As this text is being written, as far as we know, a mass protest for June 18, 2013 is being organized. On June 13, 2013, Berina Hamidović, a three-month-old infant, died. She was a baby who did not have an ID number, and became a victim of the administration. Her death is symptomatic in every way, and unfortunately a confirmation, of the fact that the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina and ethno-nationalist politics are killing its children. How do we actually write on the need to articulate political demands after the defeating news of Berina’s death?
The largest protest until now happened on June 11, when about 10,000 people took to the streets and cab drivers blocked Sarajevo’s main road for several hours. The blockade of the Joint Institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina (on June 6 and 7), was probably the most radical act after two decades. However, it is important to emphasize several aspects in order for future action to be more effective.
Why did we take to the streets?
The blockade of the Joint Institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina happened spontaneously as a reaction to a four-month long failure to adopt the Law on the Unique Identification Number (JMBG). The revolt primarly started because of the three-month-old Belmina Ibrišević, who along with other infants born after February 2013 did not have a JMBG and therefore were denied rights as citizens. What is even worse, they are being exposed to many different health risks, resulting in the death of an infant, as they are unable to move beyond the borders of Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to receive medical attention the country cannot provide. Before we can draw any conclusions and articulate any other political questions, such as the unification of all the oppressed social groups, we have firstly to acknowledge all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina as political subjects. Therefore, from the previous blockade, as the coming protests, we must find solutions for the legally unrecognized infants to become visible political subjects, because biopolitics, which forcefully strives to homogenize the entities of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has lead Berina Hamidović to her death. The futility, emptiness and harmfulness of the narrative of ethno-national divisions has presented itself in the last couple of days in a unique struggle against nationalist rhetoric which serve as the unscrupulous response of the only culprits for the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the leading politicians. The only logical response imposed here is the repeated re-evaluation of basic principles of political organizing for issues of social justice and its practices, i.e. the creation of solidarity and the strenghtening of “one’s own ranks” – taking over the power from biopoliticians.
The blockade has not only shown the prevalent incompetence of the political elite, but also the lack of any political will, i.e. a complete commitment of certain parties and representatives to ethno-national division. Protests were announced four months in advance, and on the same day of the protests June 5, 2013, a solidarity march for the people of Turkey was organized. We can be certain that the gathering on the first day in front of Parliament happened spontaneously and remained to some extent unarticulated, however, what followed the next day, surprised the people attending the blockade. Hand in hand, pitched towards police forces, we managed to prevent any of the representatives including a delegation of foreign bankers to exit the Parliament until the next morning. We should not fool ourselves, as our method was the only one which could be labled as good and effective as opposed to all previous protests. Students, workers, retired people, parents stood united in the blockade. With this act we also bore witness to the possibility of finally bringing back the proletariat into the media discourse. As we know from Ancient Greece, the poorest of the population was outside of ownership relations, their existence in the state and their servitude was reduced to procreation for the sake of creating a labor force. Starting from the premise that even today people conduct labor with their bodies, Eagleton considers it peculiar when someone says that the proletariat has “disappeared”, despite the fact that with liberal democracy and neoliberal policies it was made deeply precarious, and thus it cognitively is being self-recycled. The proletariat has, not only on a symbolic level, showed that it never gave up the fight.
At the end we paid tribute to the grave lack of a tradition of resistance, starting with issues that certain groups of people had no communication between each other, as no one knew what was happening at what exit. Furthermore, unawareness that an assembly and working groups are being organized, which would completely exclude the need for leaders, “expert” negotiators and their representatives (who after a series of protests are still riding their paper horses). A lack of protest culture is a warning directed at the lack of experience in the space we occupied, as the occupied space is our autonomous one and must be used as such. An exception however is the few who spent the night from Wednesday to Thursday there, sleeping in tents and sleeping bags. There certainly have been various groups who participated in the blockade, but there was no organization even at the most basic level, except for several individuals with megaphones who profiled themselves as leaders of the protest. These same leaders (is there a need for us to mention that they were all male?), at one moment pacified the situation by saying “people the situation is complicated”, “the day is long, the night is long”, or, “do whatever you want”. The logical political apparatus still functions on the principles of representative democracy and its leaders which were present that day. Despite all this, the people at the blockade decided to stay until the “very end”. It ended in an (in)direct mediation between the High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko and the gathered, and already thinned out, ranks of protesters. After several hours of the blockade of the Joint Institutions, the “captives”, our politicians along with foreign diplomats, who were mostly bankers, were “freed” and left the building.
Who did we block?
Revolt is not a matter of ‘public savagery’ or ‘historical necessity’, but primarily ‘a stating of reasons and a manner of speaking’. Jacques Ranciere
During the entire blockade, as in the days that followed, the gathered protesters, along with all of those who supported them, insisted on the elimination of the narrative on ethno-centric protests against the government. We witnessed that the gathered people truly insisted on one common goal, and that was the constant stalling of decision making by the parliamentary representatives.
The ruling elites from both entities additionally tried to politicize this moment and the blockade of the Joint Institutions by characterizing it as an attack lodged against the Serb political elite. This is the dominant narrative from the elites from Republika Srpska, whereas the Federal representatives emphasized the tarnishing of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s image on the international scene. The representation in the official media of both entities can be described as unprofessional and politically illiterate. The understanding of the term peaceful gathering of citizens, as a democratic principle of expressing civil disobediance is more than banal. A specific terror is being insisted upon in the public perception by calling the blockade “justified civil disobediance” which might have turned into a “political act/demand”, which in the political discourse aims at the depolitization of the gathering and future protests. The revolt, or the blockade, as well as the demands made to the government, have from the very beginning been a political act, and as such must be recognized and not watered down in a depoliticizing discourse. However, one must not overlook the fact that despite the unique intergenerational solidarity and the unification of different social categories at the protest, there was no equally valuable articulation of political demands. This is best visible in the understanding of the blockade on behalf of foreign diplomats/bankers and our politicians in one place. There has been a certain amount of doubt as to whether or not to let the foreign investors go, or keep at it to the end and in turn destroy the good international image of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as almost all of the politicians claimed. This moment showed the inadequacy of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s public opinion in understanding of the real political actors of our society, and besides the official political elites, the bankers act as the frontrunners in implementing neoliberal policies. Along with this blockade and the first demands for JMBG, protests engulfed the entire country: students in Banja Luka and Mostar have taken to the streets, students in Sarajevo came to support the blockade. Several cities in the counry also saw protests Tuzla, Zenica, Brčko, Bugojno, Jajce, Srebrenik, Prijedor, Travnik, Livno. Finally, in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we have an event that we can, at least in a moment of enthusiasm, call the awakening of the proletariat, or the already mentioned precariate, which even though it is not politically aware, finally articulates some of the important questions of the student population, workers unions, and all marginalized social categories. Occupations of public spaces in this sense also indicates the way in which we think about them, how we take them over and how we articulate issues of the commons. Behind this hides the possible outcome of the wave of protest gatherings in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
With whom do we enter into dialogue?
The protesters were determined regarding one thing, that is not to negotiate with any of the representatives, employees and foreign bankers. Everytime one of the employees would try to exit, this rule was respected, thus, besides us being there to fight for the rights of the children of Bosnia and Herzegovina, this protest, i.e. protests, are deeply rooted in the complete social picture of the lowest layers of society. There is also resistance towards the nationalist politics lead after the war, which go hand in hand with the neoliberal policies the European Union is imposing with the liberalization of the market and the already implemented criminal privatization, as well as the constant attacks on prior existing social rights. We do not enter into dialogue with the ruling class, as in struggles between two classes, the issue of class awareness is the final decisive element. Therefore, on our side you will not find the media, professors and intellectuals, nor trade unions if they did not come from below. Some of the protestors claimed that the police was on our side, which was not the case, as the protests were shattered, five of the protesters were arrested and seriously injured, and several of them even during the day ended up in the hospital. This is a moment when the class, as Žitko claims, psychoanalitically speaking, appears as a traumatic place, as it is not a coincidence that terms such as class, class struggle, workers rights or general assembly are being pushed out of the media, i.e. the dominant civic-liberal and nationalist discourse.
Can we articulate more political demands?
The gathered people, from the first day in front of Parliament, as well as after the end of the blockade, are doing everything to keep the protest “spirit” up and to include more people, organize further steps and goals, etc. On Friday (right after the blockade), the SPUS (Students’ Parliament of the University of Sarajevo) organized a protest walk, where 2000 students took to the streets. This is at least in numbers an impressive fact. In this case we are dealing with a particular demonstration of students, which must not lead us to overlook that students gathered also during the blockade and other days of the protests. Here the question arises whether particularly organized protest walks are weakening the power of unifying all other social categories. This leads us into another question; in what way are the students’ concerns articulated if the main slogan students are organizing under is “convicted to a Bosnian Bologna”? This clearly shows the strengthening of the victim position in the Bosnian narrative, we witnessed the same in the student protest walk for the Museum several months back, where replicated slogans on the continuation of the aggression on Bosnia and Herzegovina with the closing of this cultural institution. Their colleagues in Banja Luka protested the criminal political elites in the Republika Srpska, denying any support for the JMBG protests in Sarajevo, and expressing their solidarity wih Serb representatives in the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With this the students in Banja Luka confirmed, that despite their dissatisfaction with the official institutions in the Republika Srpska, still defend the “legacies” of this entity. This only confirms that there is an apparent narrative correction in the work of the entity, which in turn supports the representatives’ inactivity on the state level of Bosnia and Herzegovina, only to affirm the ethno-national legitimacy of one of three dominant political elites in the country.
This is only one of the indicators of the lack of understanding of contexts in which the newly established neoliberal doctrine is realized through the emphasizing of idenity politics and accession talks for the European Union.
We also witnessed the demonstration of cultural identity narratives through slogans such as “We don’t want entities, we want identities”. There also was mention of war narratives and traumatic experiences, Yugonostalgia, through which, maybe even particularly, but through the prism of certain groups, is cementing the existing state of division in Bosnia and Herzegovina without any understanding of the shifted political paradigms and concepts of solidarity which is organized in the name of clear political demands of all the “oppressed”.
Without a superfluous pathos, which would hide the current “awakening” of the people, let us turn to strengthening solidarity and let us learn from the past mistakes in order to build new experiences and strengthen the concept of protest organizing through principles of direct democracy, which will first and foremost be based on the voices and demands of the “oppressed of the world”. We must not allow ourselves to romanticize past events, as we did not deal with a radical idea and its articulation, but we believe there still is room for its development following the resistance happening all over the world – from Chile to Turkey to the Philippines. Even though we would gladly call upon the unification of all “the oppressed of the world” in the articulation of more political demands in front of the Joint Institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, we believe that currently the most radical act is to endure the strengthening and dissatisfaction that started over two little girls. JMBG must and needs to remain the priority with a wider politicality of organization and articulation of the accumulated anger in all of us.
Article translated by Emin Eminagic