SARAJEVO - Bosnia braced Saturday for fresh protests amid warnings the country could face a “tsunami” of popular anger over its dire economy after days of riots left several hundred people injured. The acrid smell of smoke hung over the capital Sarajevo where firemen spent the night dousing flames after protesters set fire to government buildings in scenes repeated in cities throughout the country.
The protests are the Balkan country’s worst unrest since the 1992-1995 war and reflect growing despair over the state of the economy in a nation where unemployment stands at 44 percent and where one in five lives below the poverty line.
Police have used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters, leaving around 300 people injured since the demonstrations erupted on Wednesday.
“This is a state of war,” warned the front page of the Oslobodjenje daily.
Bosnia’s interior minister warned that government inaction could spark more popular anger, saying authorities had to launch an “anti-graft tsunami.” “If this does not happen, we will have a ‘citizens’ tsunami’,” Fahrudin Radoncic said in a TV interview late on Friday. The protesters are demanding the resignation of local and regional officials, whom they blame for two decades of political stalemate that has left the economy in dire straits.
Several senior officials in regional administrations in the southern town of Tuzla and the central town of Zenica resigned late on Friday under the pressure, local media reported.
“This is so sad, to see the towns ablaze less than 20 years after living through another hell,” Jasminka Fisic, an unemployed resident of Sarajevo told AFP, referring to the country’s bloody 1992-1995 inter-ethnic war that left 100,000 dead. “People are entitled to act and say what they think, but not to demolish towns,” she said.
- The anger of the hungry -
The protests first erupted in Tuzla, once the biggest industrial hub in Bosnia, where dozens of companies employing thousands of people were ruined after hasty privatisation. Anger has also been fuelled by widespread corruption plaguing the country and the failure by politicians to overcome bickering and focus on the economy. “Citizens’ discontent is a consequence of misery and anger accumulated for twenty years,” analyst Minel Abaz said.
“The anger of the hungry, the poor, the unemployed, the oppressed that has grown over two decades, exploded in the streets,” said the editorial in the daily Dnevni Avaz.
Abaz said the painful post-war transition of Bosnia’s impoverished economy has only brought “wealth to the ruling elite.”
“Bosnian society is deeply divided... but the protests like this could be a good chance to overcome such inter-ethnic divisions,” Abaz said.
Beset by endemic government corruption, Bosnia is among the poorest countries in Europe, with an average monthly salary of 420 euros ($570).
Adding to Bosnia’s financial woes, the European Union said in December it would halve its financial aid over the nation’s lack of progress with reforms needed to join the bloc.
Trailing behind their Balkan neighbours, Bosnia only started high-level accession talks with the EU in mid-2012.
But a complex institutional structure in the country established after the end of the war — dividing power between its three ethnic communities, Serbs, Croats and Muslims — has led to an almost permanent political stalemate because of inter-ethnic disputes.
The protests have so far engulfed towns in Bosnia’s Muslim-Croat Federation.
But small-level protests without incidents were also held on Friday in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska.