‘Baby-lution’ unites Bosnians for ‘first time in 20 years’
Fed up with political and economic stagnation, protests against the government’s inability to create a law allowing for the registration of newborn babies have united Bosnians across the political and ethnic spectrum.
In a rare show of inter-ethnic unity, thousands of Bosnians have been protesting in Sarajevo and towns across the country, angry at their government’s inability to legislate on the registration of new-born babies.
The protesters in Bosnia’s “Baby-lution”, as the movement has been dubbed, are demanding the end to an extraordinary situation that has left all children born since February without an identity number.
Not having an identity number means that these babies cannot, theoretically, access public healthcare.
More worryingly, they cannot be given travel documents, an issue that sparked the protests after a three-month-old girl was unable to go to Germany for essential medical treatment because she didn’t have a passport.
“This little girl has serious health issues that cannot be treated here in Bosnia,” 24-year-old protester Zinajda Besic told FRANCE 24. “But she can’t travel because Bosnian babies don’t have identity numbers.”
Beyond the administrative headache, the reasons behind the government’s inability to find a solution are deep-rooted.
Sabina Cehajic-Clancy, a professor at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, told FRANCE 24 the impasse is the result of bickering between lawmakers of rival ethnic groups that had ground to a halt the debate on a proposed law.
“The political leaders of the Republika Srpska [Bosnian Serb Republic, one of two political entities that constitute Bosnia and Herzegovina, the other being the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina] have demanded that the law allows them to allocate identity numbers independently,” she said. “Parliament refused to let this happen.”
The country’s constitutional court in February ordered a halt to all registrations of newborn babies until the issue was resolved.
Political and economic stagnation
The issue, however, is far from resolved, and the divisions which have hamstrung politics in Bosnia-Herzegovina since the end of the 1992-1995 war remain an open sore that are preventing any meaningful political progress.
The people, however, have had enough.
“People from all regions and all ethnic groups have joined together for the first time in 20 years to fight for their children,” said one of the movement’s organisers Fedja Stukan, an actor better known for his starring role in Angelina Jolie’s 2011 film “Land of Blood and Honey”.
Stukan explained that the “Baby-lution” was just one manifestation of Bosnians’ frustration at their country’s political and economic stagnation.
“There is too much corruption in our political system,” he told FRANCE 24. “That corruption is keeping the majority of Bosnians in poverty. The people have woken up to the fact that they have to fight for their rights, and that no one else is going to do it for them.”
Amra Daisy Huric, who has been taking part in demonstrations in the northern Bosnian town of Brčko, said she and her fellow Bosnians, of all ethnic and political stripes, were fed up with the country’s political divisions.
“There are three political wings in Bosnia – the Serbs, the Croatians and the [Muslim] Bosniacs,” said the law graduate who has been unemployed for the last three years. “Each are trying to achieve one thing only, namely to propagate inter-ethnic hatred and stay in power, instead of investing in the country and creating jobs.
“After 20 years of lies, the people have had enough. We are united, we have the same problems, and we have finally realised that we are all the same and that we have far more in common than we thought.”
After a week of protests, the Bosnian government announced it would find a temporary solution so that the three-month-old baby whose fate sparked the protests can go to Germany for treatment.
This has not mollified the protesters, who are demanding that the government pass a registration law by the end of June.
Proud of what his movement has achieved, Fedja Stukan said he believes “a new chapter in Bosnian history is being written.”
Sabina Cehajic-Clancy is more measured: “It is possible that Bosnia is moving towards a new era. These protests have united the people across ethnic boundaries, but no one can predict how far this will go.”