26 February 2014
As authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) start to take action on the demands made by citizens earlier this month, protesters remain on the streets seeking a better economic future.
The protests began February 7th in Tuzla. Demonstrators' demands include transparent government spending, an audit of privatisations and the suspension of government commission payments.
BiH spends more than 4 billion euros annually on government salaries, while the unemployment rate remains at more than 40 percent. The average salary in BiH is about 400 euros a month, but the incomes of political officials are several times higher.
In December, the Federation of BiH Tax Agency released the 100 highest incomes in the entity's public service sector. The report showed that some officials, such as the director of the state pharmaceutical company Bosnalijek, receive salaries more than 40 times the average.
One of the first demands officials addressed was the abolishment of the so-called "white bread," a privilege that allows politicians to take salaries up to a year after their mandates have ended.
The Unsko Sanski Cantonal Assembly accepted the protesters' demands on Monday (February 24th), and agreed to form a special work committee to supervise the fulfilment of these issues.
The committee will be composed of citizens and local assembly representatives.
Hussein Rosic, chairman of the cantonal assembly's legislative committee, negotiated with citizen representatives and said authorities will start resolving the demands immediately.
"I think the politicians got the message. The protests are completely justified, as dissatisfaction simply culminated. I think this is a good message to all of us who deal with politics that we need to hear the voice of the citizens in the future. Nobody supports violence, but the peaceful protests and demands are fully justified," Rosic told SETimes.
The Sarajevo Cantonal Assembly also accepted some of the citizens' demands. The canton will form a government made up of experts, will revamp the salaries and benefits for those in executive and legislative power and will revise the privatisation process.
The protesters have also established plenums and citizens' groups that hold meetings every day.
"The protesters who organised themselves into plenums demonstrate that they know what they want and what they do not want. This could be the basis for changing the political discourse in the country, because the citizens have shown that the politicians need to look at them as an institution rather than a simple voting machinery. It is a long process, but it is important that it is started," Enver Kazaz, a professor of politics at the University of Sarajevo, told SETimes.
Munib Abazovic, a student of political sciences in Sarajevo, said citizens managed to force authorities to do their job through legal and democratic pressure.
"Peaceful protests have become the continuity, and the first results are visible. The fact that the authorities have started to do their job should give the citizens additional strength to persevere with the other requirements. This is proof that the peaceful and democratic means can achieve change," Abazovic told SETimes.