor does any sector of society have reasons for dissatisfaction.”
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