BiH chaos ends as officials, citizens call for changes

10/02/2014

Officials and analysts said that the public is frustrated by poverty, unemployment and the lack of a solid government.

By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in Tuzla -- 10/02/14

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Protesters throw stones at a local government building in Tuzla on Thursday (February 6th). [AFP]

As relative calm returned following violent protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), experts and officials said that lasting change is the only thing that will prevent widespread demonstrations from resurfacing.

"Citizens are just not satisfied with the current situation, and something needs to be changed in the next few months," Zdravko Grebo, a professor at the Law Faculty in Sarajevo, told SETimes.

European Parliament member Doris Pack, who was in Sarajevo last week, agreed. "If you talk to people, they do not want violence or charred remains, they want to express their dissatisfaction with everyday life. This is in response to the unwillingness of politicians to listen to their people. I hope they understand now and consider this an alarm."

"The indispensable factor in all this will be the engagement of the international community. BiH needs a new constitution, but also it needs new politicians because it is the only way forward," Jelko Kacin, vice president of the European Parliament delegation to Albania, BiH, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, told SETimes.

Last week's protests were the largest citizen unrest in BiH since the 1990s conflicts. Officials and the international community called for calm after the protests by unpaid workers and citizens escalated in both scope and violence.

"Citizens have the right to peaceful protest and protest in accordance with the law," Andy McGuffie, the spokesperson for the EU Delegation in BiH, told SETimes. "We invite everyone to avoid acts of violence."

Several thousand people protested in Tuzla and more than 300 were injured, including 200 police officers. Protestors burned the municipality building and the offices of the county court and prosecutor on Friday.

Citizens gathered to demonstrate against the poor social position of workers, the economy and the huge number of unemployed. Their demands included transparent government spending, an audit of privatisations and the suspension of government commission payments.

Special police forces who tried to ease the situation in Tuzla on Thursday ended up using tear gas against protesters, resulting in more violence. Tires were set on fire, firebombs were thrown and a local government flag was burned.

"The police are acting in accordance with the law," Tuzla Interior Minister Zoran Teofilovic said.

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Police in Tuzla tried to disperse protesters on Thursday (February 6th). [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]

Several leading politicians submitted their resignations, including Tuzla Prime Minister Sead Causevic, Sarajevo Prime Minister Suad Zeljković and Himzo Selimovic, director of the Directorate for Co-ordination of Police Bodies of BiH.

Demonstrators in Sarajevo set fire to several government buildings, including part of the building that houses the tripartite state presidency.

Peaceful demonstrations continued on the streets of Sarajevo and other towns in the Federation of BiH on Sunday.

"This was to be expected after years of silence and peaceful protests. Although destruction of the city and these beautiful buildings is terrible, this is the only way to get politicians to wake up, to let them know that this nation is hungry, unemployed and that everyone except them is second-class citizens. May be this is just beginning of big changes," Damir Selimagić, an unemployed protester in Sarajevo, told SETimes.

Citizens in Republika Srpska also supported the protests.

"When I see us united in our struggle for the future of our children, I feel hope for better days. We all live in poverty and that is why we need to be loud in our request for changes," Igor Svilajac from Prijedor told SETimes.

With 27.5 percent unemployment, BiH has the highest rate in the region.

Several state-owned companies employed most of Tuzla's population. After the state sold them, the new owners sold the assets, stopped paying workers and filed for bankruptcy between 2000 and 2008.

Causevic told reporters that the privatisations were already concluded when his government took power, and that the workers' demands are legitimate. He blamed the courts for obstructing justice, noting that the workers filed lawsuits years ago, but no judgment has been passed.

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Luka Faletar, a member of the FBiH House of Peoples, agreed.

"Judicial institutions need to process their requests for revision of the privatisations of the companies. This situation could be resolved through the efficient work of judicial institutions," he said.

Correspondents Ana Lovakovic in Sarajevo and Drazen Remikovic in Banja Luka contributed to this report.

What can the government do to meet citizen demands in BiH? Share your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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