Bosnia: Protesters demand change

Amid harrowing images from anti-government protests and violent demonstrations thrust into the centre of the political stage this year in Ukraine, the troubles of countries like Bosnia and Venezuela have appeared to receive a lack of attention and coverage from the international spotlight. Anti-privatisation protests escalated across cities in Bosnia in early February as long-standing tensions surfaced over unemployment and “social injustice.” Tensions were rife as protesters stormed into and set fire to government buildings, calling for government officials to resign. Demonstrators united in their resentment over political inability to solve economic challenges in a country historically plagued by an ethnic-divide.

Protesters on the streets of Mostar

Protesters on the streets of Mostar. Photo: Adi Hodzic

Why were there protests in Bosnia?

Protests began in Tuzla, February 5th, as demonstrators voiced their exasperation over job losses, unemployment and low wages as a consequence of the failure of privatisation and closure of many factories. Hundreds were injured as riot police and protesters clashed during demonstrations.

In other towns and cities across Bosnia, including Mostar and Bihac, the unrest began to unravel over several days as protesters gathered in support of the workers in Tuzla, critical of the government’s capability. Cantonal and municipal buildings were set on fire in several cities including Sarajevo and Tuzla.

 Protester in Mostar holding a sign that says - When you take off that uniform, what's the difference between u

Government buildings on fire and smashed cars in the city of Mostar. Photo: Adi Hodzic

Adi Hodzic, a freelance photographer from Mostar, witnessed the protests as they turned violent, “These protests first started in the city of Tuzla where workers from several companies asked for their rights. They havent had their salary for months, they have no social insurance, they can’t even retire because of debts.

“Unemployment and social injustice are the main reasons for these protests and people are just sick of the same government over the years.”

Human Rights Watch have called for an investigation into excessive police force against protesters in Bosnia. HRW documented nineteen cases of police violence against protesters, journalists, bystanders and those held in detention.

"When you take off that uniform, what's the difference between us?" Protester holds sign.

“When you take off that uniform, what’s the difference between us?” Protester holds sign.

History of political division, what’s next for Bosnia?

Bosnia was preserved as a single state divided into two after leaders signed the Dayton Accords, ending the ethnic and nationalist bloodshed of the 1992-95 war. Complex divides remain between the separate Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic. Local governments in four cities and several cantonal prime ministers have since resigned yet it is still unclear what the next steps will be for Bosnia as protests continue.

Mostar on fire. Photo: Adi Hodzic

Mostar on fire. Photo: Adi Hodzic

Citizens’ “plenums”, established by protesters as a public forum as a result of the conflict comprised of non-political experts, have begun to voice their demands to new governments. Hodzic explained, “In the city of Mostar where I live, the situation is even more complicated because of national divides between the people of Mostar. This hard social situation is bringing people together, from different nations, in the fight for a better life for them and their children.”

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