Serbian actor Sergej Trifunovic on Tuesday published a picture of himself on Facebook holding up a small banner with the acronym JMBG. The letters are an abbreviation of the phrase Unique Main Number For Citizens (Jedinstveni Maticni Broj Gradanina) – the slogan of the Sarajevo protesters. His colleague Nikola Kojo followed suit, thereby lending support to street protests over the Bosnian state parliament’s failure to adopt a new law on personal numbers.
Thousands of Bosnians protested in front of parliament last weekend to mourn a three-month-old baby who died after failing to get surgery because a parliamentary wrangle prevented her getting a passport, Reuters reports:
Berina Hamidovic was the first victim of politicking over identity numbers, which has united Bosnians in protests against the institutional paralysis that has blocked post-conflict reforms and the country’s path towards the European Union. …. The baby’s parents said the time they had wasted persuading Serbian border police to let her in without a passport to go to a hospital in Belgrade for surgery had cost her her chance of life.
“Bosnia’s ‘baby revolution’ began last week as a small protest of parents pushing strollers to parliament to demand a new law be passed so their newborns could get national identity numbers, needed to acquire passports and other documents,” Associated Press reports:
About 10,000 Bosnians from the country’s three main ethnicities, Serbs, Bosniaks and Croats, came to Sarajevo from across the country to join forces in what is now being called the “Babylution.” “We want changes” and “This is the beginning of your end,” protesters wrote on their banners. Social networks like Facebook have been instrumental in bringing together the disparate groups.
Ivana Cvetkovic Bajrovic, the National Endowment for Democracy’s senior program officer for Central & Eastern Europe discussed social media and Bosnia’s “Baby revolution” on Al Jazeera’s The Stream yesterday (above).
“People from all regions and all ethnic groups have joined together for the first time in 20 years to fight for their children,” said Fedja Stukan (right), one of the movement’s organizers, and an actor known for his starring role in Angelina Jolie’s 2011 film “Land of Blood and Honey.”
The “Baby-lution” was just one manifestation of Bosnians’ frustration, he said.
“There is too much corruption in our political system,” he told FRANCE 24. “That corruption is keeping the majority of Bosnians in poverty. The people have woken up to the fact that they have to fight for their rights, and that no one else is going to do it for them.”
Identities, not entities
“It was a decidedly Balkan revolt and a rare explosion of people power in one of Europe’s poorest and most ethnically divided countries,’ writes The New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky:
Some of the protesters held up a sign saying, “We don’t want entities, we want identities” — a reference to the byzantine bureaucratic system in Bosnia that has magnified ethnic enmities, entrenched political deadlock and impeded the country’s progress toward joining the European Union.
At the root of the crisis is the failure of lawmakers to agree on a new law on how to determine the 13-digit identification numbers assigned to every citizen. The previous law lapsed in February, leaving all babies born since then without the identification documents necessary to travel abroad or see a doctor.
“The struggle for basic public and common goods for all is the transparent, if not clearly articulated, progressive content of these protests,” Igor Štiks, a senior research fellow at the CITSEE project at the University of Edinburgh, writes for Open Democracy:
Starting from this fundamental feature of any political community (‘we are in this together’), citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, in a true grassroots activist manner, have created a new public and political space. They occupied it together and have understood that they cannot win – and indeed survive – without solidarity with each other. In this respect, these protests are similar to those we can see unfolding in Turkey, Slovenia, Greece or Portugal. However, to re-claim that space Bosnians and Herzegovinians have had to beat all institutional, political and social odds. By doing this they are sending a powerful and encouraging message to the world:
If you can make it there, you can make it everywhere.