Since June 5th, the protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina demanding lawmakers to pass the law on personal identification numbers has grown in size and spread to other cities. If you are familiar with the political situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, you are probably thinking “it’s about time.”
These are arguably the first real protests demanding politicians to end ethnic bickering. The protests began after a mother of a three month old girl by the name Belma Ibrisevic was denied an identification number for her daughter who needs immediate surgery in Germany. Without an identification number, an individual cannot get a passport, or access any services and as of January of this year all babies born in Bosnia have not received a personal identification number (in Bosnian it’s known as Jednistveni Magistarski Broj Gradjana JMBG).
In May 2011, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia rejected the law on citizens’ identification numbers which used names of municipalities in ID numbers issues in Republika Srpska (RS). The Constitutional Court maintained that a law based on inaccurate place names could not be upheld. In January 2013, the parliament missed the deadline to amend the law. The reason the deadline was missed: delegates from the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH) want to keep the old registration areas, which crossed entity lines, only changing the now-outdated municipal names, whereas delegates from Republika Srpska (RS) want to issue IDs based on entity boundaries.
Although the JMBG protest began out of frustration for the political deadlock in regards to this law, it has taken on a deeper meaning. People from all three ethnic groups are enraged by the ongoing ethnic bickering and they want the politicians to do their jobs. Bosnian citizens have realized that these governing elites are continually playing the ethnic card for their own political gains while citizens are left with the repercussions.
Some politicians have even used these protests as an opportunity to promote nationalist propaganda. One example of nationalist propaganda came from an RS politician, Aleksandra Pandurevic, who is ironically responsible for issues on children’s rights. She insists the protests were manifested by Bosniak led political parties against Serbs and the Republika Srpska entity. She and many other RS politicians believe this because the protesters favor FBiH’s proposal. During an interview on Radio-Television Republika Srpska (RTRS) she claimed that these were all Bosniak protesters aiming to lynch Serb politicians and that no support would come from citizens of Banja Luka or any other RS city.
Interestingly enough, people in Bosnia are not as stupid as she thinks and protesters from around the country have come to Sarajevo to participate in the protests. Furthermore, a petition has been drafted asking Pandurevic to resign because she is using her political position to spread hate, lies, intolerance and nationalist rhetoric.
Organizing and participating in protests in Bosnia is no easy task because most politicians don’t have any respect for human rights or their citizens. But if Belma has taught us anything, it’s that citizens have the power to influence the government. Soon after the protests began, Belma was issued a personal identification number and received a passport. Today she is headed for Germany.
Unfortunately, this was only a temporary solution that solved Belma’s problem. There are thousands of babies and newborns who have not received their own ID numbers. More importantly, people want change in all aspects of the society and as long as protesters maintain the momentum, government elites will either have to begin to do their jobs or resign. As for us, living outside of Bosnia, all we can do is show our support.