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Growing Revolt in Bosnia Unites People Against Elites

Thousands demonstrate in Sarajevo in sixth day of nation-wide uprising

- Lauren McCauley, staff writer

Anti-government protesters protest in front of the Presidency building in Sarajevo February 9, 2014. (Photo: Antonio Bronic/ Reuters)Thousands of Bosnians shut down the center of the capital city Sarajevo Monday in the sixth day of demonstrations, breaking across ethnic barriers to demand the resignation of the elitist leadership.

According to the New York Times, the demonstrators chanted slogans against the “criminals” in government and urged those in authority to “resign today.”

Sparked by a demonstration in the city of Tuzla last week—where recently laid-off workers rose up against the failed privatization of previously state-owned companies—the protests have spread across Bosnia-Herzegovina in more than 30 cities, thus far forcing the resignation of the leaders of four regional cantons.

On Friday, demonstrators — which according to The New York Times included "unemployed youths, war veterans and disgruntled workers, among others"— set fire to government buildings in the capital and across the country.

Most remarkable about the uprising, witnesses note, is how it has connected the disparate and frequently-feuding ethnic groups.

"In one of the photos from the protests, we see the demonstrators waving three flags side by side: Bosnian, Serb, Croat," writes Slavoj Žižek, international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities at the University of London. "[W]e are dealing with a rebellion against nationalist elites: the people of Bosnia have finally understood who their true enemy is: not other ethnic groups, but their own leaders who pretend to protect them from others."

"I think the biggest fear of our politicians is a united people," demonstrator Lejla Kusturica told the New York Times.

With overall unemployment estimated to be as high as 40 percent among the general population, and 70 percent among young people, the protesters are denouncing the overly-bureaucratic system which they say only divides the population and caters to elites.

As the New York Times explains:

The Dayton accords among the leaders of warring Serbs, Croats and Muslims — the latter now called Bosniaks — brought an end to the 1992-95 civil war by constructing a decentralized state that gave each a share of power and none of them dominance. [...] But the Bosnians have since added layers of complexity to the original design that have entrenched the political elite while often hindering economic development.

According to Žižek, one of the primary targets of the protesters is the EU administration overseeing the Bosnian state which, he says, "entrenches partitions" by only dealing with "national elites as their privileged partners."

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