Bosnia appears drawing back from street violence

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 08, 2014 10:28 AM

By Maja Zuvela and Matt Robinson

SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia appeared on Saturday to draw back from three days of rioting over unemployment, political paralysis and corruption that revived memories of the Balkan country's 1992-95 war.

Small protests were held in the capital, Sarajevo, and in northwestern Bihac, but by early afternoon there was little sign of more violence. In Tuzla, epicentre of the protests, dozens helped clear debris from the gutted building of the local government.

Hundreds of people, most of them police officers, have been injured since Wednesday, when anger over factory closures in the once-healthy industrial hub turned violent, spreading on Friday to Sarajevo and other towns.

For years, fear of a return to conflict has kept a lid on anger over the dire state of the Bosnian economy and inability of political leaders to agree on the country's future.

The presidency, with its three members from Bosnia's Serb, Croat and Muslim Bosniak communities, has become symbolic of the division and dysfunction of a country where power is shared along ethnic lines.

In the capital, Sarajevans streamed past the building of the Bosnian presidency and the cantonal government, both damaged by fire. A part of Bosnia's national archive was lost in the flames.

Broken glass crunched under foot and chairs hurled from offices by protesters lay strewn on the ground.

To some, the scenes were uncomfortably reminiscent of the wartime siege of the city by Bosnian Serb forces in surrounding hills, a 43-month bombardment that killed more than 10,000.

"I'm struggling not to cry," said Enisa Sehic, 46, an economist. "This is like a flashback to the not so distant past."


The agreement ending the war created a highly decentralised and unwieldy system of government based on ethnic quotas. The apparatus is hugely expensive and feeds networks of patronage political parties from each side are reluctant to give up.

With governance frequently hostage to ethnic politics, the economy has struggled to keep up with its ex-Yugoslav peers.

More than one in four of the Bosnian workforce is jobless. Failure to reform the constitution to open up high-level state jobs - such as the presidency - to those not from Bosnia's three main communities has frozen the country's bid to join the European Union.

Some argued that force was the only language their leaders would understand.

"This had to happen. If they were smart, it wouldn't have," said 56-year-old Mirsad Dedovic in Sarajevo.

"Part of me was sorry when I saw what was happening yesterday. But then again, let it burn."

The United States, which brokered the 1995 Dayton peace deal, and the EU that Bosnia wants to join, have proven helpless in prodding the country's divided political leaders toward reform and greater centralisation.

Beyond the resignation of the head of the Tuzla cantonal government, it was unclear if the unrest would have any greater political consequences.

"This is about 20 years of accumulated rage coming to the surface, and it's very difficult to assess what will happen next," political analyst Enver Kazaz told the Bosnian daily Dnevni Avaz.

"The protesters come mostly from a generation of youngsters without hope, whose future has practically been taken away from them."

(Writing by Matt Robinson; editing by Ralph Boulton)