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February 14 2014

Bosnian Protesters Demand Bread, Social Justice and Freedom of Speech

When the citizens of Bosnia’s second biggest city, Tuzla, went out to protest on February 4, 2014, few expected to witness the country-wide riots that the world is witnessing just a week later. Whether the latest unrest in Bosnia-Herzegovina, can be qualified as the “Bosnian Spring”, as some media have named it, isn't what matters at the moment. The reasons behind the unrest and where things are headed are the topics that many locals are asking the international community and media to focus on.

Bosnia’s “Grapes of Wrath”

Protesters have drafted a set of demands, narrowing down their struggle to one about social justice [ba], the end of corruption, and freedom of expression. People have also made it clear that the protests are not motivated by a quest for identity or inter-ethnic tensions. Stefano Fait from Italy commented:

Eric Gordy, a University College of London (UCL) professor who also writes for a group blog about Balkan politics and academics, described snapshots of the recent atmosphere in Bosnia that he observed during a visit there, giving insight into what is fueling the current anti-government protests:

Conversation 1 was with the waiter in a large Sarajevo hotel [...] A colleague and I had heard that the employees of the hotel had not been paid for several months, so we asked. It was true, he told us. Most of the employees had remained at the hotel through a series of ownerships and bankruptcies, and had often faced periods of reduced pay, no pay, or something in lieu of pay. So what were they working for? They wanted to keep the hotel going in the hope that one day it might become profitable again, and they wanted the employer to keep making contributions to the pension and medical care funds. [...]

Conversation 2 was with a group of postgraduate students in Tuzla. Most of them had or were seeking work as schoolteachers. And they were only able to get short-term jobs. Why no permanent jobs in schools? Because available workplaces are distributed among the local political parties, who fill them with their members and put them on one-year contracts. The effect of this is that no young person can get a job except through the services of a political party, and no young person can keep a job except by repeatedly demonstrating loyalty to the political party. You can probably imagine the wonderful effect this has on the development and teaching of independent, critical thinking in schools.

The government has been claiming that it has no funds to provide even for its citizens’ most basic needs. Some Bosnians have responded with humor, circulating comments and images like the one below, widely on social networks:

The note reads:

The note reads: “Donations for the government”, using the word “sergija”, which is a term for donations made to religious institutions and charities. Image widely circulated on Twitter.

Media coverage

In national and regional mainstream media, the protesters are often labeled as hooligans. A textbook example of media manipulation is the spin around protesters having weapons. Serbian tabloid “Kurir”, considered a government mouthpiece in Serbia, published an article detailing a plot for the “violent unification” [sr] of the ethnically varied cantons of Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH). The article screams, through exclamation marks, images of violence and biased wording, that protesters are amassing a stockpile of weapons with which to lead the alleged “violent unification” of Republic of Srpska, the so-called Bosnian Serb Republic that is one of the two political entities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with the other, the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Kurir’s piece generously quotes Mehmedalija Nuhić, called a “political analyst from Tuzla” in the article. On social media, people wondered [ba] who this person is, some of them clearly dismissing his claims. Tanja Sekulić, executive editor at Klix.ba, tweeted:

The peak of idiocy: Analyst Mehmedalija Nuhić claims that protesters have acquired weapons that they will allegedly use against the citizens of RS [Republic of Srpska, the Serb majority part of Bosnia-Herzegovina]. #protest

Banja Luka-based Kontakt Radio published an investigative piece [ba] researching the alleged Nuhić, “presented [to the public] as an analyst”. “Every journalist around Tuzla is wondering who this analyst is,” writes Kontakt Radio team. As Kontakt Radio's quick research revealed, Nuhić is in fact a municipal inspector serving in the city of Lukovac. “And we kid you not,” comments the author, cheekily ending the piece with some more readily available information on Nuhić, which dismisses his credibility as a “political analyst” entirely.

People from the region are used to media manipulation and the above example of such machination is one among countless others. In an op-ed [ba], Paulina Janusz reflected on the unity political parties and media in Bosnia's show against protesters. The media, for its part, was quick to report on any rumors of protesters’ bad behavior, but protesters were quick to react to such reports. Activist Emir Hodžić, who attended the Sarajevo protests on February 7, detailed to Radio Slobodna Evropa (Radio Free Europe) what he witnessed, declaring “we are neither vandals nor hooligans”.

Others have been thorough in describing their experiences on blogs as well. The following video of a young woman in tears, imploring police to join the crowd, went viral, accompanied by snarky comments on social media in the lines of “see, these are the hooligans of Bosnia”:

Dario Brentin, among others, has compiled articles from the early days of the protests in a Facebook note. Materials like this are regularly translated into English and updated on Bosnia-Herzegovina Protest Files. A collectively curated compilation of links is also available through the CrowdVoice.org platform.

Now what?

Many politicians and media representatives have already begun to play the blame game quite actively. Lord Paddy Ashdown, who served as High Representative and Europe’s Special Envoy to the country from May 2002 until January 2006, urged the European Union “to make Bosnia functional”. In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Lord Ashdown warned:

At the moment its citizens are complaining about poverty and lack of movement and dysfunctionality of the state and corruptions among politicians” [but it] “could move to something far worse very quickly.[...]

The international community has to act now. If they don’t act now, I greatly fear that a situation where secessionism will take hold could easily become unstoppable as we approach elections.

Alarmism is also present on several sides. Valentin Inzko, an Austrian citizen and the High Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina, declared to Balkanist.net:

If the situation escalates, we will possibly have to think about EU troops. But not right now.

Regardless of whose fault it is and who is supposed to “fix” the country, one question persists: Why are so many Eastern European and Balkan countries suddenly protesting? Shortly after protests erupted in Tuzla and Sarajevo, Bulgarian independent research blog Banitza published a thoughtful post, “Waving ‘Democracy’ from Ukraine to the Balkans”:

Why now? Why not 6 months ago; why not one year ago? These are question that were directed at the protests in Bulgaria, which reached their largest numbers in the summer. Clearly, the situation is so dire that either nothing or anything could trigger public outrage. [...]

Of course violence cannot be the answer. It’s destructive. But desperation clearly takes precedence over dialogue in this case. [...] It’s simple – for the people protesting, the assumption of patience is nonexistent. And it is understandable. There is a level of tolerance that is, as has been shown over and over again in the 20th century, very flexible and malleable among human beings. But it has its limits. And within the Balkan countries this year, the sense of tolerance has been exhausted by the outright public arrogance of the Untouchables – call them mafia men, ex-communist, business elites. It makes no difference. Their capacity to flaunt their economic dominance is one thing, but their increasing ability to enforce their political and legal immunity is apparently too much. It has been, for a long time, a fact that democracy is very dysfunctional.

Writing for Balkanist, Darko Brkan formulated four suggestions:

1) Declare Victory for the Citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2) End all Police Investigations [against citizens having taken part to the protests]
3) Establish Provisional Governments in the Cantons
4) “Internal Lustration” Within Political Parties

What may be a game-changer is a recent decision by the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo ordering “temporary seizure” of all media property documenting the protests in Sarajevo. Pro-government protests have also been witnessed, as seen in a video from February 10.

November 01 2013

Former Bosnian Refugee Running for US Congress

Anesa Kajtazovic; official campaign photo.

Anesa Kajtazovic. Official campaign photo.

Anesa Kajtazovic, currently a member of the Iowa House of Representatives, was born in Bihać, Bosnia, then a part of the former Yugoslavia. Anesa and her parents and sisters fled the war-torn Balkan country in 1992 and settled in the US state of Iowa. After a few years in politics, Kajtazovic is now running for a seat in the US Congress [ba], and after kicking of her campaign in the summer of 2013, has started receiving endorsements from labor unions and celebrities alike.

It seems her past experiences as an immigrant child of parents who worked to build a future for their family in a new country is making quite the difference in her relationships with voters. Bleedingheartland.com says:

The United Food and Commercial Workers Locals 431 and 1149 decided to support Kajtazovic because “she understands better than anyone the concerns of Iowa's working families,” and “She shares the experience of arriving to Iowa as an immigrant with many of our members.”

Kajtazovic was the youngest woman ever to be elected to Iowa's state legislature and, if elected to Congress, she will be the first Bosnian-born member of Congress. She calls herself proof of the “American Dream”, but Kajtazovic, who runs an active Facebook fan page sharing both professional and some personal moments, seldom forgets that she has friends, family and support both in the US and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the past year or two, her professional successes have become a regular fixture on Bosnian news sites, and her homeland seems to be following her career in the US with great interest and celebration.

October 16 2013

Infant Girl Who Sparked Bosnia's ‘Babylution’ Dies

The day after baby Belmina's death, activists placed a black sheeth with Belmina's picture over a new monument in front of the Parliament building in Sarajevo; image courtesy of #JMBG za sve (

The day after baby Belmina's death, activists placed a black sheeth over a new monument in front of the Parliament building in Sarajevo. Image courtesy of #JMBG za sve (“#JMBG for All”), used with permission.

They are calling her an angel and a heroine. Seven-month-old Belmina Ibrišević, the baby that started the #JMBG protests in Bosnia early in the summer of 2013, passed away in a hospital in Germany on Tuesday, October 15, 2013.

After extensive treatment in Germany, where Belmina was transferred after finally receiving her passport, her parents and doctors made the difficult decision to take her off life support. The treatment Belmina required almost immediately after birth for a serious immune disease was not available in Bosnia, and the child could not be issued a passport for several weeks due to the Bosnian government's failure to pass a new law on identification (JMBG, which stands for Unique Master Citizen Number) numbers after the old law expired in February 2013.

In June, as reported by Global Voices, thousands marched on the Parliament building in Sarajevo, demanding that children born after February 2013, especially those who need to travel abroad for medical treatment, be issued Unique Master Citizen Numbers immediately so they could apply for necessary documents to travel and receive necessary medical attention. The movement was dubbed the “Babylution” in reference to Belmina.

Although it was first reported on July 18 that Bosnia-Herzegovina's Parliament passed a temporary law on Unique Master Citizen Numbers during an emergency session, some parliament members then stopped the full new law from being passed. Al Jazeera Balkans reported [ba] on July 23 that Halid Genjac of the Democratic Action Party (SDA) had “requested protection of vital national interests”, citing procedural irregularities in the process of bringing the proposed new laws up for vote:

Sporni predmeti sada se upućuju Ustavnom sudu BiH, koji će po hitnom postupku ispitati da li ima nepravilnosti u postupku i da li je povređen interes Bošnjaka.[...]

Ukoliko Sud zaključi suprotno, dovoljno je glasanje vladajuće većine u oba doma Parlamenta da zakoni prođu.

Sljedeća sjednica Ustavnog suda zakazana je za 30. septembar i nije jasno da li će ovo pitanje biti stavljeno na dnevni red.

The questionable items are now being sent to the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will inspect whether there were any irregularities in procedure and whether the interest of Bosniaks has been damaged. [...]

Should the Court decide to the contrary, the votes of the ruling majority in both houses of Parliament will be sufficient for the laws to pass.

The next session of the Constitutional Court is scheduled for September 30th but it is not clear whether this matter will be on the docket.

In the meantime, participants of the #JMBG protests were brought in for questioning by police [ba] in late July.

Social networks are overflowing [en][ba] with criticism of the Bosnian government and notes of condolences from the entire region regarding the infant's death. Many, like Twitter user Arnesa from Bosnia, simply lament the death of another child as well as promise to remember Belmina:

Little Belmina that was the reason for the #JMBG protests in Bosnia has passed away. :( Very sad news, May her soul rest in peace.

— Arnesa (@_arnesa_) October 16, 2013

The still active Facebook fan page of the #JMBG protesters [ba] announced earlier this week that the decision to shut down baby Belmina's life support had been made. The page also announced that Belmina's parents would not be able to afford the cost of transferring Belmina's remains back to Sarajevo and asked for donations in the total amount of 2,500 euros (approximately 3,500 US dollars).

Bosnia-Herzegovina's World Cup Qualifying Win Unites Region in Celebration

Fans celebrated the historic win on the streets of Sarajevo throughout the night; image courtesy of Bosnia-Herzegovina national team's

Fans celebrated the historic win on the streets of Sarajevo throughout the night. Image courtesy of Bosnia-Herzegovina national team's “Zmajevi” Facebook fan page, used with permission.

Some 12 hours after Bosnia-Herzegovina secured its direct qualification to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Bosnians are still celebrating this historic moment. Social networks are flooded with comments of joy from Bosnians and support from other nations.

Last night and today, October 16, 2013, no one can tell by looking at social networks and regional news sites that Bosnia still has a very troubled political life, or that the EU is threatening the small Balkan country with sanctions. The only topic on people's minds and timelines is that of Bosnia-Herzegovina's 1-0 win over Lithuania in the World Cup qualifiers. Even the official Twitter account of the OSCE Mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina dropped all other matters last night to announce the team's win:

All across Bosnia-Herzegovina, fans are emotional about their countries historical placement in the largest sporting event in the world. Twitter user @samrich_ from Sarajevo says:

My dad is crying, [I swear] on my life. #BosnaiHercegovina #Brazil #BiH #Bosnia #Football

— Morning star (@samrich_) October 15, 2013

This win came, almost “miraculously” as some on social networks put it, on the Kurban Bayrami religious holiday widely celebrated in Bosnia-Herzegovina, also known throughout the Muslim world as the feast of sacrifice. Some social media users gave the traditional Bayrami holiday greeting used to commemorate the end of Bayram and Hajj “Bayram Sherif Mubarek Olsun” (“May the holy Bayram be blessed”) a World Cup twist, and no one seemed to take offense. On the contrary, tweets like this one from Nikola Bajčetić from Montenegro were greeted with humor and good spirits:

BRAZIL SHERIF MUBAREK OLSUN ! :))) Many congratulations #BiH ! #fudbal

— Nikola Bajcetic (@Nikola_MNE) October 15, 2013

The match seems to have brought the entire troubled region together, as Serbian, Croatian and Montenegrin fans congratulated Bosnia-Herzegovina and celebrated the win with them online. After last night's 2-0 loss to Scotland, Croatia still has a slim chance of qualifying in the playoffs. Serbia, however, lost any chance of making it through to the World Cup several months ago after possibly one of the worst qualifying campaigns in its sporting history. But Serbia beat Macedonia 5-1 on October 15, 2013, thus sinking any dreams Macedonians may have had of reaching Brazil next summer. Fans from all three countries, amid their own losses, joined in celebrating Bosnia-Herzegovina's unique win. Nikola Radović from Montenegro joined in by saying:

While I'm losing my voice at Podgorica stadium for #CrnaGora [#Montenegro], I'm getting word that #BiH is off to Brazil. I'll root for them. Bravo Bosnia!

— Nikola Radovic (@NowitzkiCt) October 15, 2013

Bosnia-Herzegovina's national football team now faces the likes of England, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and other top teams in Brazil next year and has an unlikely chance of getting very far in the competition. However, many say that further results for Bosnia at the World Cup are now irrelevant, as this is the country's first time to qualify as an independent nation, a historic moment worth more than any title. The video below shows what Sarajevo looked like throughout the night as people took to the streets to celebrate:

September 15 2013

Croats in Vukovar Protest Use of Serbian Cyrillic on Government Buildings

In Vukovar, Croatia, Serbs comprise about 35 percent of the city's population, and have thus been granted the right for official use of their native Cyrillic script according to Croatia's constitution. A part of the ethnically Croat population of Vukovar has objected, however, staging protests this week and destroying bilingual signs that had been freshly placed on state buildings. The protests against Cyrillic script in Vukovar started on Monday 9 September 2013 after the placing of name plates in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts on public buildings. A peaceful protest was also held in Zagreb that day.

The Cyrillic script, also known as Azbuka, is an alphabetic writing system based on Early Cyrillic, which was developed during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School. Cyrillic is one of the most used writing systems in the world.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the original Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two standard modern alphabets used to write the Serbian and Bosnian languages, the other being Serbian Latin script. Although Latin script is in use as well, Cyrillic is the traditional and official script in Serbia.

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb:

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb; photo courtesy of Demotix, used with permission

Vukovar, a city of about 26,000 in eastern Croatia, remains a symbol of the Croatian-Serbian conflicts of the 1990s. For some Croatian citizens, Cyrillic remains a painful reminder of these conflicts. During Friday's protest walk, the disgruntled citizens underscored that they do no want Cyrillic script in their city, “not now, not ever, as that is not just any script, but the script under which crimes were committed against Croats and other non-Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence.”

Meanwhile, netizens on social networks were mostly angry about the fact that some were focusing on the past, which many now consider to be irrelevant matters in times of new economic and social crisis. Bosnian football player and journalist, Goran Arbutina tweeted:

Croats are going wild over Cyrillic while this is how we are doing in #Banjaluka… My street. #cirilica #latinica #sarajevo #vukovar pic.twitter.com/aiRJDWYdRY

— Goran Arbutina (@Goc1jedini) September 6, 2013

Bojan Glavašević, Deputy Minister at Ministry of Defenders [Ministry of Veterans] stated:

I am endlessly saddened by what happened today in #Vukovar. Violence is not a way to solve problems in a democracy. #cirilica

— Bojan Glavasevic (@bglavasevic) September 2, 2013

Croatian politician and member of the European Parliament Ruža Tomašić has a different opinion:

Statement for Cro. [Croatian] media in Brussels: "Crillic yes, but not in Vukovaru" http://t.co/5qnZfumtrh via @tportal #Vukovar #cirilica

— Ruža Tomašić (@RuzaTomasic) September 5, 2013

Protesters in Vukovar reaking bilingual boards; photo courtesy of Kurir daily

Vukovar: breaking bilingual board in protest PHOTO: “Kurir” daily

Serbian student and musician Stefan Josimov had a question for the EU regarding this matter:

Is it possible that the #EU still hasn't reacted regarding the breaking of signs in #Vukovar? #Srbija #Hrvatska #cirilica

— Stefan Josimov (@sjosimov) September 4, 2013

But a Twitter user from Bosnia, nicknamed Agent Tajne Sile, might have an answer to the situation, albeit sarcastic:

Luckilly, no one has an issue with numbers. Especially if they are on bank accounts. #cirilica #vukovar #lakunoc

— Agent tajne sile (@AgentTajneSile) September 3, 2013

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic announced that preparations are underway for a possible agreement on the initiative of bilingual inscriptions in Vukovar, as reported by Croatian news agency Hina. Bad news for Zagreb officials it seems – according to statistics, Croatia is fourth in terms of violation of human rights of the 47 countries that are under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, former Croatian Minister of Justice, told SETimes.

I believe that bilingualism introduction will contribute to normalising relations between Croatia and Serbia and progress, but also will be a positive example in the EU.

Skare-Ozbolt announced that about 20 municipalities in Croatia have accomplished formal prerequisites for official use of Cyrillic and it should begin in the near future. She added that Croatia and other EU countries have been installing bilingualism in areas where national minorities make up at least one third of the population. She also stated that the roles of local authorities and the state are crucial in the successful implementation of this process:

Croatia, as a new EU member, keeps this standard, although war consequences are still big, which can be seen in Vukovar, where some resistance still exists.

July 09 2013

Bosnian Lawmakers Fail to Meet ‘Babylution’ Protest Demands

Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament has missed the July 1 deadline set by angry protesters demanding members fix a lapse in the country's law that is preventing newborns from being given an identity number and, by extension, travel papers and healthcare.

For more than a month, citizens have been protesting in front of their national parliament, requesting that urgent amendments be made to legislation related to Unique Master Citizen Numbers, abbreviated JMBG. The protests, which have been dubbed the “Babylution”, took off when a gravely ill three-month-old girl died while waiting to receive this unique identity number so that she could receive treatment and surgery abroad. Outrage against this denial of basic human rights ensued across several Balkan states after the tragic event and crossed ethnic divides in the region.

The protesters had given the legislative body a July 1, 2013 deadline to remedy the lapse in the ID number law, which expired in February. On July 1, as Croatia celebrated its official entry into the European Union, thousands of people gathered in the capital Sarajevo before the parliament building to send their government representatives a clear message – “You are fired!” – and inform the international community of the situation in an open letter.

"Babylution" cover photo being distributed across social networks: "01.07. Dismissal"; image courtesy of Babylution Facebook fan page.

“Babylution” cover photo being distributed across social networks: “01.07. Dismissal”; image courtesy of Babylution Facebook fan page.

Protests were also held across the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Mostar, Tuzla, Zenica, Prijedor, Bugojn and other cities and towns.

Blogger Tom Simpson was among those who joined the “Babylution” online:

In the thrilling and agonizing meantime, protestors [sic] will have to muster all the courage, patience, and creativity they can. For its part, the rest of the world needs to keep putting pressure on Bosnian politicians to do the right thing: secure basic human rights and freedoms for all citizens of BiH. The Bosnian struggle is a deeply human one, and the world should stand with Bosnians and Herzegovinians, as they stand up for themselves, choose love, and dare to hope.

In the meantime, the Bosnian-Herzegovinian parliament held a session [ba], during and after which nothing changed. During the session, the #JMBG protests were labeled as “a hostage crisis” and the issues were devolved into accusations between the political parties. Solutions to issues that might benefit the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina never came as a point of order.

Lawmakers who voiced any concern over this [ba] were far and few between, among them member of parliament Anto Domazet:

Današnja rasprava o sigurnosnoj situaciji pokazuje da je fokus poslanika na političkom pitanju koje je izazvalo i zastoj u radu i vanrednu situaciju. „Međutim, mi se moramo zapitati šta je velika stvar koja će se desiti u političkom životu BiH? Očigledno je da građani traže politički pluralizam, da o bitnim stvarima ne odlučuju lideri ili stranke već i oni sami. To je nešto na što ćemo se morati navići“, istakao je.
Smatra da poslanici moraju imati u vidu da će živjeti i raditi paralelno s civilnim aktivizmom.

Today's debate about security issues demonstrates that the focus of members of parliament is on the very political matters that provoked the delay in procedure and the crisis situation.

“However, we must ask ourselves what is the great matter that will happen in the political life of Bosnia-Herzegovina? It is evident that the citizens want political pluralism, not to have leaders or parties decide on matters, but that they themselves also [should decide]. This is something we will have to get used to,” [Domazet] emphasized.

On social networks, the anger hasn't died down. Political science student Olivier Gonner (@igonnerclastwrote:

@igonnerclast: Ermin Zatega: “The emperor is naked” – A brilliant metaphor by Hans-Christian Anderson to describe #JMBG-Protests in #Bosnia. #Bebolucija

Edita Gorinjac (@EditaGorinjac), a journalist from Sarajevo, was among those who criticize the Parliament:

@EditaGorinjac: Zastup. u #ParlamentBiH kritiku njihovog rada nazivaju blaćenjem. Kažu to nema nigdje u svijetu. Nisam sigurna o kojem svijetu govore.#jmbg

@EditaGorinjac: Representation. In #ParlamentBiH they are calling criticism of their work mudslinging. They say it is unseen anywhere in the world. I'm not sure which world they're talking about. #jmbg

Another user on Twitter, Mahir Vražalić (@Mahir_Vrazalic), noticed:

@Mahir_Vrazalic: Znaci u Parlamentu o svemu sem #JMBG….

@Mahir_Vrazalic: So in Parliament they're discussing everything except #JMBG….

Edis Jasarevic (@EdisPG), a racing commentator, added sarcastically:

@EdisPG: Molimo da se u parlamentu pušta samo lagana jazz muzika, kako poslanici ne bi osjecali pritisak, i barem 2x dnevno antistres masaze #jmbg

@EdisPG: We ask that only smooth jazz music be played in parliament, so that members of parliament don't feel pressured, and anti-stress massages at least 2x a day #jmbg

June 20 2013

Anti-Government ‘Babylution’ Protests Gain Momentum in Bosnia

People in Bosnia-Herzegovina are crossing the country's deep ethnic divides by the thousands to protest together against the government's failure to remedy a lapse in the law that is preventing newborns from being given an identity number and, by extension, travel papers and healthcare.

The protests, which began on June 5, 2013 and have been dubbed “Babylution”, were sparked by the story of a gravely ill three-month-old girl, Belmina Ibrišević, who at the time could not leave the country to get the stem cell treatment abroad that she needed, even though her health was critical and necessary treatment could not be provided in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Days later, the unrest intensified following the news of one-month-old Berina Hamidović [sr] who died the Institute for Mother and Child [sr] in Belgrade, Serbia of sepsis after the medical treatment she needed was delayed.

The young girl could not leave because of the country's failure to pass a new law on ID numbers after the old law expired in February. Thanks to this legal gap, newborn babies only receive a temporary number which impedes them from receiving travel documents, which would be necessary to seek medical treatment abroad.

Protesters began speaking out against lawmakers’ inaction under the hashtag #JMBG, which stands for the Unique Master Citizen Number. On June 6, demonstrators gathered in Sarajevo and blocked the Parliament building, refusing to allow politicians and foreign guests inside to leave the building and demanding the urgent passing of the Law on Unique Master Citizen Numbers.

Suad Baručija posted a video on Youtube of supporters arriving from Zenica to join the Sarajevo protesters, in which they are heard chanting “We want change!”:

On Twitter, the news quickly spread under the hashtag #jmbg, as those present at the peaceful protest or nearby transmitted the events of the evening live. Director of Communications at International Center for Transitional Justice Refik Hodžić (@ledenik1tweeted a picture of a person leaving the Parliament building through a ground-floor window:

@ledenik1: #BiH parliament staff escaping through windows the building surrounded by protesters instead of joining them. #jmbg pic.twitter.com/NhdMNaGCxv

Twitter user Irma Plavčić (@Irma_A_Pclarified the reasons behind the protest:

Od borbe za ljudska prava i #jmbg,preko krsenja istih,medjunarodnog skandala do unistenja prilike za ulaganje kapitala.Sve za 1 dan #BiH

@Irma_A_P: From the battle for human rights and #jmbg, the violation of those, international scandals to the destruction of opportunities for investment capital. All in 1 day #BiH

A video on YouTube posted by Cyber Media Technology titled “We want JMBG!” summarizes the first days of the #JMBG protests:

The following day, protests stopped briefly [ba] in Sarajevo and the Parliament building was no longer blocked by citizens standing guard out front. But those involved in the protests created the website JMBG for everyone! [ba] with this message:

Mi smo građani i građanke ove zemlje – roditelji s djecom, studenti i studentice, domaćice, radnici i radnice, nezaposleni i nezaposlene, penzioneri i penzionerke, bez obzira na pripadnost etničkoj ili religijskoj skupini, ili bilo koji drugi status, te nam je zajednički interes da se poštuju prava svake osobe, a prije svega djece. Obraćamo se svim građankama i građanima, koji/e žele da žive u državi u kojoj političari i političarke rade svoj posao i izvršavaju zakonske obaveze. Državi u kojoj su nacionalni i stranački interesi sekundarni, a u prvom planu je dostojanstven i siguran život građana i građanki.

We are the citizens of this country – parents with children, university students, housewives, workers, the unemployed, pensioners, regardless of ethnic or religious groups, or any other status, so it is in our common interest that the rights of every person be respected, those of children above all. We address all male and female citizens who wish to live in a state in which politicians do their jobs and complete their legal obligations. A state in which national and partisan interests are secondary and the dignified and safe lives of citizens are primary.

The website also details the demands of citizens regarding legislature related to Unique Master Citizen Numbers and the creation of a fund for the treatment of threatened categories of the population.

Even though baby Belmina's parents eventually managed to get her across the border for treatment, the death of one-month-old Berina Hamidović due to this bureaucratic obstruction to her medical treatment, as Bosnian news outlets reported [ba], further fueled protests.

Citizens throughout the region paid their respects to the little girl, while the story shook with tremendous strength and speed Berinda's birth country of Bosnia-Herzegovina and neighboring Serbia where she died. From that moment on, the situation escalated quickly: from minute to minute on social networks, web portals and blogs, bitter citizens organized for protests, united and calling for support anywhere they could get it.

#JMBG is among the first to show the power of the new Facebook hashtag feature, while the JMBG fan page already has close to 23,000 fans on this social network.

The protests in Sarajevo continue, now under the name “Babylution” - a peaceful revolution that managed to bring over 10,000 people into the streets on June 18 with the support of public figures [sr] and musicians from the former Yugoslav republics who have expressed their grief and revolt.

Citizens are invited to attend the peaceful protests every day beginning at noon until demands are met.

Babylution in Bosnia

Protesters in front of Parliament. Photo by Almir Panjeta, courtesy of “JMBG za sve” Facebook fan page.

Zoja BB (@skejtas) on Twitter shared a picture of a gathered crowd:

@skejtas#JMBG protest today was huge. Hope ‘they’ feel the pressure… pic.twitter.com/NrHljS4qaS

Protester Davor Stanković (@Dastkodescribed the evening:

Veče za pamćenje. Bez mrlje i najmanjeg problema. Umoran sam, ali bih uz ove ljude ostao koliko god je potrebno. Borba se nastavlja! #jmbg

@Dastko: A night to remember. Without a stain or any minor problem. I am tired, but I would stay with these people as long as necessary. The fight continues! #jmbg

Editor Nenad Memić (@NenadMemicadded to the description:

@NenadMemic: Around 10,000 people at a protest concert for #JMBG in #Sarajevo tonight! Spread the good vibe! :) pic.twitter.com/jrqHI2VEfT

Once an identification number, #JMBG has now become a hashtag, a meme, and a call for revolution in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Politicians have been given a deadline until June 30 to pass the law and create a solidarity fund for those who need medical treatment. Should Bosnia's Parliament fail to meet this deadline, citizens have vowed, among other actions, to organize the first Facebook hashmob [cr], a novel concept described as a hashtag-driven flashmob.

Until then, the “Babylution” continues.

May 24 2013

In Croatia and Serbia, Mixed Feelings About the EU

As Croatia prepares to enter the European Union officially on July 1 of this year, and Serbia awaits to finally receive a date to begin talks about EU entry, citizens of both countries express mixed feelings about EU integration.

Some young Croatian citizens are looking forward to being able to seek employment in EU countries and to the economic benefits some say the EU promises to bring. Twitter user @tash from Zagreb says [en]:

@EszterLzr haha i know, bad timing for EU and here ppl have mixed feeling ab it..and i just want to be able to go to work somewhere else

Others, like Aleksandar Holiga from Zagreb, look forward to traveling with more freedom to other EU countries [en]:

Flying to London tomorrow. For the last time ever required to fill that form and speak to immigration officer on the non-EU airport booth.

Pro-EU and anti-EU Croatian citizens are having spontaneous street debates in Zagreb on the eve of the 2012 European Union referendum. Photo by Marin Tomaš, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

Pro-EU and anti-EU Croatian citizens are having spontaneous street debates in Zagreb on the eve of the 2012 European Union referendum. Photo by Marin Tomaš, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

The majority, however, seems to be taking entry into the EU with a grain of salt. Goran Saravanja, a Croatian economist who blogs for Vecernji List daily, begins and ends his thoughts on the matter with simple, objective conclusions in a post titled “Facing Change: Croatia in EU” [hr]:

Prosječna osoba neće primijetiti veliku razliku u svom svakodnevnom okruženju na dan pristupanja Hrvatske EU. No, važne promjene nastupit će ubrzo. [...] Pristupanje EU samo po sebi neće automatski poboljšati kvalitetu domaćih institucija, kao ni razne politike niti njihovu provedbu. Ukoliko želimo da nam rast bude konstanta, nezaposlenost smanjena, a izvoz povećan, mi sami moramo provoditi reforme i (ne samo) ekonomsku politiku na kvalitetan način.

An average person won't notice a large difference in their everyday surroundings on the day of Croatia's entry into the EU. However, important changes will come quickly. [...] Entry into the EU in and of itself won't automatically improve the quality of domestic institutions, nor various political standpoints or their execution. If we want our growth to be constant, our unemployment lowered, and exports to grow, we must implement reforms ourselves and (not only) economic policy in a quality manner.

While Mr. Saravanja lists many of the benefits and opportunities that EU membership will bring Croatia, Zarko Plevnik in an editorial for Glas Slavonije [hr] (Slavonia is a Croatian region) questions how Croatian products will fare in the EU market because most are “unprotected”:

Gledajući i slušajući vijesti iz Hrvatske o tome kako svaki dan pronalazimo neki novi problem vezan uz naš ulazak u Europsku uniju, između ostalog, nameće se pitanje – što smo mi zaštitili od naših proizvoda prije ulaska u EU?

Watching and listening to the news from Croatia about how every day we encounter a new issue related to our entry into the European Union, among other things, the following question arises – what have we protected [trademarked] of our products prior to entry into the EU?

An article on the same site, titled “And This Is the European Union,” shows a picture of Greek farmers giving away fresh vegetables to their “class allies” [hr], or, rather, government employees.

Most social media users from Croatia seem to be skeptical about the benefits of EU membership.

Twitter user @ruzniuzorak says [hr]:

smorena sam ko europska unija

I'm bummed out like the European Union

User @nxyassa from Croatia comments [CRO]:

Glupost nema granice evo naprimjer EUROPSKA UNIJA

Stupidity has no limits [borders] for example the EUROPEAN UNION

User @cromarko from Zagreb quotes an article and adds his own opinion [hr]:

“Najvece priznanje ulaska RH u EU je sastanak s kraljicom”. Priznanje hah, sve sto cu reci je Sjeverna Irska! #freeireland #oneireland

“The greatest acknowledgement of [Croatia's] accession in the EU is a meeting with the Queen.” Acknowledgement hah, all I will say is, Northern Ireland! #freeireland #oneireland

In Serbia, social media users, bloggers and many journalists are just as skeptical. Considering the recent history of Serbia and Croatia, one might wonder at the lack of perhaps expected envy that might come from Serbia towards Croatia, as Croatia enters the EU, while Serbia is still on hold and waiting for talks on membership. Serbs, however, seem to be much more concerned with their own fate.

Twitter user @na_preporciju from Serbia says [sr]:

Evropska unija nam se pokakila na demokratiju i slobodu,
a naši Slepci ne znaju da povuku vodu.

The European Union pooped on our democracy and freedom, while our Blind Men don't know how to flush.

User @m2aja echoes [sr] what many Serbs are saying:

Britanc žele da napuste Evropsku uniju, a Srbija bi da ide…

Britons want to leave the European Union, while Serbs want to enter…

Even users like @luminous_pg from Montenegro, which began EU accession negotiations a year ago, view EU-related matters [sr] sarcastically:

Muče vas bolovi u vratu? Imate problema sa zglobovima? Zaboravite na vaše neprilike, uskoro ulazimo u EVROPSKU UNIJU!

Neck pain bothering you? Have problems with your joints? Forget all your troubles, we're entering the EUROPEAN UNION soon!

User @na_preporciju also comments [sr]:

Kad uđe Hrvatska Evropska unija zaključava vrata – od robijašnice.

When Croatia enters, the European Union will close the door – of the work camp.

Some, like the Beograd Cafe blog, see positives economic opportunities for Serbia in Croatia's entry into the EU [sr], reporting from the recent “CEFTA After Croatia's Entry Into EU” trade conference, where all of the regional countries’ representatives met to discuss the Central European Free Trade Agreement:

Ulazak Hrvatske u EU doneće Srbiji niz prednosti, kao što su dominantan položaj u CEFTA regionu i povećanje suficita u razmeni sa okolnim zemljama, a očekuje se i više investicija…

The entry of Croatia into the EU will bring Serbia several advantages, such as a dominant position in the CEFTA region and a larger sufficit in trade with surrounding countries, while more investments are also expected. [...]

A blog from Bosnia and Herzegovina also writes about the subject [bs] in a post titled “Due to Exiting CEFTA, Croatian Companies to Move Production to Bosnia and Herzegovina?”.

In general, both in Croatia and Serbia, people seem to have an “it is what it is” attitude about the European Union in general. Perhaps the tweet of one user, @Darac42, sums it up best [hr]:

Da da, bit ce taj EU hard landing za hrvate.. niti ne zasluzujemo bolje..

Yes, yes, that EU will be a hard landing for Croats.. and we don't deserve better..

November 13 2012

From Bosnia to Mecca: “A Pilgrimage on Foot”

An Aussie in Bosnia wrote about Senad Hadzic's walk from a town in northern Bosnia all the way to Mecca - here and here [en]; a Facebook page devoted to this “pilgrimage on foot” is here [bs].

August 13 2012

Russia: “The True Blasphemy” - Slavoj Žižek on Pussy Riot

Russian collective “What to do?” published an essay by Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, who considers Pussy Riot “conceptual artists in the noblest sense of the word: artists who embody an Idea,” and fight against the cynicism of power-mongers who strive to return Russia to the tsarist level characterized by Leon Trotsky (1905) as “a vicious combination of the Asian knout [whip] and the European stock market.” The text has been translated into various languages [en, ru - middle of page, it, sr, sr, mk, gr] and reprinted by bloggers and progressive portals throughout Europe.

March 25 2012

Serbia: Controversy Over Draža Mihailović's Rehabilitation

Dragoljub Draža Mihailović was a commander of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, also known as the Chetnik movement, during World War II. In 1946, he was captured by the communist Yugoslav authorities, convicted of high treason and war crimes, sentenced to death and executed.

The tribunal for his rehabilitation, which began in June 2010 on the request by Draža's grandson Vojislav Mihailović, is nearing the end now. Although the request has been supported by some academicians, professors and politicians, the public in Serbia is divided. For some, Draža Mihailović is an innocent victim, for others, he is a justly convicted collaborator of the occupiers, who committed crimes not only in Serbia, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia as well.

Some politicians, NGOs and citizens from these countries have also reacted to the news. They have a more or less unified view of Draža Mihailović, considering him a criminal and a nationalist who had the idea to establish the so-called Greater Serbia.

Draža Mihailović. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije, in the public domain.

Draža Mihailović. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije, in the public domain.

Ivo Josipović, the President of Croatia, said to the Croatian daily Jutarnji List:

Draža Mihailović was a war criminal… I could remember a lot of cases where [Chetniks] collaborated, not being anti-fascists, but collaborated with the Germans, Italians and [Ustaše] fighting against the [partisans]… If the trial is finished as the media are announcing – but wait for the end of it -
it will be a bad step in regard to the Second World War and anti-fascism.

The Movement of War Victims from Bosnia issued a statement, in which they said this, among other things:

Bosnia and Herzegovina paid dearly for the Greater Serbia ideology, one of whose trademarks Draža Mihailović is. On the occasion of his rehabilitation we are seriously worried about sovereignty and peace in our country and we are afraid because we don’t know whether the atrocities and deaths which we experienced 20 years ago are behind us forever. Equaling the fascist and anti-fascist movements is the same as equaling victims and criminals from the period of aggression on our country.

However, Vuk Jeremić, Serbia's minister of foreign affairs, thinks the rehabilitation of Draža Mihailović is an internal issue of Serbia.

Serbian blogger Filip Mladenović wrote in his post:

[…] However, I am particularly irritated with the revision of history. It’s not clear to me who is in favor of relativizing our ancestors’ anti-fascist fight during the Second World War now by attempting to rehabilitate the Ravnogorski movement and its leader Draža Mihailović. Why does Serbia throw itself out of the winning anti-fascist coalition by these auto-goals? Why does it disown so many victims who perished honorably and courageously during the fight against Hitler’s Nazi regime? […]

There are more than 350 comments on Mladenović's post. Below are some of them.

Johnnyt wrote:

You are spitting at the man who was a genuine fighter against fascists and communists, while criminal [Tito], the president of the genocidal country of SFR Yugoslavia, is loafing in the House of Flowers […]

Dextera said:

Filip, you don’t know a lot of things. You have exclusively read and cited official history created by Tito’s regime. You don’t know that the trial of Draža Mihailović was a fixed [political] trial, you don’t know what kind of documents there are, you don’t know the role of the [Comintern], you don’t know who Dragić Joksimović was, you don’t know that Draža’s sister was killed by the Soviet soldiers when they entered Belgrade in 1944, etc. You would like to make things to be black and white, just the way Tito was doing.

Cult said:

It has to banned by law to falsify history and rehabilitate national traitors and collaborators with the occupiers.

niccolo said:

It’s futile to discuss again who killed more civilians – the Chetniks or the Partisans. However, does any of the participants in the discussion realize that the procedure of rehabilitation is not related to the question of whether someone committed a crime or not, but to the question of whether the accused one had a fair trial or had no trial at all?

A Belgrade-based historian Ljubinka Trgovčević said this to the Slobodna Evropa (Free Europe) web site:

If it was only about the reconstruction of the court trial, then the problem would be much less anyway. In this way, it goes without saying that he was acquitted, as well as his movement, of everything that he did or did not do.

Mirko Kovač, a well-known novelist from Croatia, said this to the same source:

Super. People could hardly wait for it to be done, so they could rehabilitate their own ones. This region is the same as Serbia. People here dream of rehabilitating [Ante Pavelić].

Dušan Stefanović from Chicago left this comment to the Slobodna Evropa article:

I don't see who was betrayed by Draža in the war. He was fighting against Tito's communists, Pavelić's soldiers [the Ustaše], Hitler's fascists… all enemies of the Serbian people during the war. He saved thousands of American pilots, more than 500 of them were evacuated only from the village of Pranjani in 1943. De Gaulle and Truman decorated him with the highest medals for his role in the war. Above all, General Mihailović did not betray Serbia.

January 29 2012

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Citizens Policing Traffic Violations in Sarajevo

Using the Facebook page [bs] “Moj grad, moja sigurnost, moja odgovornost” (”My city, my security, my responsibility”), Sarajevo residents are uploading pictures of illegally parked cars and reckless drivers, trying to convince the authorities to take action and protect pedestrians. According to the administrators of the page, there has been enormous response from the people who decided to take the problem of transport culture into their own hands.

January 26 2012

Serbia: The Media War Against Angelina Jolie

Not so long ago Angelina Jolie was “more concerned” about the reception of her director's debut movie, In the Land of Blood and Honey, in Bosnia and Serbia than in the United States. She was eagerly awating the reactions of local audiences, whom she had portrayed in her war drama, and some of her fears turned out to be justified.

While the Bosnian public warmly welcomed this war love story of a Serbian policeman and a Bosnian Muslim woman, the Serbian media launched a war on the U.S. actress, accussing her of spreading hatred toward Serbs.

Serbian daily Kurir initiated a series of articles [sr] that seriously harmed Jolie's good reputation in Serbia:

Angelina claims in the movie that 300,000 Muslims were killed in the Bosnian war and 50,000 Muslim women were raped. The actress intends to seek the abolition of Republika Srpska as a genocidal creation. All of this was commissioned by the extreme Islamic policies, presenting Serbs as criminals, killers, murderers and rapists, and Muslims as the only victims.

Explaining the reason for Jolie's alleged pro-Muslim bias, the newspaper claimed [sr] that the movie was financially supported by Saudi direct investments of $10 million:

It is generally known that Jolie is very close to politicians in Washington. Maybe she would like the public to think it is an art film, but it is actually pure anti-Serbian propaganda. The director sends a message to the audience that Serbs are crazy wild beasts, while Muslims are innocent victims.

Momir Stojanovic, former Director of the Serbian Military Intelligence Agency, also supported Kurir's claim that Muslim extremists had funded Angelina's project, saying “it is very close to the truth.”

The Serbian newspaper triggered thousands of negative, pro-Serbian votes on imdb.com, one of the most reputable film rating sites, causing the film's score to drop drastically to 3.3 from an average of 5.4.

A screenshot of Jolie's film page on imdb.com.

Very quickly the page of Jolie's film at imdb.com turned into a virtual battlefield between Serbs and Muslims. (In the past few days, however, 11 pages of comments have somehow been reduced to five).

Sanja_Cancar says:

Angelina needs to stick to the topics she knows about, ei: ruining marriages, stealing husbands, adopting children from around the world, wearing blood. Instead, she chose the ironic path of a “peace-ambassador” that gets involved in politics she knows nothing about and creates movies that will only create more hatred… […]

Vitezbg observes:

Movie is full of political manipulations, lies, false informations etc.[…] Also 50.000 raped Muslim women is very disputed. It is famous case when ‘raped Sarajevo woman', gave birth of African child. Actually the father in this case was member of UN personal. […]

Johnny NT concludes:

Well done Angie, Goebbels and Hitler would be proud of you and your fascinating work on this movie. […]

rudeedee2 asks:

How could these people dare think to make a movie (”entertainment”) of such a horribly devastating situation ??? Seems only money is important. […] Would Angelina Jolie want to think her family has gone through hell and lost every semblance of normalcy, experienced fear, heartbreak, death and devastation only to find a so-called movie producer sees it as an artistic capital?

psysd3 reminds Angelina of the crimes of her own people:

[…] From the very beginning, by coming to America's soil on which it is estimated that, in 1500s, there were about 12 000 000 Native Americans whose number is reduced to nearly 237 000 by 1900s […]

Alex_Michael writes:

I guess I expected too much of Angelina. She might have black hair, but the movie sure look like put together by a blonde. Serbian Nazis who don't have problem killing anything from pets to babies on one side, and good Muslims on the other side… Example is Srebrenica where Serbs committed crimes by taking revenge after number of Serbian villages around Srebrenica were completely wiped out, and their inhabitants killed by Muslims from Srebrenica. This was well described in Norwegian documentary “Srebrenica a Town Betrayed”.

The Bosnian Muslim online community opposes the Serbian comments and supports Jolie's movie.

f_s is grateful to Angelina:

[…] Thank you Ms. Jolie for being the voice of the women depraved, humiliated and tortured. I recommend to everyone to see the movie especially women around the globe, to hear the unspoken, to witness the hidden. […]

Sibaak adds:

[…] We, the Bosnians do not hate. We are the most peaceful nation in the world, and thats why the facts of that war are so brutal! Because we didn't believe it could happen. We didn't believe that our friends would turn against us, rape us, kill our children, take over our houses. But they did. We that lived to tell, still, just like me, believe there are good Serbs. But what really hurts is to see how many people, just like on here, people that do not have even slightest idea of the truth, are so blind, and so hateful, because it tells me that they would do it all over again. In a way I feel its good that they are showing their real faces. Showing how ignorant they are. […]

Mela Fatkic expresses gratitude to Jolie on the movie's Facebook page. She writes:

Angelina thank you for this film, but we can not forget what it was. Thank you for the truth which not many people to reconcile, and nobody believes until they see…

Dino Gligic shares this opinion:

Angelina, thank you so much for telling the torld the truth about what Serbs did. It was worse than in that movie…

Nat Taschetti Garcia Angie admits ignorance and asks :

I just graduate on high school and i never learned about Bosnian war as i never learned about refugee camps. Do you feel like something has to be done in education, as a mom and as an activist?

Frustrated by the Serbian furious reaction, Jolie responded on Twitter:

Is it possible that the entire nation believes a concocted story from trash @KurirVesti magazine based on fake email from imaginary person?”

However, a few days later this tweet was deleted, and a new one appeared:

Don't express your love for own nation, race, religion, etc… by hating others.

On other side, Kurir pulled off the article of threatining tone: “Serbs declared war on the actress: you do not know what awaits for you Angelina” from the newspaper official site published as respond on Jolie's offensive tweet.

Jolie also tweeted this appeal:

Don't believe everything you read… “They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers.”

In an interview with Slobodna Evropa, Jolie expressed her affection for Bosnia, saying that “it is easy to be in love with Bosnia”:

I would not have created this film if Bosnikas hadn't agreed with the screenplay. I would have burned it…

Zeljko Mitrovic, the owner of Pink TV, is one of the most influental Serbs who had initially condemned Jolie because of her anti-Serbian prejudices and had even withdrawn from the movie project. Now, however, he has changed his mind:

It is wrong to attack Angelina now when the movie is finished. We could have changed something before they started making the film. Now it is pointless to generate hostility. That thing cannot be changed by additional antagonisms. She should be invited to Belgrade because people like her can help us in the future to improve the image of ourselves in the world. I invite Angelina to come to Serbia and to be a guest of TV Pink.

November 15 2011

Macedonia: Veles Says “No” to Lead Poisoning, Government Remains Ambiguous

After the massive protest against restarting of the lead smelting factory in the city of Veles, the citizens feel cheated by the declarative support shown by the politicians from the ruling parties, and demand clear answers from PM Nikola Gruevski on whether the poisoning will continue.

The protests announced in the previous Global Voices article took place on Nov. 9. Estimates of the number of the protest participants range from 10,000 to over 15,000 [ba], a huge turnout for this community of less than 44,000 inhabitants.

Samoglaska and Vancho Dzambaski published Creative Commons-licensed photo galleries from the event.

Protest march through Veles streets. Photo by Samoglaska (CC-BY).

People gathering on Veles square. Photo by Vancho Dzambaski (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Twitter tags #Veles or #Велес are still in use, and the seasoned local blogger Jovan Petrov provided comprehensive coverage of the protest:

…the families, school children and elders joined forces. Being there I saw people from all backgrounds - the non-governmental sector, doctors, blue collar workers, politicians including former and current mayors and members of the parliement and local council, mothers and daughters, from all ranges of age, social and ethnic background. They protested in unison, NO RESTART! for the smelting factory.

I was never good at guessing numbers, but the group of NGO's called “Green coalition” have managed to gather more participants than any party on a political rally even when they want to boast with numbers carrying people from other cities to enrich the scenery. Some guesses were in the range of 10.000 participants.

The organization was quite good, the people were loud but very polite, the whole process finished without any recorded incident. The protest was lead by an excavator, symbolic image of the vision of the citizens - to dig up the old shadow factory and plant the perimeter with trees in order to decontaminate the land from cancerogens and active chemicals that modify the DNA of the unborn children.

The message was clear and far-reaching - NO MORE POISONING! Now, the state should show its support for the locals not only by speeches and through columnists, but by clear actions. And the solution is simple - rejecting the application of the investor to restart the factory - which everyone is sure that must be done based on strict following of the environmental legislation. Even the investor has admitted that they will pollute in their environmental impact study submitted to the Ministry of environment of Republic of Macedonia (image of the table follows, and remember the fact - the author of this document is the investor itself):

Table on environmental impact from the study with added explanations in English.

After this night - it should be clear to all, whoever tries to do more harm to the citizens of Veles will be punished severely.

A short documentary about the protest [mk] is available on YouTube:

And while the area's politicians and religious leaders turned out in force for the photo-op, they expressed declarative and noncommittal support for the Veles' cause. However, not all protest supporters received media attention, and were not credited at the event. Vladimir Milchin, the executive director of the Foundation Open Society Institute, wrote [mk] on his Facebook profile:

Yes, members of GEM (Citizens for European Macedonia) were at the protest. And the Soros' foundation supported the NGOs that organized it by supplying funds for 2,000 vests. Just like it supported them in the long bygone year of 2003 with a USD 6,100 grant for the first analysis that proved presence of the toxic materials in the hair of 80 local children.

Dimce Velev, one of the organizers, added a comment:

A reason for this is that road to the truth around the environmental exodus started with FOSM support at the point when the smelter was a taboo topic!

Milchin concluded:

And now some people want to use the protest to build their careers.

GEM activists in the crowd during the Veles protest. Photo by Vancho Dzambaski (CC-BY-NC-SA).

Several Twitter users shared a screen capture of a statement [mk] by former mayor, Ace Kocevski, published on his Facebook profile [mk]:

Citizens of Veles expressed their position against restarting of the smelting factory with dignity. But statements of the representatives of the Ministry of the Environment indicate that the appeal has not been taken seriously.
Self-censorship of the speakers at the protest and pointing fingers at Metrudhem only did not produce the expected results.
The goal is clear: Veles without a smelter.
The battle for healthy living environment in Veles must continue in more organized, more realistic manner, without improvisations, through the institutions of the system and if needed outside of them.
The municipality must urgently change the General Urban Plan and enact an Detailed Urban Plan to change the zoning of the area into light nonpolluting industry only.
The court process of Veles and the Green Coalition against Republic of Macedonia must continue. EUR 50,000 must be found for judicial analysis of the impact of pollution over the health of the citizens, and the level of intoxication of the soil and waters.
Ask the [Macedonian Bar Association] for pro bono representation.
The pressure must be directed towards the Ministry of the Environment and the Government - they must stand on the side of the people of Veles, to correct the errors of decade-long pollution and selling of the smelter, and to prevent its restart. They must provide funds from the state budget and from international donors to solve the problem of the slag landfill, and to clean the poisoned soil.

In the days after the protest, organizers and participants started expressing concern via the official FB group. Nenad Kocic shared the above video and asked the following questions:

1. Is Veles in Macedonia?
2. Does this state have a Government?
3. Does the Government work for the people or not?

After the Minister of the Environment failed to come to the protest and stated [mk] that it was too early to say that the request for license by the factory owners would be denied, the Green Coalition of NGOs asked to hear the truth in person from the “big boss” - requesting a meeting with PM Gruevski, who keeps maintaining detached, eery silence on the matter.

The news [mk], that the PR agency Republika will commence an advertising campaign on behalf of investor, has been taken as a clear sign of support for the investor by the government. During the past few years, this company has been the dominant implementer of numerous advertising campaigns that funneled millions of Euros from the state budget to pro-government media and other beneficiaries (in a setup compared [mk] to the collusion of the Croatian ruling party and Fimi Media).

Veles protester holding a cartoon. Photo by Samoglaska (CC-BY).

In other news: another Macedonian city has been subjected to a similar environmental disaster [mk], apparently due to criminal negligence. On Friday, Nov. 11, Kriva Palanka received an influx of poisonous slag full of lead, arsenic, zinc, cadmium and other toxic materials from the upriver mine Toranica.

July 14 2010

Montenegro: Hero's Welcome for YouTube Star

By Filip Stojanovski

YouTube star Ekrem Jevrić Gospoda was given a hero's welcome upon his arrival in his native Montenegro on July 11. His fame also grew when, allegedly unrelated to his status of YouTube star, he also took part in a photo-shoot for a renowned fashion brand.

At the Podgorica airport, Jevrić was greeted by local camp singer Purašević and “hundreds of fans and relatives,” while tens of entertainment portals and TV stations from the Balkans — including from Macedonia — reused a video from the event, also available on YouTube.

In the clip, apparently at a request of a female journalist, the singer-songwriter whose song about the daily grind ‘cursed' working women because they can't take care of children, explains that “Women work. All our women work all over the Gray World,* women work,” and adds that he's not really bothered by that fact.

But, the man whose video currently has over 3.9 million views on YouTube, complained that he didn't make any money from that, because he's not paid per view, so “it's all for nothing, all for free, and maybe in the future, later we'll make something.”

In addition, a few weeks ago, numerous Balkan portals spread the news that Jevrić shows up in a menswear photo-shoot as a tailor. One of them, SerbiaNet, also published [SER] an audio clip with an excerpt from a telephone interview [SER]. According to Jevrić:

I worked for a big and famous billionaire, with famous brands, called Dolce & Gabanna. I was standing in front of a pub [in my suit] and he was passing by and asked me “Are you an Italian?” I said “Excuse me, but I am not, but I am quite close to Italy.”

Then they said “Would you allow us to take photos of you and take your telephone number, and we'll call you in ten days if you are accepted.” And then they accepted me and offered 500 USD per day to work for them. I worked two days, and got a thousand dollars. A car would come to my house and take me there, and then take me back home by car, and so. They also told me that they might invite me again to work for them, and what do I know…

The interviewer also tried to provoke conservative Jevrić about the openly gay status of Dolce & Gabanna, but to his credit the singer-turned-model ignored the issue.

* Possibly this is a reference to the common South Slavic idiom “the White World,” meaning abroad, far away, used in folk stories.

May 31 2010

The Balkans: Violent Treatment of Animals

By Sinisa Boljanovic

The civil war that was waged in the former communist Yugoslavia during the 1990’s resulted in several hundred thousand people killed and almost a million refugees. After the war, crime and various forms of violence became a regular occurrence in the countries of the region. Victims have mostly been different national and religious groups, the gay population and Gypsies. Recently, animals have also become a target of the bullies. Almost every day some dogs or cats are being exposed to torture by cruel people who record their cruelties and publish the video on the internet.

In mid-April, a lot of people in Serbia were shocked by a terrible video of violence against a female dog which was shown by TV channels. An anonymous monster cut off the dog’s paws and left her to lie in the puddle of blood in one of Belgrade’s street.

On that occasion Goran Paskaljevic, a well-known filmmaker and president of the association for animal protection called SOS Animals, said this to the daily newspaper Blic:

I am shocked that something like that could happen. I expect that the police will find the culprit, even though the victim is not a human, but an animal.

He added:

Those who could carry out such a monstrous act against an infirm dog that couldn’t commit anything bad are dangerous for people as well.

Blogger Dragan Jakovljevic wrote a very sad post, in which he asked the female dog called Mila to forgive the sin of the mankind:

[…] ”Each sin, even the smallest one, affects the fate of the world,” said the old man Siluan. And each virtue does, too: because a victim - in this case, a female dog Mila - is not alone anymore. Tens of thousands of people are offering their help and searching for the monster. Their voices are currently saving this planet. Thanks to them, I dare look into Mila’s eyes, at least on the only endlessly sad [photo] which has appeared on the internet these days, and say: “Forgive, if you can.”

Since one woman found Mila under her car and took her to a veterinary clinic, doctors gave the female dog the first aid. Now Mila is recovering from the wounds and waiting for an operation in Germany where she should get the prosthetics on her legs so that she could walk again.

Just a few weeks after the event, a new disturbing video of violence against a kitten appeared on Srdan Stankovic's page profile (the video has since been removed).

A couple days ago, lawyers of radio and TV station B92 brought a criminal charge against him. Also, a group “Sprecimo nasilje nad zivotinjama” (Stop Abusing Animals) has been created on the Facebook. This group already has more than 44,000 members. Their message is:

STOP VIOLENCE AGAINST ANIMALS!!!
If you love animals, please help save them from cruelty!
If you love animals, join the animal rescue team in your community!

Animals have feelings, just like you or me. Treat animals like you would want to be treated if you were them.

The question is: where are the roots of more and more brutal violence in Serbia?

Dragan Popadic, a social psychologist, said on the web site of Radio Free Europe that the civil war is not the only reason. He added:

That is part of the problem. But I think that we are supposed to look for the roots of violence in something that is present in the current situation. In my opinion, there are no reactions to violence […]. Tolerance towards violence, a tendency that some forms of violence are seen as good violence is tremendously polluting our everyday lives, leading to these excessive and brutal forms of violence.

On the same web page, a Serbian ballerina, writer and blogger Jelena Tinska said:

The Vietnam syndrome has taken over the rule of Serbia, somnambulists stroll over the streets, young boys kill girls. The man who cut the legs of this dog, tomorrow he will cut the breasts of his girlfriend if she cheats on him, because he is a psychopath. Therefore, insane [bullies] are walking over our cities, but they have also been punished.

Serbia's neighbor Bosnia and Herzegovina is also facing violence against animals. According to Sarajevo’s daily newspaper “Oslobodjenje”, this past March there was a series of protests in Sarajevo which were organized by an association called “Friends of animals.” Direct pretext for those protests was a terrible video shot by three young people and published on Facebook. The video shows how these boys are setting a notorious pit-bull terrier on an infirm stray dog, and how the bloodthirsty animal is tearing its victim apart.

A lot of bloggers from this country reacted to the video very harshly.

Blogger zuti__karton wrote in her post titled “How monstrous can we be?”:

[…] The only fair law is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and everyone should be treated according to this law […] then I’d like to see who would repeat such a crime. […]

[…] These are just some of the cases of violence against animals… Only God knows how many others there are… Is anyone asking himself how monstrous a creature we can be, how primitive we can be. Can we be even worse? I think we can, because we are people, not animals. […]

[…] We often kill for the sake of fun, out of jealousy, for money or for similar senseless reasons. We wage wars because misters from TV tell us to do that, because someone has this or that kind of name, because someone is black and someone else is white, because of the damned colors. […]

Medo_Lee wrote:

[…] Protection of animal rights and taking care of animals is typical of western, democratic, civilized and prosperous societies and we are so far away from that level.

Human is the worst animal and a proof of that is what's happening to us. […]

Blogger Mafa has a totally different opinion. He published a short post titled “Violence against animals is justified”:

Look at what these little monsters [dogs] have done to a young man… One of them bit off his leg. This young man will never be able to walk, not to mention play football :( He doesn’t have enough money to buy a Sony PlayStation, so his life is, to say the least, destroyed. Why did the dog make him disabled? Why? How could this dog be so cruel :( if the man had had a pit-bull, like Kemal, it's certain that he wouldn’t have experienced this misfortune. :(

Croatia has almost the same problem as Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On March 4 this year, daily newspaper Jutarnji List published an article about brutal violence against dogs and cats in the cities of Vinkovci and Vukovar:

Newspapers are often full of articles about the abuse of animals. Every time people are shocked by the brutality of violence. So citizens of Vinkovci were upset on Wednesday when a dog with severe scalding injuries of its nose, head and back was found in the center of the city. There was a thick wire hoop tied around its neck. […]

[…] A few days before, association “dr Ivan Rostas” warned about one case of animal abuse, this time, against cats in Vukovar. They received the disturbing news from Vukovar about cats that were being exposed to brutal torture by a group of children and several adults from the nearby apartment buildings. They also published photos of a cat whose eye was torn out and another cat whose tail was cut off. Poor animals had also been exposed to stones and slingshots.

Animal fans and online activists from Croatia have created Facebook groups, too, in which they invite people to join them in protection of the animals.

A devastating fact is that in all of these countries there are laws for protection of animals but, unfortunately, they are not applied in practice.

May 09 2010

Bosnia: Waltz Guinness Record Broken in Tuzla

By Filip Stojanovski

Tuzlarije reports [BOS] that 1,510 couples of dancers broke the Guinness Record in simultaneous mass waltzing in Tuzla during the evening of May 7. Previous record holder was Vienna with 317 dancing pairs. Participants included people living elsewhere, including the Austrian ambassador in Bosnia and his spouse.

May 01 2010

The Balkans: Online Hit Song Highlights the Diaspora State of Mind

By Filip Stojanovski

In April, the biggest internet-related music sensation for the people from former Yugoslavia and especially the related diaspora has been the song “Kuća, poso” (Eng. “Home, work”) by the “star of Canada and America” Ekrem Jevrić Gospoda, originally from the Plav-Gusinje region of Montenegro.

Here I live in the City of New York
I live and work, but only work

Home, work
Home, work
Work, home
This is what I know
I know nothing
And where can I know

Oh New York, may darkness kill you
Because you let a woman rule
You contain a whole lotta dogs
A whole lotta concrete
And battalions of women march the streets

But New York become a city of light
Get rid of all the women that work
They lost the children, the greatest treasure
Hey New York, you great city

The official version of the video reached over 1.8 million views on YouTube within a month of its release, with a total of over 2.3 million views together with various duplicate versions and remixes.

In comparison, the official video for the global hit single about New York City, “Empire state of mind”, by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys, has generated 39 million views within the 6 months since its release - 7 million per month on average.

Facebook and Twitter users from all ex-Yugoslav countries, including Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia spread the link, turning the song title into a meme. The phrase in the song title is an ordinary colloquialism designating the never-ending routine of daily grind during a life devoid of meaning. Sarajevo group Zabranjeno Pušenje (”No Smoking!” in English) used it in its 1999 song “Pos'o, kuća, birtija” (Eng. “Work, home, pub”) about a gray, wasted life after a lost love.

One could object that the song has misogynist overtones, but it also expresses the existentialist angst felt by nostalgic immigrants or guest workers unaware of Camus or Socrates. During his first concert, the author says that he wrote the song to explain to his people about stuff that the Americans cannot understand.

The unique interpretation style and appearance have incited various types of reactions, from praises to insults, such as comparisons with the howling of the White Fang in a comment to the official video, to labeling him as “The Balkans Borat” in a copy of a video report [CRO] from a live concert in Queens.

There Mr. Jevrić performed as supporting act to lascivious Bosnian turbo-folk star Selma Bajrami. YouTube user MegaMotika said in a comment to this video:

The man is truly a star: not everybody can get 1.5 million views in 15 days. He became popular, and the fact that everyone laughs is another issue. The man is a showman.

This newly acquired fame has provided tangible benefits: that video also documents the receipt of a honorarium in cash. It does not contain a direct statement by the singer - allegedly, he asked for $1000 for an interview. Gospoda’s nickname means “gentry.”

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