The roots of the present protests in Bosnia-Hercegovina go right back to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Civil and religious war, two decades of privatisation, plunder and peripheral gangster capitalism, as well as the constant humiliation by the structures of the imperialist protectorate OHR (Office of the High Representative) have pressed Bosnians – and other Yugoslav peoples – so hard that for a long period it seemed that a good and prosperous life was just the stuff of history and family tales from “Tito's time”.
Poverty, rampant crime and a constant state of frozen conflict seemed to have become a permanent new normality, with no end in sight. Time seemed to have stood still in Bosnia – or at least so it appeared on the surface.
Yearning for a better, “normal“, life, the younger generations took to the streets of Tuzla in the manner of Egyptian, Greek, Latin American or Occupy Wall Street protesters, demanding some form of change and directing their anger at the ruling elite.
As it usually the case in such circumstances, someone in the ruling elite did something stupid (a tactical manoeuvre they have since repeated time and again afterwards, as we shall see). The police reacted with excessive force, radicalising the movement to the point at which there was no way of stopping it. Very soon, the cantonal government building of Tuzla was in flames with the words “Resignations!” and “Death to nationalism!” sprayed over its walls.
The feeling of empowerment spread throughout Bosnia like wildfire, mostly with the help of Facebook, Twitter and other social media, through which the pent-up anger and frustration has found a means of expressing itself. Very soon other cities, such as Bihać, Sarajevo and Mostar followed. As these lines are being written, a solidarity rally is being prepared in Belgrade, with another one to follow on Wednesday, followed by a rally in Zagreb on Thursday.
A protest against the system
As these demonstrations started as spontaneous outbursts of popular anger, they have no clear class line. Protesters mostly see themselves as “hungry citizens” or “devoid of rights”, fighting “against corruption”. The most organized factions in the protest are liberal NGOs with shady agendas, who profit from a lack of genuine labour leadership. Although the movement originated in the workers' protests in Tuzla, organised labour has so far not taken a lead, and there was, naturally, no support whatsoever from any political party.
However, remarkably enough, amidst all the confusion, the masses managed to formulate demands that can unite the whole people regardless of national and religious backgrounds and express their fundamental interests.
The demands put forward in the Declaration of Workers and Citizens of the Tuzla Canton are simple, but clash with the very fundamental interests defended by the elites in power, posing the question of who should rule society:
“7 February 2014. Today in Tuzla a new future is being created! The [local] government has submitted its resignation, which means that the first demand of the protestors has been met and that the conditions for solving existing problems have been attained. Accumulated anger and rage are the causes of aggressive behaviour. The attitude of the authorities has created the conditions for anger and rage to escalate.
“Now, in this new situation, we wish to direct the anger and rage into the building of a productive and useful system of government. We call on all citizens to support the realization of the following goals:
“1) Maintaining public order and peace in cooperation with citizens, the police and civil protection, in order to avoid any criminalization, politicization, and any manipulation of the protests.
“2) The establishment of a technical government, composed of expert, non-political, uncompromised members. [They should be people] who have held no position at any level of government and would lead the Canton of Tuzla until the 2014 elections. This government should be required to submit weekly plans and reports about its work and to fulfil its proclaimed goals. The work of the government will be followed by all interested citizens.
“3) Resolving, through an expedited procedure, all questions relating to the privatization of the following firms: Dita, Polihem, Poliolhem, Gumara, and Konjuh. The [government] should:
+ Recognize seniority and secure health insurance of the workers.
+ Process instances of economic crimes and all those involved in it.
+ Confiscate illegally obtained property.
+ Annul the privatization agreements [for these firms].
+ Prepare a revision of the privatization.
+ Return the factories to the workers and put everything under the control of the public government in order to protect the public interest, and to start production in those factories where it is possible.
“4) Equalizing the pay of government representatives with the pay of workers in the public and private sector.
“5) Eliminating additional payments to government representatives, in addition to their income, as a result of their participation in commissions, committees and other bodies, as well as other irrational and unjustified forms of compensation beyond those that all employees have a right to.
“6) Eliminating salaries for ministers and eventually other state employees following the termination of their mandates.
“This declaration is put forward by the workers and citizens of the Tuzla Canton, for the good of all of us.”
True, all these things could theoretically be carried out within the confines of capitalism. But the truth is that in a peripheral capitalist economy, based on mafia-style capitalism, which is affected by internal collapse along with the global capitalist crisis, these demands could never be achieved within the narrow and rotten confines of the present system.
Indeed, for these demands to be carried out, the people would need to take power themselves and, along with it, expropriate the client oligarchy and overthrow the bourgeois institutions and political system to prevent them from staging a counter-attack. For Bosnian conditions, these demands have a revolutionary content!
Furthermore, demands which define protesters not as members of one of Bosnia’s major nations or religions, not even as only citizens, but as “workers and citizens” strikes at the very root of bourgeois rule in this country!
Bosnians fighting side by side and as workers, demanding an end to privatization, wanting to take the wealth out of the hands of their “national champions” and leaders? Surely, this must have terrified the ruling elite, as well as the imperialist occupation structures. And indeed it did!
Their alarms went off and they didn't waste a moment in preparing for a counter-revolutionary offensive, including the recent threat by the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko – who felt the need to threaten demonstrators with the use of EUFOR troops to crush their revolt.
The movement has toppled some of the cantonal governments and threatens to escalate further, but so far it has just posed the question of who rules society, but has not solved it. The demand for accountability of future governments raises the need to build organs of popular power in order to enforce such control.
As Marxists we will give our wholehearted support to any steps attempted in that direction and appeal to the workers and youth of Bosnia to unite, organise committees to lead the struggle and build councils at all levels, starting from the factories and workplaces, schools and workers' neighbourhoods and coordinate them at a local and national level.
Your struggle is our struggle!
Belgrade, February 9
Proclamation to the people of Tuzla
Your struggle today is a bright example of self-liberation for working people across the Balkans. It is a struggle equal to the struggles of the masses in Tunisia, Greece and Latin America!
Your victory today, [which came about with] the resignation of the cantonal government and the capitulation of the repressive organs of the state, is not only an inspiration, but the incontrovertible proof of the dependence of every government on the consent of its people. Every oppressor remains an oppressor only for as long as the oppressed consent to oppression – that is the lesson you have shown the whole world today. The struggle of your city and your country shows us the future which awaits all of us!
Your example became even more remarkable, by breaking the narrow confines of nationalism and religious fundamentalism, which have been imposed onto us, and falsely presented to us as the only serious powers in these lands. Where are the nationalists and religious fanatics today? Their political power went up in smoke along with the smoke of the burning building which belonged to the same political elite which made them! They are nothing and the people are everything!
The entire power and arrogance of the domestic elite and its foreign superiors rest on the justification which states that it is them who are „safeguarding peace and order“, becase the people would go to war against each other if they are left unsupervised.
And go to war you did, but not amongst yourselves, but against them. This is what they feared the most and why they gave their best to keep you afraid of each other. By declaring war on nationalism and other false divisions, you’ve revealed the real and only important division in today’s society – the division between the working majority and the parasitic minority.
And you won!
Still, this victory above all else gives reason for caution, rather than complacency and going home. Many revolutions were snatched from the hands of their peoples when they were not on guard.
The cantonal government of Tuzla has fallen, but a new one can be set up tomorrow! The prime minister resigned, but the tycoons remained! Some functions are lost, but bank accounts are still intact!
The victory you just won can only be preserved through further victories!
In order to achieve this, it is of upmost importance and urgency to take the following steps:
1. Do not leave the streets! Do not go back to your homes, because in all likelihood you will find new formations of armed forces on the streets when you wake up tomorrow. Stay in touch with each other and do not let yourselves get arrested and isolated as individuals!
2. Enforce order and discipline on the streets yourselves. Violence is only useful if it is not mindless and when it is utilised for the defence of the people against government despotism. Don't allow small-time thugs and police provocateurs to sabotage the protests by looting or by causing mayhem and fear. The city is yours – let it function under your supervision and for your own benefit.
3. Organize popular councils in your neighbourhoods, based on direct democracy and the imperative mandate of delegates. Establish a democracy that you deserve! The existing parliamentary structures have shown themselves as a cesspool of corruption and nepotism and as a springboard for the personal enrichment for the oligarchs and those politicians on their payroll. Your struggle has above all else shown that it is only the organized masses of working people who can establish order in the interest of the majority. So establish that order and do not let anyone impose someone else’s patronage over you again!
4. Demand the return of economic power into the hands of the people and democratic control over the economy! The oligarchs, who flatter themselves as “job creators” – although it was because of them that tens of thousands lost their jobs – have already shown what happens when you leave the economy in their hands. Demand the annulment of all privatizations of big industry and the financial sector, as well as the placing of factories, mines and banks under democratic control of the popular councils! Should the federal government refuse to comply, enforce these demands yourselves – you've already shown that you can!
5. Do not buy into the politicians' ruses such as their “patriotic” slogans! Do not allow the social revolt to turn into an ethnic conflict! The political and economic elite now counts on a conflict between the protests within the two entities and between the cantons that have a Bosniak and Croatian majorities. Do not let yourselves be deceived! The question of the cantons and entities has to be settled as the result of a democratic decision of all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Such a resolution is only possible after a people's government, led by the masses of all Bosnian peoples, has been established. If you want a unified country, you have to unite all of the peoples, regardless of their national background, in a social struggle, free from great chauvinist fantasies!
We stand with you in solidarity and work for the expansion of your struggle.
The Marxist organization Crveni