« | Home | »

Bosnia’s ‘Baby Revolution’

Tags: |

Bosnian politics since the 1995 peace accords have been locked in stalemate. The armistice took bureaucracy to another level. The country is divided into two ‘entities’, one Serb, one Bosniak/Croat; before the war no such distinction would have been possible, but atrocities homogenised formerly mixed areas. There are three presidents, one from each of the three ‘constitutional’ ethnicities, and countless ministries, cantons, sub-ministries. Laws are incredibly difficult to pass. This suits nationalist Serb politicians, who argue that the state is chronically dysfunctional, beyond repair and therefore should be split in two: they’ll veto any law that implies a common, contiguous polity. The situation suits Bosniak leaders, too, as it means they can blame everything on the filibustering Serbs.

Nationalist parties still dominate the scene. There have been attempts to move away from ethnic politics, notably by the large Social Democratic Party (SDP), but most of its members are Bosniaks; its autocratic leader is the former prime minister and current foreign minister Zlatko Lagumdžija. The Serbian Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), headed by Milorad Dodik, the president of the Serb entity, is as jingoistic in its approach as any avowedly nationalist party (it was expelled from the Socialist International last year). The electorate is getting tired of the politicans’ empty promises. Youth unemployment is around 50 per cent. Most young people hope to move abroad. Many survive on remittances from relatives in the West.

Last month, the people took to the streets. The protests are known as bebolucija. Babies born since February had not been given social security numbers (JMBG, or ‘Unique Master Citizen Number’). The relevant law had lapsed and not been renewed because of parliamentary squabbling: Serbian lawmakers want the numbers to be allocated by the entities; Bosniaks want it to be conferred by the state. Meanwhile, thousands of Bosnians have been born without a JMBG, which means, among other things, that they can’t get passports. This finally led to a public outcry when Belmina Ibrišević, a three-month-old girl in urgent need of a bonemarrow transplant, couldn’t go to Germany. Mothers, students and others took to the streets, besieging officials, demanding action. Temporary legislation was passed; Belmina went to Germany. But another baby whose treatment was delayed by her not having a JMBG died in hospital in Belgrade.

ev.owaThe protests continue. Some of the demonstrators’ slogans play on the JMBG acronym: ‘Because It Can Get Worse’; ‘Because Citizens Elect Morons’. The most common image is of a baby’s dummy with a fist for a teat, sometimes with a raised middlefinger. Suck on this, it seems to say to the politicians.

Twenty years have passed since the war. An entire generation knows its homeland only as a divided country. But a lot of these young people are rebelling against the barricades their parents imposed. Surveys show there is broad support for action across the ethnic divide. And yet already much of the demonstrations’ initial verve has dissipated, and larger reforms seem a long way off. But perhaps this was just the first round. If the only thing gained from these protests is greater solidarity among the ethnic groups, and awareness that civil demands outweigh ethnic ones, much will have been achieved. As another banner puts it, ‘Identities Not Entities’.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.

  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • UncleShoutingSmut on Goodbye, Circumflex: Unfortunately this post is likely to leave readers with a very partial idea of what is going on. Firstly, there is no "edict": all that has happened i...
    • martyn94 on The Price of Everything: If it's a joke at anyone's expense, it's surely at the expense of any super-rich who take it seriously. I used to skim it occasionally as a diversion ...
    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement