If you remember Bosnia from the 1990s, you may remember the much-publicized ethnic violence, massacres and rapes, and something savagely atavistic, dismembering a unified country once called Yugoslavia. It is now back on a pre-WW I map, the disunified “Balkans,” a mosaic of statelets reconstituted along ethno-nationalist lines: Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia—and the British-UN protectorate of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) and Republika Srpska (Serb Republic), a collage of Croat, Serb, and Muslim populations, each inhabiting its own ethnic space.
You may remember, too, the NATO “humanitarian” wars, which were no such thing. They were wars to break up Yugoslavia and open it up to market “liberalization” and privatization.
But you probably cannot remember being informed of what happened in any area of this dramatic territory after the death of Yugoslavia. The US media moved on—to Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, Iran always in the crosshairs, embedded in the fabrication of new humanitarian and liberationist lies in the pursuit of wars for markets, resources, and the encircling of geopolitical rivals (Russia and China)—wars for economic and political world dominance.
It’s how empires act: they come, they see, they conquer—and move on.
Now, the workers of Bosnia-Herzegovina have risen up, joined by other disaffected sectors of the population. The British-American media have already taken precaution to embed in the public’ mind the idea that this turn of events is yet another outburst of “violence” in the endemically ethnic conflicted region, as they would have it—no other context provided.
What they don’t tell you is that the “violence” is generated by and aimed at the “violence” of two decades of privatization, the corrupt political class aiding and abetting neo-liberal degradation of workers’ rights and standard of living (unemployment in the BiH is 40%), and the theft and/or destruction of factories—via foreign buy-outs, restructuring, downsizing, stripping of assets, and closures.
Not surprisingly, the protests started in Tuzla, in northeastern Bosnia, once the industrial heart of Yugoslavia, with the firing of 200 workers from the five factories in Tuzla, after declaring bankruptcy—Dita, Polihem (Hak), Guming, Konjuk, and Aida. These plant closures are only the latest casualties among many caused by the savage flood of privatization that swept over BiH between 2000 and 2010.
From Tuzla, the protests spread rapidly to other cantons of the Croat-Muslim federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina—and to the third member of this benighted political abortion induced by the Dayton Accords (1995), the Republika Srpska (Serb Republic, not to be confused with Serbia proper). In three days, the protests extended from Tuzla to Sarajevo, Bihac, and Mostar. The protesters claimed no political party or ethnicity. They clashed with police, resulting in dozens of wounded (mainly among police), arrests, and the setting on fire of governmental buildings. The cantonal governments of Tuzla, Zenica-Doboj, and Sarajevo fell.
Is this a “color revolution,” the Western media hopefully ask? It is not. If the protesters are unlucky and the West intervenes, it may become a “color revolution,” co-opted by rabid nationalist in the pay of USAID, Soros foundations, and fake NGOs—just like in Ukraine, $5 billion spent on regime change, and counting. But I don’t think the US is interested—it has bigger fish to fry at the moment (Ukraine, Syria, forever Iran, and “pivoting” to Pacific Asia). Britain may be interested—BiH is its protectorate, its portion of the loot for the NATO victory. We shall see.
How do I know the BiH protests are not for now a “color revolution”? By looking at the protesters’ demands. On Sunday, 9 February, the Declaration of Workers and Citizens of the Tuzla canton was issued, followed by similar declarations in Sarajevo and Bihac. They ask for the reform of the policy of privatization, which has distorted the economic face of the region, the return of the factories to the people, abolition of the IMF debt, the replacement of the political class, a raise in pensions, and (most significantly), the abolition of the separation between two entities, the Croat and Muslim Federation and the Republika Srpska. So much for ethnic conflict!
Of course the most telling of all the demands is the return of the factories to the people. No Western paymaster of color revolutions would put into their proxies’ head a revolutionary demand like that. Starting as an anti-privatization action but gathering momentum with support from workers, youth (60% unemployed), and pensioners, the protests are acquiring the profile of a social revolution.
And should it be a surprise? Throughout the former provinces of Yugoslavia, the tidal destruction of privatization from 2001 to today has hit hard: in Serbia, for example, 3,000 firms have been privatized, 2,000 of them today destroyed. Economic distress is general all over the Balkan region, a distress caused by the nationalistic, pro-free-market politics established by the ruling reactionary cliques of the 1990s.
On the walls of Sarajevo and other cities, ubiquitously scrawled graffiti demand, “Smrt Nazionalismu” (Death to Nationalism), just as in Tito’s partisan war against the Nazi occupation the people called for “Smrt Fazismu” (Death to Fascism). By 1945, the partisans had seized their epic victory, defeating and expelling the Nazis, uniting Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Bosnians, and Herzegovinians in one political body and one economic system, socialism, for which they had fought and died throughout WW II—until a folly overtook Yugoslavia, the folly of ethnic identity. Fomented and instrumentalized opportunistically from abroad, supported by internal and external pro-free-market factions, the break up of Yugoslavia was a completely avoidable tragedy. Manufactured ethnic passions destroyed in a waste of blood what had been born in the sacrifice of purposeful blood—their nation.
Now the people of the former Yugoslavia may have come to realize that identity politics do not fill bellies and that ethnic pride is no substitute for employment and economic rights. A new political space opens—however this first round of politically conscious revolts may end.
Luciana Bohne is an Intrepid Report Associate Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.