I returned from my Zagreb trip to scenes of protest, which started in Tuzla and have spread across the country. I left the bus a stop early and walked home past the Spanish Square, not realizing this was the site of the protests. Along the way, I passed a number of people, mostly young men who seemed angry. I was puzzled until I saw the crowds, and the whole area was blocked off. As I walked home past the government building, and police station, I saw even more people. ( I read later there were thousands out in Mostar.) I heard firecrackers, I think. Angry yelling and shouting. As I reached the bridge, I turned to see the crowd move toward the west.
On the east side, all was as usual. The usual odd characters out singing, men in betting shops, women shopping, but also a lot more people than usual were out walking. I read later that just after I left that crowd, they moved on to set fire the government building on the west side.
While such scenes are exciting, as one cannot help to share in the heightened emotions, I didn’t remain. I do think this is a situation long in the brewing. It is odd how one small action can suddenly trip a cascade of events. The causes of this frustration are based in the economy and a government that seems to people to be self-serving. The unemployment rate is close to 40%, and many people work without pay ( witness the garbage strike here). My students all spoke of their frustration of facing unemployment when they graduate. The average salary is not enough to live, and if many people don’t even have that, then how do people live. Grey market, relatives, scrounging. Some people go abroad to work and send money home. There is no social safety net here. A few soup kitchens here and there provide meals, I am told.
The danger is, I suppose, that this will burst into ethnic strife, especially here in Mostar. Or it will calm down and nothing much will happen beyond some resignations by the government. This is an election year, and many have predicted it might be one that brings major changes.
Events like these also make one redefine one’s relationship to the police, who were told to show restraint, but whose job is to maintain peace. How do you control an angry crowd, and keep them from wrecking havoc on innocents. So, many police in Tuzla were injured in tussles, as were protestors.
To me, it is sad that the only avenue left here ( and the Ukraine and other places) are these sort of protests. When the usual democratic channels of opposition don’t work, this is what you are left with, it seems.
What an end to my Fulbright experience.