Several thousand Bosnian citizens, who gathered in a mass protest in front of the state-level parliament building in Sarajevo on June 11, gave the local politicians a June 30 deadline to agree and adopt the law on ID registrations, radio station Radio Sarajevo reported.
The citizens said they will symbolically gather every day at noon at the same place until June 30 – and if their demands are not met, there will be mass protests again.
The protests began last week after the transportation of a three-month old baby for a life-saving treatment to Germany was delayed because she did not have travel documents. Since a court order banned the issuing of ID numbers in February, all newborns have been left without passports, medical cards and hence the possibility to travel.
Citizens have been angered by the politicians’ failure to find a common solution and unfreeze the law already four months. They named their protests “Bebolucija” – from the Bosnian words for baby ‘beba’ and revolution ‘revolucija’.
As the demonstrations developed, however, the protestors began sending the politicians a bigger and more important message – that they will no longer remain silent to their inactiveness and political bickering that is threatening to leave Bosnia isolated from its neighbours in the EU integration.
International and EU officials engaged with and working in Bosnia already stated their support to the peaceful demonstrations in the hope that the citizens’ voice will be able to do what their efforts and proposals could not – make Bosnian politicians start working for the country’s interests.
Apart from adopting and enacting the ID registrations law until June 30, the protestors have two other conditions for the local authorities – to set up a special fund for child treatment abroad and to cut their incomes by 30% and allocate the money to the fund.
THORNS ON EU ROAD
One of the informal organizers of the protests, Fedja Stukan, told Al Jazeera Balkans during the June 11 demonstrations that the three initial demands will be extended to include resolving the Sejdic-Finci issue and speeding Bosnia’s path towards the EU.
Amending the Bosnian constitution in line with the Sejdic-Finci ruling of the European Convention on Human Rights remains the most pressing issue for the country not only because it is a condition for unfreezing EU accession progress but also in the view of the pending general elections in 2014. The EU has warned several times already it will not recognise the election if the constitution is not aligned to that decision since it will remain in breach of international commitments.
Bosnia has been in a political stalemate since 2008 when it signed a Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU – the first formal step towards accession. Since then the country has been moving only backwards with politicians being focused rather on party and ethnic interests than on solving the Sejdic-Finci case that calls for a constitutional change to allow minorities to run for high-level office. Bosnia’s constitution implies that only ethnics Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats have the right to be elected members of Presidency and House of Peoples.
In a statement issued on June 11, the head of the EU delegation in Bosnia, Peter Sorensen, said the peaceful demonstrations are part of the democratic process and the citizens have every right to always make their voices heard and held public institutions accountable every day of the year. Sorensen added the EU urges institutional and political leaders in Bosnia “to meet the citizens' interest, constructively engage and find solutions now”.
“Today's protest is an expression of a clear demand from citizens in Bosnia and Herzegovina that the institutions, especially at state level, must put far more focus on solving the priority issues. Not least among these is a permanent solution at state level to a single reference number.”
Judging from the first reactions of local politicians, the political situation in the country is likely to deteriorate further in its immediate response to the demonstrations before things eventually start changing in the right direction.
The political scene in Bosnia is divided into ethnic lines with politicians from Bosniak, Serb and Croat parties holding equal quotas in decision-making on state-level. The country comprises a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serb Republic with their own governments and parliaments linked via weak state-level institutions.
The governing politicians have been acting to deepen the ethnic divisions and keep the status quo, which gives them more power to service their private interests. The EU and the international community, on the opposite, have been urging Bosnia to strengthen its central institutions and speak in a single voice to its foreign partners. Europe says it sees Bosnia’s future in the EU only as a single and working state.
Therefore, the statements of Milorad Dodik – the leader of the biggest Serb party in Bosnia and president of the Serb Republic, that the protests in Sarajevo have been politically staged by the governing majority-Bosniak SDP party, do not come as a surprise. Dodik has been advocating the separation of Bosnia into two or even three separate states since he emerged in power back in 2006.
He also said that the Serb MPs in the state parliament will not travel to their workplaces in Sarajevo in the coming months as they no longer consider the city safe because of the demonstrations.
Furthermore, Bosnia’s PM Vjekoslav Bevanda, who represents the biggest Croat party HDZ BiH in the state-level government, said he will not call cabinet meetings for the time being and HDZ BiH officials will not take part in the work of state institutions also because of security reasons.
On the other hand, the leader of SDP and foreign minister Zlatko Lagumdzija called on June 12 all officials working in the state-level institutions to come to their workplaces – for which they have been elected by the citizens and have been collecting large salaries. According to him, the early elections remain the only option if the inefficiency of the institutions carries on.
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