News 14 Jun 17

Bosnian Capital Braces for New Veterans' Protests

More protesters are due to rally in Sarajevo on Wednesday, joining hundreds of angry war veterans who are demanding higher pensions, and stoking fears of deepening social unrest.

Srecko Latal
BIRN
Sarajevo
Veterans gathered in front of the Federation entity parliament building during a protest in April. Archive photo: BIRN.

Hundreds of disgruntled people from different parts of Bosnia are expected to arrive in the capital, Sarajevo, on Wednesday, to join more than 300 war veterans who have been staging protests in front of the Federation entity government building for two days.

“Bosnian politicians are gambling with growing public dissatisfaction... and risk a new, violent social uprising like the one we saw in 2014,” a senior Western diplomat told BIRN.

He was referring to the wave of protests in February 2014 that spread across the country as frustrated citizens and hooligans turned violent, attacking police and storming and burning a number of government and political party buildings.

The latest protests by war veterans started on Monday after a few dozen veterans walked from their hometowns to the Federation government building in Sarajevo.

The movement grew, as dozens of other war veterans came from different parts of Bosnia to express their frustrations about their poor status as well as about the generally poor economic and social situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The demonstrators, who do not represent any of the several war veterans’ associations, have so far refused to negotiate with the Federation government, or with any other level of government, and have warned they will remain on the streets until their conditions are met.

They seek the establishment of a single register of war veterans, which will exclude thousands of allegedly fake veterans who smuggled themselves into the system over the past two decades to access social benefits.

The veterans also demand minimum monthly pensions of at least 326 Bosnian marks (165 euros) for unemployed veterans.

Federation entity officials on Tuesday repeatedly tried to meet their representatives but they refused any communication.

Instead, government officials met official representatives of veterans' associations. However, they also appeared unable to control or influence the demonstrators, a government official told BIRN, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said the government feared the protests could escalate and turn violent, partly because of the hot weather, and partly because while the government can meet the first demand, it cannot meet the second demand, as that would require an additional 130-140 million euros annually, which the government does not have.

All administrative levels in Bosnia face a liquidity crisis and are dependent on more commercial borrowing after the IMF's latest programme for Bosnia was effectively suspended, after the governments failed to meet the IMF's conditions.

The latest protests in Sarajevo, newly-announced protests by railway workers in the country's other entity, Republika Srpska, as well as planned protests by pensioners point to the potential for growing social unrest in the deeply divided country.

Political deadlock has left governments at the state level and in the Federation entity without parliamentary support, which has effectively blocked both reforms and the IMF programme and has stalled Bosnia’s EU accession process.

The government in the Serb-dominated Republika Srpska is still nominally functioning. However, the economic and social situation in the entity is even worse than in the Federation due to what is widely seen as its ineffective and corrupt governance.

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