Why the Protesters in Bosnia-Herzegovina are not Hooligans?

An army of impoverished workers gathered in front of the regional government building of the Tuzla district. They demanded their salaries and pensions; basically everything that the state and the new company owners still owed them.
The unrest has now become the biggest outburst of discontent with the privatisation process ever seen in the country; a plague which has spread throughout every republic of former Yugoslavia. The protestors seized the local government building. The Special Forces were called into action. Only a day after it started, the number of demonstrators had risen to 6,000. People had become angry about police violence and the fact that one informal leader of the protest, Aldin Širanović, has been arrested and was being detained in custody. The wave of protest has now spread to other cities across the whole country.
The Markale massacres (there were two attacks on the marketplace: one on 5 February 1994 and a second on 28 August 1995), together with the Srebrenica massacre, are a symbol of the tragedy of the war in Bosnia. Tuzla, along with the industrial mining town of Zenica, is a symbol of the economic destruction of the country. The war and the foul-play of transition are connected on many different levels. And this is not a peculiarity of Bosnia & Herzegovina, but an all too familiar story across the whole region.
In the face of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the urgent need to transform the planned economies of Socialism to the economy of the Free Market, the political elite of ex-Yugoslavia found a way to convert the growing social dissatisfaction of the late eighties and early nineties into ethnic hatred. In order to achieve that, they swapped class rhetoric for ethno-nationalism. The years that followed saw an unchecked spread of fascism in society as an ideological groundwork for the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Walter Benjamin’s maxim proved to be correct: the rise of fascism bears witness to a failed revolution.
The collapse of Yugoslavia was triggered by the nationalist (former communist) elites, from which the future ‘winners of transition’ were to emerge, led by local tycoons. They succeeded precisely because the pre-war protest of workers and unions did not succeed, and so the class conflict was masked by ethnic wars, and the workers magically disappeared, to be replaced by Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks, Montenegrins, etc. War and transition in former Yugoslavia are inseparable parts of one and the same process, the military aspect of which is being arbitered by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, while the transition-related part is firmly under the aegis of the European Bank, the IMF and the European Union. Transition began when the first fighting broke out, and it was still going strong when the wars in Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo ended. It transformed itself into a fourth Yugoslav war, which, although undeclared, was no more humane than the others: a total war against the poor.
The unrest in Tuzla is therefore important: the way in which the ethno-elite play with ‘their own people’ and claim to be defending them against another ethic group in return for absolute power over that society’s wealth must be put into question. Instead of endless arguing about national identity, religion and linguistic differences, the people are now asking the real question: where is our money? The protagonists of the Tuzla protests do not belong to any ethnic identity, but are simply angry workers.
Let us hope that the situation in Tuzla is an indication of a post-Yugoslavian reality, one which no longer pleases the regional political elite. No wonder that regional corporate media tried to spin their own story, and hoped to draw parallels with the 2011 riots in London, by claiming that on 7 February the protestors resorted to common theft by breaking into local shops. The denials were immediate: the Tuzla protesters are not hooligans but citizens determined to take back what is theirs.