(Note: In the 1990s, the former Yugoslavia was ripped apart in a bloody civil war. Croats, Serbs and Bosnians were at each other’s throats. Young and old, male and female – thousands were slaughtered. The editor of this site worked with several Bosnian carpenters who emigrated to the San Francisco Bay area. They all were very decent people, easy to work with, and very explicitly anti-racist. They also reported that what had happened was that the leaders of the different ethnic militias forcibly recruited young men into their ranks. If you refused to fight the “enemy” ethnic group, you would be killed by your “own” ethnic leaders. On the heels of this, Yugoslavia broke up into different capitalist countries. Now, here is the result in one of those – Bosnia.)
By Radoslav Pavlovic
Nine a.m. Sunday 28 December. As I write, high-tension developments are unfolding in the class struggle in Bosnia-Herzegovina. No-one can tell in advance how it will play out.
Ten minutes ago, 200 workers from 4 firms in Tuzla ̶ Dita, Konjuh, Aida and Livnica (detergents, timber processing and furniture-making, shoe-making and a foundry) ̶ gathering at the Croatian frontier in Orasje, decided to actually leave the country and go looking for work and a crust of bread anywhere in Europe. They don’t even know if they will be let over the border, but what they do know is that this is their last hope; they are fighting a life-and-death struggle at the highest political level. They have nothing to lose: they weren’t even able to afford cheap sweets to give their children for Christmas.
Tensions have been building up for years, and it has picked up pace since the revolt in February whose sparks ignited explosions in big towns all over the country. But none of the demands were met. What’s worse was the feeling hundreds of thousands of workers in this country had that they were being treated like less than beggars, like idiots. Over recent months, especially in recent weeks, they have knocked on every door, lobbied all the politicians, demonstrated in the street, occupied cross-roads, slept on the steps of the canton government building so that freshly-shaven cabinet ministers could meet them to
The thousands of workers who used to be employed at these factories are today down to a few hundred. The factories are publicly-owned but condemned to death by the public authorities on behalf of private business-people who are mostly Mafiosi. The Bosnian state, which came out of the Dayton agreement with three heads of state, two entities and nine cantons simply does not have a clue what to do with its working class. This
ramshackle entity, run under the eye of a European satrap, would make many a former colony blush. Year after year, factory after factory, the economy has been left to rot, industrial plant has gone to rack and ruin and corruption has flourished at every level. The international market has left Bosnia-Herzegovina by the wayside like a bunch of beggars unable or unwilling to work for Bangladeshi wages ̶ $35 a month ̶ when you need 200 euros a month to survive in Bosnia. The only ones who get anything in Bosnia are the leading officials, all hand-in-glove, whether nationalist or social-democrat, and a state-of-the-art riot squad with all the latest gear.
From time to time over recent years the canton government has made one-off special payments to the forced unemployed. Then they promised 400KM (convertible marks) or 200 euros, equal to a month’s salary, for the end of the year, but they changed their minds. Apparently they had no legal basis for the offer, there was no credit line available, etc. Then, faced with a determined response from workers, they started to bargain, offering 120KM one day, then 180 KM the next, then 220KM (drawn from the Red Cross) and coupons for the rest of the 400KM.
That did it! Two hundred workers decided to get up and leave their country, “leave Bosnia to the hooligans” and go anywhere else in Europe. They walked the 75km from Tuzla to Orasje in three days, in good order and determined, for all the leg-cramps and blisters. Determination grew as country people, young people, townsfolk came out as they passed and offered them everything they could. A wind of general solidarity breathed on the highroad. Even the cops who came with them to control the traffic felt like part of the march. Medical personnel, all kinds of benevolent associations, former combatants, they all gave without hesitation, while at the government building in Tuzla, all was total paralysis and confusion. The whole town was ready to explode if the slightest thing went wrong for the marchers. With mobile phones, communications are immediate and total. The other night, the canton government (who are still in place, although they have actually resigned?!) intervened to beg the marchers to stop. But their hands were empty, since without authorisation from the canton parliament they could not offer anything. People got even more angry: “They really do take us for idiots!”
Only minutes ago they were thanking a head teacher who had loaned them his school for the night and set out for the Save river. Before they went, one of them threatened to throw themselves into the icy waters of the Sava, which flooded a third of the country last spring, unless they were allowed to leave the country. Bosnian and Croatian police chiefs have said in advance they will only let people with passports through, but only 23 of the 200 have one. What will they do? They have declared a hunger strike under the starry Bosnian flag that marks the border of the fleur-de-lys State. Support from a Croatian trade union at Osijek, a town 60km away, raises hopes that comrades in Croatia, where everybody has been talking about a Workers Front for the last two weeks, will make a symbolic gesture of support, a symbolism beyond price at so tense a moment. The coming hours will cast a long shadow in future over the class struggle of Tuzla workers. Either the government will give way all along the line, or it will set the whole town alight! There is no room left for half-measures on either side. 200 euros will see people through one month. A victory or a defeat for workers will last years.
To end with, this is what Hasan UZICANIN, a trade union leader at “Aida”, said ten minutes ago:
“We don’t know what is going to happen from one minute to the next. We don’t know what to expect. The spokesperson for the Osijek trade unions (in Croatia) have declared total support. I don’t know if they can help us to get over the border. They’ve trailed us around shamelessly, we want to leave this country because you can’t live here. I’m 53 years old and my 18 years’ service at the company means nothing to any of them. I’ve got nothing to live off, although I’m employed at a state-owned business.”
28 December 2014
PS: It’s now 10.30am. Bosnian police are preventing them from crossing the border and threatening them. One woman worker is ill and has been taken away in an ambulance. It is snowing hard. Hasan says: “Either they let us all through, or no-one will get through!”