The mess in Bosnia and Herzegovina is of a familiar sort: despotism (in this case in the former Yugoslavia) giving way to national disintegration and brutal civil war, then a fragile peace with ethnic division, corruption, and obstruction in government. This mess is in equally familiar fashion beginning to come apart at its own seams. The government, comfortable in its entitlements, has now pushed the public too far and driven them into each others' arms, resulting in widespread political protests being met with the usual denial and violence.
It's going to be rough, as always. This is how democracy comes about. Real democracy, with not only elections, but real advances in human rights and the rule of law, always comes about in reaction to tyranny, corruption, and hate.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, a seemingly trivial administrative issue ignited an unprecedented movement of civic resistance across the country's old dividing lines. Understanding the message of defiance was directed against them all, politicians tried the old trick of 'divide and rule'—only to be ridiculed by protesters.Gandhi was almost right. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and try to set you against each other, then you join hands and laugh at them, then you win. And then, as usual, they claim that it was their idea all along.
Igor Štiks, the author of this article, knows what we are talking about here. He
is a senior research fellow at the CITSEE (Europeanisation of Citizenship in the Successor States of the Former Yugoslavia[sic; yeah, those are not the initials of that, but it's the only name they give) project at the the University of Edinburgh. Together with Jo Shaw he edited the following collections: Citizenship after Yugoslavia (Routledge, 2012) and Citizenship Rights (Ashgate, 2013). He is the author of two novels, A Castle in Romagna and Elijah’s Chair which have won numerous awards and have been translated into a dozen European languages. He is also co-organiser of the Subversive Festival in Zagreb.Read the whole article. It gives more of the political background and rather more detail on the current troubles than I can fit in here. I'm going to give you a summary that I hope will lead you to learn more.
Ethnic division has been the center of Bosniak[sic]-Croat-Serb-Roma-Jewish-whatever history in Bosnia and Herzegovina ever since Yugoslavia came apart at the combined ethnic and religious seams and descended for far too long into multiple brutal wars and "ethnic cleansings" (expulsions and attempted genocides) across those divisions in Croatia, in Bosnia, and in Kosovo. These days Bosnia and Herzegovina suffers from enforced political divisions along ethnic lines, endless posturing, most often by Serbs announcing that they are being persecuted once again, and a general practice among all political parties of making sure that the public cannot cooperate across ethnic lines to throw all the rascals out. Add in crony capitalism and an unwieldy multi-level government structure that consumes two-thirds of the national budget, with rules permitting endless obstruction, and you have a mess of a much-too-familiar sort.
As I mentioned at the start, there are forces trying to set each of the major ethnic groups in Bosnia and Herzegovina against all of the others and of course against the minority Roma ("Gypsies"), Jews, and anybody else who comes handy. In the B-H Federal system, one of the divisions, Republika Srpska, is entirely dominated by Orthodox Christian Serbs, who send only ethno-nationalists to Parliament. On the predominantly Bosniak side, they only mostly send ethno-nationalists to Parliament, and there is some cooperation between mostly Catholic Croats and non-ethnic political parties, and the mostly Muslim Bosniaks. Jew- and Gypsy-bashing goes on nationwide.
Take for example the implementation of a binding decision by the European Court of Human Rights in the Finci-Sejdic case: the ECtHR ordered Bosnia-Herzegovina to change its discriminatory laws forbidding anyone who does not belong to the three constitutive peoples (Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats) to run for the state presidency and the House of Peoples (upper house) of the Bosnian Parliament. In other words, if you are Jewish or Roma, as Mr Finci and Mr Sejdic happen to be, or if you decline to declare your ethnicity, you cannot enjoy full political rights in your own country.(On either side, it's commonly all about the money, the power, and rousing the base for the next election. And what easier way can there be to rouse that base than by inflaming religious/ethnic tensions?)
The problem that started the present kerfuffle is this: Parliament passed a law on how to give citizens, including newborns, their citizenship numbers for use on all official documents, notably passports. (Officially, the US does not have citizenship numbers. We just use Social Security numbers, which the IRS requires to be issued at birth. There was a remarkable drop in the number of dependents claimed on tax returns when children's SSNs first had to be provided.)
Well, no, actually that wasn't the problem by itself. Then the Serbs complained that the law omitted the Serbian names of some towns in Republika Srpska, their part of the country. Still not the problem. Then the Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in May 2011 declared the law unconstitutional because of the omitted names, and gave Parliament six months to make the trivial fix. No, we're still good. Then Parliament refused to act for six months, because Serbs demanded their own pool of numbers, and would not allow the simple fix to go through. Then the court suspended the law completely. Now newborns cannot get their numbers, and cannot get passports (or be put on their parents' passports). Bit of a bother. Arguments, complaints, further political paralysis, but by no means a national crisis.
Then (and this is where the story really starts) it turned out that Belmina Ibrišević, a 3-month old baby in need of an urgent stem cell transplantation, could not go to Germany for the lifesaving operation. That's when it turned from a major inconvenience and the usual back-and-forth of a broken political system into a cause célèbre, a national uproar. Threatening to kill a baby out of spite can do that to people.
Oh, and also a man was beaten by police in Banja Luka while protesting the conversion of a public park to a shopping mall. Now where have I heard that story before? Beatings, public park, shopping mall…tear gas! Turkey! They just don't learn, do they?
The protests started on 5 June when a group of citizens, revolted after hearing Belmina’s story, gathered in front of the Parliament building to protest. They decided not to move until politicians find a solution to the problem. The next day, this handful of protestors was joined by a growing number of citizens. They blocked the whole Parliament resolving not to allow deputies or anyone else out of the building until the laws are adopted or until, as they said, politicians finally do the job they are (well) paid to do. (Strikingly, the political and administrative apparatus, consisting of one state, two entities, one district, ten cantons, some thirteen governments at all levels, 180 ministers of all kinds, 600 members of various parliaments, and a vast army of public servants, costs this impoverished country around 66 percent of its entire budget). Protesters were persistent in their demands, even when the government adopted a temporary measure allowing the issuance of citizen ID numbers.Ya think? The protests are getting bigger and spreading all across the country, and are being met with denial and demonization, but nothing like the violence we have seen in Turkey. More importantly:
Politicians were stunned by these sudden protests...
Throughout these protests, which have continued ever since, something new emerged: protesters started to send strong messages of solidarity to each other, from one part of the country to another, irrespective of ethnic divisions...That's what I'm talking about.
By preventing citizens from gaining access to the basic citizenship right of a registration number, ethno-nationalists provoked an unexpected reaction: they inadvertently gave a political meaning to what they strived to destroy, namely the common citizenship of all Bosnians and Herzegovinians.