'We're tired of suffocating,' BiH citizen says

12/02/2014

Despite the end of the violent protests in BiH, the message is still reverberating. SETimes spoke with one citizen who said that it is past time for change.

By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 12/02/14

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Protesters set fire to government buildings in Sarajevo last week. [Ana Lovakovic/SETimes]

For Mirjana Schreilechner, a 55-year-old saleswoman from Sarajevo, last week's violent protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) bring back horrific memories of the conflicts from the 1990s.

"I cried when I saw the burning buildings of canton and centre municipalities. I went to see what had happened and I cried because the buildings were preserved from the time of war," she told SETimes.

The memories of everything that she and her children went through during the four years of conflicts in Sarajevo came roaring back.

"I was not afraid. I do not know any of us who were here from 1992 to 1995 that were afraid of losing property, buildings, shops. Here, people are afraid only of losing their lives. But this life that we created in the last 20 years, no one wants to live here but a handful of those in power," Schreilechner said.

Thousands began protesting in Tuzla and Sarajevo last week to demonstrate against the poor social position of workers, economic stagnation, and high unemployment. Their demands included transparent government spending, an audit of privatisations and the suspension of government commission payments. Hundreds, including police officers, were injured and several officials submitted their resignations.

While the violence has dissipated, peaceful protests by thousands continued this week in at least five municipalities as police stood guard in front of government buildings that were set ablaze last week.

"I was here all night," Schreilechner said of the night the protests turned violent. "I think the owner would not be able to recover if this shop was destroyed. Many families live from the sales in the shop. You know what the situation is with us, somehow it is easier for women to find work and the survival of the family depends on that."

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Sarajevo resident Mirjana Schreilechner, 55, said citizens want change, and the government needs to listen. [Ana Lovakovic/SETimes]

She said the riots are a clear sign to politicians that it is time for change and that they will now have to listen to the voices of the disenfranchised workers, soldiers, unemployed youth and hungry pensioners.

"People have suffered in silence for too long. And for all these years nothing had changed. We were poisoned by nationalism, and that has to stop. It is not strange that part of the youth is revolting -- they probably come from families where no one is employed, where their lives depend on the child allowance or a small disability."

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Although Schreilechner said she meets each day with hope for change, she goes to bed at night with the disappointment that she lives in a country where for most people survival requires a special skill.

She thinks it's time the country transitions to a new system. She said many are sad watching all the countries of the former Yugoslavia go forward, while BiH suffocates from nationalist divisions imposed by the ruling parties.

"Unfortunately, we live with nationalism. I think we need to bring some new people into politics, some who are not steeped in corruption and crime and who love this country. We have so many capable and smart people who are not party members, and could not come to the forefront. In addition to the new people in politics, we urgently need constitutional reform, the abolition of the Dayton Agreement, a different arrangement of the state, different legal frameworks, and people who will establish a rule of law where we will all be equal."

Do you think the politicians in BiH will listen to the citizens' voices? Why or why not? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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