Last year, the Economist ranked Bosnia and Herzegovina among the most likely countries to experience social unrest in the 2014. At the time, no one took such predictions seriously. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before the Southern European country, ranked 101st in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, erupted in violence.
It started in Tuzla Canton. As the most populated canton in the country with the highest level of unemployment, after four formerly state-owned companies went bankrupt, it is no surprise that the social revolution ignited in this northeastern corner of the country. Thanks to Bosnia’s slow judicial system, former workers from the companies are still waiting for months of unpaid wages. As a result, Bosnians have taken to the streets to blame the cantonal government and courts for such injustice.
Under orders from the prime minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the cantonal government have heavily cracked down on protesters over the past week as a result. Police patrolled the streets, targeting businesses and citizens alike.
The government’s aim was not to bring order, but rather to collect the money desperately needed to fill the Tuzla’s budget. The canton has had to rely heavily on borrowing since the beginning of the fiscal year, so the government finally resorted to stealing from the pockets of workers, entrepreneurs and ordinary citizens. Inspectors closed small- and medium-sized businesses, and police charged several dozen euro fine for illegally crossing the street to satisfy the budget’s appetite. The canton government has even made some ridiculous proposals to institute a tax on solar energy and require taxi drivers drive the same color cab (in a country where taxi drivers use their own cars for work). Both proposals have since stalled, but they demonstrate nonetheless that something stinks at the top of the cantonal government.
These events have culminated in protests by thousands of citizens before the courts in Tuzla and finally the government headquarters of the canton. Bosnian citizens knew the right address for their demonstrations. Soon the Orwellian police forces began violating the rights of citizens without regard, only to protect the huge state apparatus. Fortunately, their thuggery only strengthened the protests. Finally, the police gave up and dropped their weapons. After three days, the Prime minister of Canton resigned, and the same is expected for other ministers.
This is a major step in the right direction for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The uprising showed that the cause of protecting the common man’s rights is alive and well. As with the Arab Spring, the demonstrations started from state repression against citizens, businessmen and workers. Now we hope for a long-awaited reforms aimed at strengthening the common man versus the state apparatus. This can only be achieved through the ideas of freedom, which Tuzla has readily embraced.
Admir Čavalić is a Young Voices Advocate from Tuzla, Bosnia. Admir currently works as a project coordinator for the NGO Multi and as an assistant professor at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Tuzla. Admir frequently comments on the economic situation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and has made a documentary called Economy.