Tag Archives: plenums

Of struggles, protests and plenums in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Part of the ad-hoc assembly “Civil resistance: cohesion, growth, representation”. Authors: Zoran Vučkovac and Emin Eminagić

Blazing images of Bosnia and Herzegovina sent into the world from the February 2014 protests were only the tip of the iceberg that has been paralysing the country ever since the war. Protesters took to the streets and set the government buildings ablaze in a symbolic act that points to the gist of its numerous problems. The country’s institutions largely became a partycratic oligarchy backed by the Dayton Peace Accords, actively maintaining and reproducing ethnic divisions for twenty years now. Arising from the fire, plenums or public assemblies emerged not only from the need for more active citizenship and direct democracy, but also as an outcry to stop with the blatant robbery of public and natural resources through clientelism and criminal privatisations. At one point there were exclamations of fearless speech among the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, in an attempt to reclaim a political language they have been denied since the end of the war. For the first time after the war, in the media one could hear expressions like solidarity, social justice, and equality, instead of the usual ethno-nationalist identitarian rhetoric present in the public discourse in Bosnia and Herzegovina.[1]

The demands formulated during the protests and plenums did not arise from nothing; they come from a long line of exercising public dissent and calls for more solidarity. Protests and plenums were preceded by several events in which Bosnians and Herzegovinians transcended ethnic divisions in their struggle for the commons. Those are the Tuzla student plenum in 2009, the protests of Tuzla’s workers for the past 10 years, Banja Luka “Picin Park” protests in 2012 and Sarajevo “Babylution” the year after.

In the case of Picin Park, citizens clearly stated that the struggle for the park is a “metaphor for the communality that opens up spaces for communication and action” against the use of “force and control in everyday life, overbearing politicians, but for a just society.” The protest received support from both sides of entity lines, sidelining ethno-national issues to the unified cause – struggle for public space. Babylution or the JMBG protests came along a year later and again pointed out to the lack of a functional state, and the dehumanisation of citizens through ethno-national matrix. [2]

On the Tuzla protests and representation

Although Bosnia and Herzegovina is full of examples of solidarity in action, it becomes evident that every new protest has their ground zero. Little has been done to preserve the legacies of former struggles, and even less to create a platform for sharing experiences and capacities among the local activists. Protesters and activists are easily isolated and criminalised without proper legal or media support. Bosnia is lacking in physically liberated spaces as both the left and the NGO scene function guerilla-style, with no clear vision of change and reform, or systemic approach to the completely dysfunctional state. Case in point is the new Compact for Growth and Jobs, an EU package of reform measures for Bosnia, initiated by the British-German initiative. Pushing for economic instead of political reforms and allegedly addressing the people’s needs, the Compact literally hijacks Bosnian protests of 2014 in order to push for more austerity and labour market reforms, whilst offering more of the same neoliberal policies that have been at work since the end of the war. At the same time, the Republika Srpska entity is fast-tracking a number of laws about public space, and the right to protest that significantly reduce the window for voicing consent. Even though there are signs of allegiances made across entity borders and actions that surpass identitarian politics Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to preserve its memories of workers, anti-fascist and anti-nationalist struggles as well as urban (all of them very political of course) struggles. On top of this, there is a need for more regionally coordinated action so similar groups will not repeat the same mistakes.

[1] Arsenijevic, Damir (ed.) Unbribable Bosnia and Herzegovina – The Fight for the Commons, Nomos, 2014.

[2] Because of the lack of political consent on personal identity number (JMBG), newborns were unable to apply for passports and travel abroad. Berina Hamidovic, three months old baby died because she was unable to receive proper medical treatment abroad.