- Bosnia and Herzegovina
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Mid last-week, Tuzla, my (once upon a time) lovely town, woke up expecting a simple fifth day after New Year.
We all got up around 9am, and while the kids played a computer game, I went out for breakfast. What my neighbours and I did not expect to see on the streets was a call to revolution and war.
Posters calling for just that – a revolution - were put up on notice boards and locations all over Tuzla last week, produced apparently by the “Party of Labour”, which claims to be active all over former Yugoslavia.
They were designed so that passers-by could hardly ignore them, if nothing else because of the depictions of an old lady holding a gun and “showing a finger”.
In one she holds a gun and declares: “THE FUTURE! BY REVOLUTION!”, while in the other one she says: “LIFE! I’ve had enough of you…” though in a ruder way, so that it’s clear that she is about to use a swear word. In addition, for those who don’t get it at first, she is showing her middle finger, making sure the message is complete.
The webpage of the Party of Labour (www.partijarada.org) seems to be well maintained. It encourages visitors to the site to believe that there are a number of followers of their ideas, who have carried out many actions since the establishment of the party by Vlado Dapcevic, a revolutionary internationalist, as a short biography about the founder details.
Interestingly, many saw the poster action as a response to two rapes that recently occurred in Tuzla, within a span of some ten days. Just a day after the posters went up, a group of nongovernmental organisations invited people to join a protest about them, showing their discontent with the level of security on our streets.
The posters certainly got people talking about the situation in the country. Many looked at them with some sympathy and found them funny.
Others felt concern, however. The Association of Citizens Front, an NGO from Tuzla, urged the local authorities to tackle the propaganda of the party that had produced and distributed the posters. According to the Front’s press release, they see this party as a militant group, close by nature to Fascist organisations.
I first saw the posters as I left our flat in the morning to get breakfast. There, I found many of my elderly neighbours - most of them people raised just after World War Two, who spent their best years building the former country and who now barely survive on tiny pensions - gathered around the notice board outside our building.
When I saw them, I first thought they were waiting for the postman to bring them their miserable monthly pension. It was only when I greeted one of them (a lovely lady from the eighth floor, who, ailing herself, cares for her bed-ridden husband) that I realised they were looking at the posters covering the notice board.
The posters covered up all the usual obituaries and adverts announcing concerts (mostly folk singers from neighbouring Serbia). The old lady from the eighth floor was complaining that the “youth of today have no respect for the dead”, because they covered an obituary she had come down to see to check the time of the funeral service. Listening to her (with half an ear, I admit), I could not resist a smile when I saw another neighbour (from the fourth floor, who recently lost his wife) showing his own finger at an imaginary person (pretending it was the government) and laughing with the middle-aged war veteran from the top storey. He was mimicking what he saw on one of the posters, probably wishing he could really do the same to the authorities. I overheard him tell the other one that, “It was about time someone called for a revolution”. He added: “If we were just a few years younger, we would join in”.
Leaving the building and going into the shop, I heard everyone talking about the old woman in the posters. Most of the customers were laughing about it but there were some serious comments, too. Some people were concerned, or scared, even. I overheard one middle-aged couple talking about making a stash of flour, oil and sugar, just in case war broke out again. The husband said that he should get a few boxes of cigarettes, but the wife told him off (very firmly) to the effect that if he did not stop smoking then, he never would!
My friend, Besmir Fidahic, who holds an M.A. in translation, and whom I much admire, told me: “Their rhetoric is shabby and it will soon develop into demagogy”. They were “Fifty years late with their messages”, he added. They would be better off using their resources, in terms of funds and people, to organise night patrols in the dark alleys of Tuzla, protecting potential rape victims. Besmir also noted that the people from the Party of Labour would not get many points for having pictures on their website showing them in uniforms very similar to those worn by “Arkan”’s paramilitaries during the war in Bosnia.
Another friend, Mario Vranjes, a poet and an amateur actor, said few people, himself included, believed this Party had either the power or the charisma to move the masses. But recent events - both rapes and posters - reflected the misdeeds of our “beloved politicians”, Mario added; people could not be expected to remain quiet for all time. The disturbing posters (quite funny at first glance), together with the terrorist-like photographs on the website of the Party of Labour, had stirred up the water about those who “falsely promise democracy and fairness”. Although he is against terrorism and violence, Mario feels the posters were one way to show those in the power that they are not untouchable.
Trying to get hold of anyone from the Part of Labour in Tuzla, I rang a few of my younger friends who are active in the civil sector and human right groups. Some of them must have known who the people are, I thought, but no one said a word. I spoke to Jasmin Alic, a youngster active in a political party, who broadly shared the opinion of my friends.
He wished people in Bosnia would see that the time for revolution is ripe - but instead of violence, they should use legitimate methods to fight the criminals in politics who have alienated the peoples of Bosnia and who are still working on keeping them apart. “If this Party of Labour led people into this type of revolution, an uncompromising fight against crime, I’d be alongside them even though I belong to a different party,” he said. “I am in for the revolution!”
At the end of the day, after all of the talk and images had sunk in, I asked my daughter of 15 - the same age when many joined the Partisans in the last century, and who became (mostly dead) heroes - what she thought of the posters. She said they were “cool”. But when I asked whether she would join such a revolution, be a nurse or carry a gun, she said I was not normal. And when I asked what she would do if war broke out, she answered: “I hope I wouldn’t be here because I’d expect you to be a bit smarter than you were last time and not stay here for yet another war!”
And… nothing happened. The poster story joined all the other events of the week behind us. The protest against rapes on the streets of Tuzla was attracted only a few hundred people. It all leads me to conclude that we seriously lack seriousness in our mind about how seriously bad our situation really is!
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