In what is being called the Plenum of all Plenums, a symbolic gathering took place to protest social grievances in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The gathering was staged in protest of the selling off of public assets in the wake of privatization of many companies–and a review of all privatizations so far conducted and prosecution of the parties and individuals responsible–as well as demanding the resignation of the government and a cessation of the criminal proceedings being laid against the citizens who took part in the violent protests that erupted Feb. 5.
The Plenum included participants from cities all over Bosnia and Herzegovina. The participants made their ways to Sarajevo Wednesday in buses from Mostar, Maglaj, Tuzla, Zenica, Srebrenik and other locations. Several participants complained in anger that Sarajevo’s citizens turned up in the smallest numbers.
The protesters spoke through microphones and displayed banners such as “Freedom is my nationality.” Srebrenik citizens, who were the most visible contingent at the protest, held a banner reading “Srebrenik is Ours.”
Anti-government protests began to take place in several cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Protesters began to call the movement Bosnian Spring, after the Arab Spring revolts and revolutions that began in 2010–which is in turn a reference to the 1848 Springtime of the People and the 1968 Prague Spring.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina revolts began in early February in the northern town of Tuzla. The impetus was high unemployment and unpaid salaries and pensions. Workers from factories in the town united to demand compensations after the factories were privatized. Four large national companies were sold to private owners in the early 21st century, on the expectation that the private companies would invest in the businesses and make them profitable. The private companies, however, sold off the assets and declared bankruptcy. The workers–hundreds were laid off in a labor market that already had a 27-47 percent unemployment rate–were not paid.
The protests spread to the rest of the country, which was similarly affected by the government policies of privatizing businesses. Around 20 towns were the sites of protests. There were several clashes between protesters and police—particularly between protesters who bore a grievance against a bankrupted company that had not paid them.
In Tuzla on Feb. 4, 600 protesters attempted to storm the local government building. The revolt became violent after demonstrators threw eggs and stones at windows and set tires of fire in the roads. Police forced the demonstrators back, but they later gathered at the cantonal government building to request governmental attention to their healthcare and pension payments. At the end of the day, 22 people (17 of them police officers) had been injured and 24 arrested.
The violence outraged the citizenry, who turned out in larger numbers the following day, when 100 police men were injured by rocks and other weapons. In following days, the unrest spread to other cities and neighboring countries. Government buildings were seized and burned, mayors were held hostage. Several dramatic scenes took place when police forces lowered their shields and took off their helmets and were greeted by cheering and welcome from the crowds.
The more violent expressions of revolt subsided within a few days, but protesting has continued.
The main focus of these groups is the overthrow of the government. Protesters have blamed local officials for allowing the state-run companies to become privatized and collapse.
By Day Blakely Donaldson