The intensifying social uprising in the Balkans is one of the cracks appearing in the global system of capitalism. A few years ago, a new phase of conflict between the workers and the ruling class – massive rebellions, protests and general strikes - began in Greece. The working class of Slovenia was next to take to the streets. They were followed by the people of Turkey, with protests a million strong. Next, the protests of workers in Bulgaria and Romania threatened the systems in those states. More recently, an uprising has exploded in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the area of the Balkans where the cracks in the system and its rottenness are most apparent.
The current Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH) – the site of the bloodiest chapter in the dissolution of Yugoslavia – is a monstrous colonial creation, lumped together in a way to best serve the interests of the imperialist forces and nationalist criminals on the ground. Such a state was created in order to serve the interests of the rich, and the only thing it has guaranteed the people has been continuing devastation – the firing of workers, of all nationalities, and the theft of their assets. For years they have been blinded by the nationalism fed them by the imperialists, the capitalists, the clerics of all creeds, the tycoons, their media and their minions. It is hardly surprising that these long, dark decades of repression have produced this uniquely fierce response. Now there is no question that the working classes of BH once more understand who the real enemy is.
Peaceful protests against unemployment and poverty caused by ongoing marauding privatization broke out spontaneously on February 4th. One of the largest industrial centers of the former Yugoslavia, the city of Tuzla, has been undergoing a process of violent privatization for the last decade and the demands of the protestors were of a purely social character. The protests grew and spread quickly, and thanks to the brutality of the police and the arrogant indifference of the Government, turned into open, physical confrontation with the current system and those who seek to uphold it. The workers – who feel tricked and robbed – and the young people who face a bleak future if this process continues unchallenged, have now risen up in more than 20 cities. They have confronted the police, set fire to and burnt down various Government administration buildings (symbols of their misery) and even temporarily kidnapped the mayor of Brčko. Their actions have succeeded in bringing the system to its knees, in a very short space of time, and prompted the threatened intervention of outsiders. Valentin Inzko, Austrian diplomat/ colonial master (he holds the position of “EU Special Representative” to BH) has publicly suggested using NATO to get the country back to business, i.e. functioning capitalism.
These protests have evolved organically, and in some cities have led to the creation of City Assemblies (‘Plenums’), self-managed structures for direct democracy and decision-making. Such is the level of interest in these Assemblies that none of the public buildings are large enough to host them, demonstrating the democratic character and libertarian reach of these protests.
The bourgeois media has done its best to help the bosses, reporting fabricated stories, and falsifying ‘facts’, with the intention of discrediting the protestors and justifying the brutal repression that has been unleashed on them since the first days of protest. One notable example of such a flagrant lie is the supposed arming of the protestors with the intention of launching an attack on Republika Srpska, the other political entity within BiH, which is partly independent from the main Federation of BH. Many of the protestors have been beaten up or threatened with violence; hundreds have been arrested. It seems that the original arrestees are now out, due to ongoing pressure from those on the outside, and solidarity demos calling for their release. However, the police continue to make fresh arrests, of those who are still active in the streets, and the State has put all its power into attempts to crush the rebellion.
The region’s politicians are in a panic. The Prime Minister of Croatia has visited the city of Mostar (Mostar is in BH, but has a large Croatian population), one of the places where the protests first spread. Milorad Dodik (the President of the Republika Srpska) has set up an urgent meeting with Vučić (the de facto Prime Minister of Serbia). The same messages come from all their lips: they say that there is no danger of such protests kicking off in their own states, but if they do, they will be crushed, and that it’s best to hush any news of what is happening elsewhere. Their fears are palpable, and tell us just how scared they are, just how vulnerable they are and just how fragile their hold on power.
Over the past few months, BH has been mentioned most frequently by those discussing the forthcoming centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Often, these commentators have some kind of nationalistic and/or imperialist perspective. The working classes of modern Bosnia have succeeded in putting their own stamp on these discussions, and found a new way of commemorating the anniversary of the assassination of Bosnia’s feudal ruler, Franz Ferdinand. Rather than with acts of individual terror, they have responded en masse to the repression faced nowadays, in a way that the ‘Young Bosnians’* could only have dreamt of a century ago.
Now that the first wave of protests has died down, it is apparent the rebellious masses’ hopes and dreams are not being articulated as much as they might have been if there was some existing organisational and movement infrastructure. Assemblies are a good first step. They will necessarily be poisoned by remnants of the ex-ideologies, propositions towards utopian solutions, such as "honest politicians", "experts" etc, However, those small aberrations in class consciousness should not demoralise us - out of these assemblies it is possible to create a movement which will transfer the principles of direct democracy and direct action to all segments of society. They could help the movement succeed in its goal of transferring decision-making power to the masses, and thereby laying the foundations of a better – and freer – society. Ideally, the workers will have more say about all aspects of their lives, with Assemblies in all industries and types of workplace, starting with those which provide and maintain essential infrastructure, e.g. electricity, water, telecommunications etc. One of the first tasks of today’s Bosnian revolutionaries is to create the kind of organizations needed, to seize control from the current rulers, and to organise – in a disciplined and well-planned way – against the repressive forces of the state.
This is a call-out! To the working classes of Serbia, and the rest of the Balkans, to follow the path illuminated for us by the workers of BH. If we want to create a classless, stateless, directly-democratic, genuinely self-managed society in the future, we need to build our movements now. If we use the time available to us now, we could build a movement of the Balkan working class, against nationalism, against imperialism, and for the future that we all have an interest in sharing, with collective ownership and freedom for all.
General Secretariat - Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative
Serbian Section of the International Workers' Association
* Young Bosnia was anarchist inspired group of Yugoslav anti-imperialists.
Since this statement was first published, demonstrations have continued in BH. There have been attempts to storm the Government building in Montenegro. There have been clashes in Macedonia between the police and people inspired by the events in BH. There have been demonstrations of solidarity with the Bosnian workers in both Belgrade and Zagreb.