The Spectre of a Lost Future
The Spectre of a Lost Future
“Dissatisfaction is like a monster, powerless when it is born,terrifying when it grows strong.”
(Meša Selimović, Derviš i Smrt)
In the sea of press reports and commentaries that have assaulted us over the past few days, one of the themes that has attracted great interest, especially in Sarajevo, has been the question of whether these – the most radical protests ever in BH – were staged or are the result of political manipulation. The lessons learned from the past have caused the average citizen to unavoidably maintain a high level of scepticism toward official versions of events – everybody is convinced that that the truth is hidden behind the scenes, that the picture of reality they are offered is just an illusion, and that citizens are always the victims of some kind of manipulations or conspiracies. Considering the media and political “spin” we have witnessed over the past few days, this kind of critical analysis has its place. However, in the case of these protests, the undeniable fact has to be emphasised that even if some of the violent tactics that were used by the protesters may have been motivated in part by private political interests, what has happened in Bosnia and Herzegovina over the last few days absolutely transcends the frame of supposed manipulation. Even if some paid thugs were brought to the government offices, it remains simply undeniable that that in the cities of our country, simultaneously, there appeared thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of mistreated, abused, humiliated and defeated workers, pensioners, youth and citizens, a mass of people so diverse in its political orientations, thoughts, fears and hopes, that the only thing that could hold them together was their shared, long-suppressed and above all justified anger.
War and the postwar nightmare of BH.
What we have witnessed over the last couple of days has been a response to more than two decades of multifaceted political violence that has been visited on the citizens of this country on the part of criminal, arrogant, incompetent political structures uninterested in public problems, who have enriched themselves grossly on the redistribution of state property, factories, companies and public goods that belonged to all of us. On top of all that, the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina paid the highest price for the collapse of the former joint state, not only by having to survive the hells of war, but also through the postwar nightmare that they awaited like a dream, exhausted and full of hope that the Dayton peace would lead to some kind of normal life and a future worth hoping for. To say that what has been happening is just a scene from the political scenography of parties that hope to win the upcoming elections would mean dismissing the collective anger (which is nearly universally shared, regardless of different positions about violent methods) and the political meaning of the massive injustice and theft that took place here under the guise of ethnonationalism and the so-called “liberation” of the post-Dayton division of power.
A new collective political subject
The protests have opened space not just for a changing of the guards in political parties, whose moves are more or less predictable, but also for the articulation of new political platforms that will genuinely serve the interests of the citizens of this country. For the first time in several decades, it is possible to picture a collective political subject that is not equated with the ethnos or nation, which unites different classes and generations, and that has the potential to contest the governing structures. That potential has to be used, because otherwise we will be subject to even greater hopelessness. In this regard the people in Tuzla have gone the farthest, by offering the authorities a clear list of demands together with recommendations as to how they can be realised. All the other protest centres are lagging behind Tuzla, especially Sarajevo, where people are instead debating whether force was justified, and whether the “hooligans” are members of or a threat to the entire political community. One part of public opinion recognises that the young demonstrators are also victims of the system in which they grew up, and sees them as the faces of a new, aggressive and destroyed generation which no longer has anything to lose because nothing has ever been offered to them. For others they have awakened the well-known “čaršija-bourgeois“ impulse to exlude anyone who does not fit into the senseless mythology of the „spirit of Sarajevo“ (for example, peasants, „primitive“ people, now „hooligans“). There is visible a little bit of hypocritical fear on the part of people whom the scenes from the centre of the city are reminded too much and too painfully of the war. This is a real, justified pain and fear (shared by the author of this text), but it also a sign that people are still using the syntagm „everything is okay as long as they are not shooting,“ which has in part prevented events like these from occurring earlier. This syntagm may still have some force in Sarajevo, whose residents tolerate (not to say enjoy) the highest living standard in BH, but it looks like it does not have it in Tuzla, where there is the highest concentration of unemployment.
Act before the powerholders regroup
Whatever the case may be, violent acts like stone-throwing, setting fire to and looting administrative buildings and confrontations with police, however much they might be unpleasant and unwelcome to us, are the only thing that have momentarily upset the arrogant powerholders, who up until now have not felt the need to respond to friendly and peaceful civic demonstrations that have tried to draw their attention to problems that their neglect and intentional obstruction have brought to the lives of small, ordinary people. Before the powerholders regroup – and they have already started, with their appalling claims about how they are the least irresponsible and corrupt of all, and how they have pointed out problems for a long time – citizens have to act. They have to redirect their focus beyond the debate about young “hooligans,” many of whom have already been severely punished and paid with their kidneys, and toward the creation of long-term strategies and plans of work, and toward the articulation of concrete demands and suggestions for their fulfilment. As plans for further action are developed, the most important thing is to keep in mind the goals and motives for mobilisation, so that it does not end, as has happened many times before, lost in pointless arguments, in the fit of “fractionalisation” and internal conflict, which the political elites are certainly counting on. It would be good to begin, for example, with pressure for radical reductions in salaries and other pay in the lefislative and executive branches of government at all levels, and with quick and efficient prosecution of people charged and suspected for political and economic crime and corruption. Behind those kinds of demands, in contrast with demands for the wholesale reconstruction of the state, all of public opinion will stand. The slogans that were heard in Banja Luka, in Sarajevo and Tuzla, and in other cities were simply: “Thieves!”
Photo: Plenum Tuzla, 9/2/2014
Elections are not a good option
Finally, it is important to stress that some of the solutions that have been offered, for example early elections, are not a good option, because they rely on a system that is deeply rooted in the status quo. The idea that elections in this post-Dayton system are the only legitimate way of bringing about change is a lie that has been spread through the public from the end of the war until now. At elections, where in any case half of the resigned population does not participate, voters choose between the existing political options, chosen by the parties themselves, and which can be distinguished from one another in terms of “bad, worse and worst.” The established political parties use a whole arsenal of time-tested methods, including threats, blackmail, promises of contracts and work, ideological manipulation and “good” old ethnonationalism to persuade voters that there is no choice but them. To increase the absurdity, after the elections even the parties that lose have the opportunity to occupy influential positions if they enter the right coalitions. That system suits political parties perfectly well, allowing them to become masters of the fate and managers of all the resources needed by the residents of all of the localities in BH, and despite their apparent competition for support, it allows them to function in perfect, perfid symbiosis.
The right to dreams for all
What has to change is the basic relationship between the powerholders and the citizens who pay their absurdly high salaries for very little meaningful work, the citizens who are the source of the tax revenues from which the state lives, and who with their work created the factories and firms the sale of which the governing parasites have used to build their private villas and buy their luxury Audis. Those are the same parasites who have brought citizens to the end of their patience, and sometimes to the edge of existence. The children of this arrogant, self-satisfied oligarchy do indeed have “much to lose” – but they do not have more right to life, to a future, to security, to ambitions and dreams than have the children of workers in Tuzla or than the young “delinquents” who set fire to the building of the cantonal government and other objects on Friday, 7 February. In the name of those sacrificed children – because of whom the citizens of this country protested in 2008, 2013 and 2014, children who this octopus-state have betrayed by destroying the firms where their parents worked, the entire system of social protection, health care, public education, and even the pathetic means for issuing identity documents – citizens must continue to come out to the streets and by considered methods demand a different, better future than the one that is cynically smiling at them from the abyss into which they have been staring for the past 22 years. The floodgates are open – forward!
Translation: Eric Gordy