Saturday, February 8, 2014

Bosnia: the beginning of a “Slavic Spring”?

by Stephen Morgan in Brussels

“Revolutionaries without frontiers” may become the phrase to describe protesters across Eastern Europe, as mass unrest now spreads from the Ukraine to Bosnia. Undoubtedly, the scenes of barricades in Kiev lately have inspired protesters to take to the streets in cities across Bosnia during the last few days, in what increasing looks like another revolutionary crisis in the making.
In dozens of towns, crowds chanted “Thieves!” and “Revolution” as they denounced the bosses of privatized industries and government leaders. In the capital, Sarajevo, the Presidential building and other government offices were set on fire as clashes mounted with riot police. Witnesses described the city centre as looking like a “war zone.” In Tuzla, where the protests began, local government buildings and the courts were burned down.
Similar scenes were reported from Zenica, Mostar and Travnik. Angry crowds in Zenica pushed cars belonging to local officials into the river and in Brcko, the crowd took the mayor hostage. Elderly women stood on their balconies banging pots and pans in support of the protesters. In nearly all the cities the local governments have been forced to resign. Police firing rubber bullets and tear gas were overwhelmed by the demonstrators and hospitals report bout 200 people injured. Demonstrators are appealing to police to join them and there are indications that many may mutiny.
It has been described as the worst social unrest since the civil war in 1992-95 which killed over 100,000 people. However, what is of enormous importance now is that, unlike the past,  this movement is cutting across the previously engrained ethnic divisions and bringing unity between Bosnians, Croats, Muslims and Serbs. In the city of Banja Luka, Serbs came out in their hundreds to show their support for fellow Croats and Muslims in other regions, with chants calling for unity between different ethnic groups. Previously, bitterly divided communities in mixed towns like Brcko and Mostar have come together in united protest, as war veterans, workers and unemployed youth unite around a common grievances.
The reason for this is that the movement is led by the working class. It began as a workers' protest in the northern city of Tuzla, which is the industrial heartland of Bosnia. Last week tens of thousands of workers in the city converged on government buildings to condemn the privatization of their industries, which were taken over by local oligarchs who asset stripped them, refused to pay the workers wages and then filled for bankruptcy to make a quick profit.
The Tuzla workers' protests have quickly ignited generalized discontent across the country over 40% unemployment, widespread poverty, unpaid wages, loss of pensions and health benefits, as well as government corruption and a lack of justice in the courts. Graffiti on a wall in Sarajevo said “"He who sows hunger, reaps anger" and another picture from Twitter showed a sign on a factory wall reading "We're not working, gone to take down the government!”
Marxists have always pointed out, even in blackest days of the ethnic civil war, that it was only a movement of the working class which could unite the different communities in former Yugoslavia and elsewhere in the world. The current unrest is an uplifting confirmation of the correctness of our position and our faith in the workers' ability to turn even the bloodiest of communal divisions into united class action.
The whole of former Yugoslavia is currently a tinderbox of class conflict. The conditions faced in Bosnia are similar to those in neighbouring Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia. There has been massive unrest in relatively prosperous Slovenia to the north over the last year. It is not a question of where, but when other former republics of “South Slavia” will explode. Most likely, we wont have to wait long.
But the boiling pot of the Balkans is only a reflection of the explosive situation across the whole of Eastern Europe. People are coming to see how they have been conned by the restoration of capitalism, as living standards have fallen and the expected transformation in their quality of life has failed to materialize. They have lost all the security and social benefits they once had under the old Stalinist regimes and reaped none of the financial improvements they were promised by capitalism. On top of that, corruption is endemic, democracy anaemic and oligarchic robbery runs the economy.
The unrest in the Ukraine has welcomed in the New Year and, despite its confused demands, it has shown people in neighbouring countries how a determined and combatitive protest can paralyse a government and force concessions. Ukraine and now Bosnia. We could well be on the verge of a “Slavic Spring.”

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