Are we there yet?

By Jarrett Blaustein

A street graffiti in Zagreb

Imaš Kunu?

With unemployment figures close to 20% and the foreign debt approaching nearly 100% of Croatia’s GDP, even street art is feeling the effects of the recent economic crisis. In Zagreb's Upper Town, one encounters a saddened creature asking ‘Do you have a kuna to spare?' Considering the recent EU bailouts of Greece and Ireland and a pending application from Portugal, there are valid concerns that Croatia's projected accession to the EU in 2013 may add further strain to the EU debt crisis.

A nationalist protest in Zagreb

Ne u EU!

The economic crisis in Croatia has also been capitalized on by a number of right wing groups opposed to the prospect of EU accession. Their nationalist claims are grounded in a belief that membership in this supranational body would compromise the country's independent status gained only 20 years ago. While the rhetoric of nationalism has drawn support from the conservative groups, including veterans from the war between 1991-1995, it must be noted that widespread dissaffection has also found a voice within a growing leftist movement that is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and for profound changes to Croatia's political and social systems.

A protest in Zagreb

Business as Usual?

On 26 February 2011 nearly 15,000 protestors descended on the main square in Croatia's capital Zagreb as part of a veterans rally. The protest quickly turned violent as the event was infiltrated by a contingent of local football hooligans known as the 'Bad Blue Boys'. For better or worse, the city's riot police had been strategically deployed in the Upper Town prior to the event and managed to contain the situation with relatively limited damage to persons and property.

A protest in Sarajevo

Necemo vise trpiti ova sranja!

The following weekend, 5,000 protestors took to the streets to show their support for former Bosnian General Jovan Divjak who days earlier was arrested by Austrian authorities on a Serb-issued Interpol warrant for his alleged role in the Dobrovoljacka Street clash in 1992 between loosly organised groups loyal to the Bosnian government and retreating formations of the defunct Yugoslav federal army.

A protest in Sarajevo

Whay not Mladić!?

Supporters of Divjak were impassioned during the protests. General Divjak, himself an ethnic Serb, is viewed as a hero by many Bosnians and especially Sarajevans for his role in defending the city during the siege and for promoting unity amongst all Bosnian groups. His arrest was considered to be both unjust and politically motivated. Protesters attempted to highlight what they perceived as the insulting nature of this warrant by citing the Serbian government's alleged role in protecting Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladić, who was indicted by a UN War Crimes Tribunal for charges of genocide.

A protest in Sarajevo

The Usurpers

Supporters of the former Bosnian army member Zulfikar Alispago attempted to upstage the protest in support of Jovan Divjak. Alispago, often referred to as 'Zuka' was arrested in 2010 for his role in overseeing the slaughter of Croatian civilians in Trusina on 13 April 1993. During the protest, a scuffle broke out between Zuka supporters and Divjak supporters who did not want to have this event associated with an individual widely regarded to be a war criminal.

Marko Vešović - Sarajevo's Poet

Sarajevo's Poet

Among the protesters was Marko Vešović, a Bosnian poet originally from Montenegro and a local literary icon who was once a close acquaintance of the now infamous Radovan Karadžić in the 1960s-1970s. Vešović remained in Sarajevo during the war and provided some of the most powerful literary testimonies on life and survival in the city under siege.

Except from 'A Deathless Moment' (translated by Omer Selimović):

'A sniper is shooting on a street crossing.
Two girls, breathless from running. [...]
They left, leaving in me the tendernes
that comes over you when you look long at the skies
swarming with snowflakes. They went, chattering-not two girls
but two breezes, blowing suddenly through scorching heat of the siege.
Through the dogs days of existence.'

A villager in Bosnia-Herzegovina

Moving on Now

While the legacy of ethno-national conflict remains visible throughout the Balkans, one should recognize another source of social division that is becoming increasingly significant in the region as countries like Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia work towards EU accession: the contrast between urban and rural lifestyles. Whereas urban communities are increasingly looking to Europe as a dominant source of cultural identity, many rural communities by comparison remain economically, socially and in some cases even physically underdeveloped. While this social contrast is not in itself unique to the Balkans, it is important to consider the future implications of this contrast should this gap continue to widen.

An abandoned bog in the street

A Question of National Security

Improved security governance remains a top priority for aspiring EU countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina. With international development organizations almost entirely reliant on EU funding, their need to align their capacity building projects with prescribed objectives such as combating organized crime and terrorism raises important concerns about the democratic character of this accession process. This is particularly evident from the fact that, according to polls, the greatest threat to public security for many Bosnians remains the presence of stray dogs in their communities, a crisis that is unlikely to compel substantial investment from Brussels. The irony of this specific example is that lacking EU funds, local government officials will struggle to deal with this problem successfully as recently introduced, EU-inspired animal welfare legislation requires of them to deal with stray animals ‘humanely’. On the other hand, many Bosnian citizens feel that “the dogs days of existence” continue long after the end of a brutal war.

A Roma child looking at protesters

Human Security for Some

Both BiH and Serbia have seen a significant rise in their Roma populations over the past ten years with both governments attracting criticism for their treatment of these populations. Recently, for example, Serbia's government has attracted criticism from Amnesty International for a series of forced evictions of the Roma population in Belgrade. In BiH, officials have also failed to address the social needs of this population effectively. A lack of regional cooperation on this issue combined with a growing belief that these communities are ‘ungovernable’ has left many Roma women and children particularly vulnerable to various forms of abuse and exploitation. One important question, which might ultimately determine the fate of the Roma in the Balkans, is whether this attitude of indifference is actually modelled on 'European' thinking and practices rather than historic 'local' sensibilities.

A street graffiti in Zagreb
A nationalist protest in Zagreb
A protest in Zagreb
A protest in Sarajevo
A protest in Sarajevo
A protest in Sarajevo
Marko Vešović - Sarajevo's Poet
A villager in Bosnia-Herzegovina
An abandoned bog in the street
A Roma child looking at protesters
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