Bosnia’s ethnic rivals join forces in protests

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — 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. Now, the anti-government demonstrations appear to be transcending ethnic boundaries and creating a sense of harmony rarely seen in a country where hatreds have endured since the end of a bloody war in the 1990s.

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.

An old law lapsed in February, leaving all babies born in the country since then without personal documents. The government offered to issue temporary ID numbers until a new law is passed, but the protesters are demanding a final law be approved immediately.

The demonstrations began June 5 when angry young parents besieged parliament. The following day, thousands of protesters formed a human ring around parliament, trapping inside 1,500 lawmakers, civil servants and others. In the pre-dawn hours of Friday, special forces formed their own human cordon, freeing those inside the building. Bosnian Serb lawmakers returned to the Serb part of the country and said they will not come back because Sarajevo wasn’t safe for Serbs.

Bosniak and Croat lawmakers are rejecting the demand of their Serb colleagues who want people from the Bosnian Serb part of the country to have different ID numbers than people from the rest of the country. They believe the Serb request is an attempt to further divide the country that is already split down ethnic lines into a Serb part — Republika Srpska — and another shared by Bosniaks and Croats since the 1992-95 war.

Most of the problems Bosnia has are a result of the conflict between those two concepts — ethnic division and unity.

But Bosnia’s youth connected over Facebook and called for people not to fall for the politicians’ “lies” and “threats.”

Milenko Kindl, 43, arrived with his friends from Banja Luka, the capital of Republika Srpska, to support the protests in Sarajevo.

“We came to raise our voice against any national or religious divisions and to show that certain politicians from Republika Srpska are lying when they say that Sarajevo is not safe for Serbs,” he said. “We were welcomed here like brothers.”

The initial protest last week was sparked by media reports about a 3-month-old baby that needs life-saving medical treatment abroad, but couldn’t travel because the infant couldn’t get a passport until the government started issuing temporary numbers Wednesday.

Every day, the number of people expressing their overall dissatisfaction with the government has grown. Now, they want lawmakers to decrease their salaries by 30 percent, with the saved funds going into a fund for sick children. They want a better education, jobs and an end to the ethnic quarrel.

Post-war, ethnically-divided Bosnia is one of the world’s most over-governed countries and therefore one of the most expensive ones. It consists of two semi-autonomous mini-states, each with a president, government and parliament. Those are linked by a joint parliament, government and a three-member presidency.

The unemployment rate is more than 20 percent and the country is far behind its neighbors on the path toward EU membership.

Bosnian Serb officials often obstruct the work of the joint state institution just to prove that a unified Bosnia is not possible. But there is no love left for lawmakers in the part of the country run by Bosniaks and Croats either.

“They don’t do anything all day and their phone bills are higher than the average Bosnian salary. And we pay those bills too,” one girl screamed into a microphone on Tuesday. A symphony of whistling, cursing and booing followed. Cabdrivers blocked the street in front of the parliament and honked in support.

In other cities in Bosnia, more people gathered to support the demonstrations in Sarajevo, sending photos of their written messages of support or just little hearts to each other on Facebook.

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