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Monday, February 10, 2014

Bosnians Share Images of Fresh Protests

As my colleague Alison Smale reports from Sarajevo, antigovernment protesters returned to the streets in Bosnia on Monday, driven by anger at a dysfunctional political system’s inability to address an economic crisis.

Just as they did last week, Bosnians shared firsthand accounts and images of the protests on social networks as they unfolded.

Supporters of the protest movement also pushed back against attempts to discredit the demonstrations, arguing that police brutality had inflamed passions last week before government offices were sacked. The Belgrade-based Bosnian blogger Vladan Đukanović pointed to one video clip posted on YouTube, said to show that the chaos in Sarajevo on Friday began only after the police had pushed peaceful protesters down the bank of the river that runs through the city.

Video said to show Bosnian protesters being forced over an embankment in Sarajevo on Friday.

Angered by the police response, over the weekend protesters demanded the release of demonstrators who had been detained and even encouraged officers to take their side.

Video of one tearful young woman, urging the police to stand with the protesters on Sunday in Sarajevo, was quickly viewed more than 20,000 times on YouTube.

A young woman pleaded with police officers to join the protesters in Sarajevo on Sunday.

One Sarajevan graduate photographed by Marin Versic, an Al Jazeera producer, demonstrated the frustration many educated young people feel at the lack of economic opportunity by standing with his diploma in a box on the street on Monday, collecting money for a second degree, calling the first one useless.

A Bosnian blogger living in Britain added English subtitles to viral video of a senior citizen whose televised rant against the politicians seemed to capture the mood of many supporters of the antigovernment protests.

Video of a Bosnian man venting his anger at the political class that has ruled the country for two decades since the Dayton Accords ended the war but cemented an unwieldy political system that divides the country along ethnic lines.

Outside the capital, the demonstrations, partly organized online, reportedly spread from cities to smaller towns across the Muslim-Croat federation that makes up about half the country.

Although the protests were concentrated in areas of the country under Muslim and Croat control, the demonstrators again waved banners with slogans denouncing the ethnic nationalist politics that divided Bosnia into three parts when the Dayton Accords were signed, ending the brutal civil war in 1995.

As Dobrila Govedarica of the Open Society explained, the wave of protests was ignited last week in Tuzla, Bosnia’s second largest city, once the industrial powerhouse of the former Yugoslavia, where “some 10,000 unemployed workers took to the streets to demand that the local government investigate privatizations they said had lined the pockets of profiteers and destroyed their livelihoods and the companies themselves.”

Among the troubled firms was the Konjuh furniture factory. This once proud company in many ways tells the story of Bosnia-Herzegovinaâ€"and Yugoslavia, the former communist federation of six republics.

Founded in 1885 by enterprising businessmen from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the company thrived. Under Tito, the company employed 5,300 employees and sold high-quality wood furnishings to customers on five continents. By December 2013, the company employed just 400 workers, some of whom were on hunger strike.

Demonstrators who planned to take to the streets in Republika Srpska, the part of the country still under Bosnian Serb rule, reportedly faced intimidation and even counter-demonstrations.

Srećko Šekeljić, a founder of The Balkanist magazine, reported from a small solidarity protest in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, where demonstrators expressing support for their neighbors across the ethnic divide, were heckled by nationalists.