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News 08 Feb 14

Bosnia Surveys Debris After Nationwide Unrest

After widespread unrest saw protesters clash with police and burn government buildings, leaving scores injured and arrested, politicians claimed they understood ordinary Bosnians’ ‘unhappiness’.

Denis Dzidic
BIRN
Sarajevo

Bosnian politicians said they sympathised with people’s economic woes but condemned the violence which saw dramatic scenes of burning government buildings and police using tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse thousands of angry protesters across the country on Friday.

People demonstrated in more than 30 cities and towns in a third day of mass unrest, with the most bitter confrontations in the capital Sarajevo, which was choked by clouds of dark smoke and tear gas as protesters set fire to the state presidency, the cantonal government building and the state archive.

The situation across the country had calmed significantly on Saturday as the authorities launched clean-up operations, while Sarajevo Canton Prime Minister Suad Zeljkovic announced he had resigned over the unrest.

Sarajevo’s Kosevo hospital said it treated almost a hundred injured people on Friday, most of them police officers, with three of them described as severely wounded. Several hundred have been injured since the unrest first erupted earlier this week.

Cantonal government buildings were also torched in Mostar, Zenica and Tuzla, the northern industrial town where the unrest over unemployment, corrupt privatisations and the country’s dire economic situation started on Wednesday, at rallies led by workers at major factories that went bust after being sold off by the state.

Riot squads, reinforced in Sarajevo by anti-terrorist officers, forced back protesters and took control of the streets in the late afternoon and early evening on Friday. According to police sources, up to 100 were detained in the aftermath - dozens in Sarajevo, 20 in Zenica, ten in Mostar and eight in Tuzla. Police in the capital also alleged that they had seized 12 kilogrammes of amphetamines from alleged criminals involved in the unrest, but this was later denied.

There were no new mass protests in Sarajevo or Tuzla on Saturday, however; in the capital, some 100 protesters staged a sit-in and blocked traffic outside the Bosnian presidency, while in Tuzla, people came to help the clean-up operation near the burned-out government building.

Several thousand protesters did march through the northern town of Bihac, demanding the local authorities resign, and briefly clashed with police outside the home of Cantonal Prime Minister Hamdija Lipovaca, before officers managed to break up the demonstration. In Mostar meanwhile, hundreds gathered but dispersed when police arrived.

  Morning after the protests in Sarajevo, February 8 / Photo by Elvira M. Jukic, Balkan Insight, BIRN

‘A citizens’ tsunami’

Leading politicians condemned Friday's violence but some said they sympathised with people’s discontent in the country with a 27.5 per cent unemployment rate, plagued by economic stagnation and political inertia, and still suffering from the aftermath of the 1992-95 war.

The president of the Bosniak-Croat Federation, one of Bosnia’s two political entities, Zivko Budimir, said that “the politicians heard the voice of the people loud and clear” but the violence had to stop.

His condemnation of the clashes and burning of government buildings was echoed by representatives of the Social Democratic Party, Zlatko Lagumdzija, and the Party for Democratic Action, Bakir Izetbegovic.

“The unhappiness of people - which is understandable - was hijacked by groups with different agendas, destructive ones... We are fully supportive of the police and we call on them to do their jobs and protect their own loves, and then the safety of state structures,” said Lagumdzija.

Izetbegovic insisted that Bosnian citizens would suffer the most from the destruction of government buildings.

“Institutions which the people need have been destroyed. The people should change the government, if they are unhappy, but if you burn a building with birth certificates and other data, you injure yourselves,” he said.

Another Social Democratic Party official and current Federal Prime Minister Nermin Niksic told media that it “would not be a problem” if he was asked to step down.

Bosnian security minister Fahrudin Radoncic - also president of the Alliance for a Better Future party - said the protests were a result of failure to stop criminal privatisations and corruption.

“If prosecutions do not stop this crime, we will have a citizens’ tsunami,” Radoncic warned.

Widespread unrest

The nationwide scale of the Friday protests was unprecedented in the country.

Unrest spread across Bosnia’s larger Bosniak-Croat entity as thousands of people gathered on the streets of 32 towns, although they only turned violent in major urban areas.

In Bihac, hundreds of protesters threw stones and burned cars in front of the cantonal government, while in Mostar protesters burned the local government building, as well as the headquarters of the two leading Bosniak and Croat political parties, the Party of Democratic Action and the Croatian Democratic Union.

Peaceful protests took place meanwhile in Banja Luka in the Serb-led Republika Srpska entity, where about 300 people marched through the city centre.

Republika Srpska’s Prime Minister Zeljka Cvijanovic said she supported the protests.

“I am supportive of everyone implementing their democratic right. What I am not supportive of is attempts to transfer a crisis from the non-functional Federation, to the functional Republika Srpska,” said Cvijanovic.

In the aftermath of the clashes, the entire cantonal governments in Tuzla and Zenica resigned, as did Mario Sulenta, Interior Minister in Mostar.

Media have reported meanwhile that Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic will meet Bosnian Serb political leaders Milorad Dodik and Mladen Bosic on Sunday to discuss the crisis in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The top international official in the country, High Representative Valentin Inzko, has also condemned the violence and called on politicians end the crisis.

 

Building of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Photo by Elvira M. Jukic, Balkan Insight, BIRN

Building of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina / Photo by Elvira M. Jukic, Balkan Insight, BIRN
Street between the Presidency BiH building and the Sarajevo Canton building / Photo by Elvira M. Jukic, Balkan Insight, BIRN
Building of Sarajevo Canton Government was still partly on fire in the morning / Photo by Elvira M. Jukic, Balkan Insight, BIRN

Building of Sarajevo Canton Government was still partly on fire in the morning / Photo by Elvira M. Jukic, Balkan Insight, BIRN

 

Tuzla - the morning after / Photo by Dusica L. Ikic Cook
Tuzla - the morning after / Photo by Dusica L. Ikic Cook
Tuzla - the morning after / Photo by Dusica L. Ikic Cook

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Background

The ‘Bosnian Spring’ Starts With a Bang

The Bosnian protests are the result of years of corruption, economic decay and in-fighting among ethno-political elites, but it is far from certain that they can bring real change.