Identity Crisis leads Bosnians to Take to the Streets

Posted: June 26, 2013 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Europe, International

The mention of the small town of Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina for most will conjure images and memories of the war that tore it apart 20 years ago; Images of bloodshed, bombs and snipers shooting from surrounding hillside. Combined with names such as Srebrenica and Prijedor, images of the first genocide broadcast, in colour, live on TV. Perhaps, even images of the ‘Sarajevo roses’ that remain, as a stark reminder of what happened to the streets of that city. Now a new uproar runs through this city’s streets, one of a different kind.


Over two weeks ago demonstrators, activists and children began peacefully occupying the parliament square in Sarajevo. There protest is against their politician’s failure to adopt a permanent law on identification documents. This failure has caused great problems for children in the country in particular newborn children, who have been denied the right to receive ID numbers since February 2013 preventing them from obtaining passports or other documents necessary for travel. It was this that led to the situation that became the spark for revolt, the case of Belima Ibrisevic.

Ibrisevic was a newborn baby, sick and in need of medical treatment that she could not receive in her own country. However due the Ministry of the Interior’s inability to provide her with and ID number neither was she able to obtain the passport that would have allowed her to travel to Germany where she would be able to receive the treatment necessary. For the people of Sarajevo this was the last straw and on June 5th thousands began a protest which led to them standing in front of the parliament day and night. The following day the demonstrators organised a blockade of the parliament building that prevented MPs and Foreign investors from leaving.


In February the law on ID’s was blocked by Bosnian Serb MPs who claimed that there needed to be change in the municipalities before new personal numbers could be issued. This has led to ruling class politicians, who still hold their power by playing on ethnic cleavages, accusing the demonstrations of being orchestrated by the ethnic opposition parties. But the demonstrators doth protest this claiming that they do not accept the government’s attempt to label the issue under a convenient ethnic flag for it is not an issue of race nor religion, but that the entire system is failing.

The protests have gained support, as other protesters have stood in solidarity with their peers in Sarajevo. Rallies in support of the occupiers have taken place in major cities around the Muslim-Croat Federation. The widespread solidarity show strikes a new chord in a country where people find it difficult to mobilise cross-ethnically. This change is part of a wider change taking place in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In May 2012 a demonstration broke out, occupying Picin Park in Banja Luka, in opposition to plans that would see the removal of old trees from the park. Though this occupation may not have reached the scale nor notoriety of Istanbul’s Taskim Park it is without doubt notable in it’s being the first large scale demonstration activists have been able to organise since the war ended over 17 years ago.


Like many contemporary movements, activists in Bosnia took influence from the Indignados, which led to a walking protest that lasted more than fifty days and gained those involved the epithet of Sijetaci, the Walkers. As well as issues of free and public space, opposition to the economic and social situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina has been at the centre of these protests. The Walkers of Banja Luka and the occupiers of Sarajevo show a new wave of resistance in the country that could unleash a long repressed anger at the way in which the ruling class treat politics like an oversized board game.


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