Bosnia unrest puts spotlight on broken peace accord

(Reuters) – Enver Mehmedovic spends his days behind an iron gate, guarding the factory he used to work in from its owner.

Production lines that once produced ‘Dita’ detergent used in households up and down the former Yugoslavia now stand idle and Mehmedovic suspects that the tycoon from the Bosnian capital who bought the complex wants to sell off the machinery.

“That’s what happened to all the other factories after they were privatized,” said Mehmedovic, a chemical engineer.

Under socialist Yugoslavia, Tuzla in northeastern Bosnia was a hub for the metals and chemical industries. Today, the city’s industrial zone is a wasteland and home to one in five of Bosnia’s 27 percent registered unemployed.

The mismanaged transition to capitalism in the town is replicated on a smaller scale in all the former republics of Yugoslavia, which splintered two decades ago.

But Bosnia, where more than 100,000 people died in ethnic warfare between 1992-5, is different, and more dangerous.

Days of unrest that began with a protest by workers from Dita and other idled factories last week in Tuzla have blown the lid on years of simmering post-war discontent.

Rioters set fire to government buildings in some of Bosnia’s biggest cities – Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica and Mostar and several hundred people were injured, most of them police in clashes with protesters.

“We are in unchartered waters,” said Srecko Latal, head of the Sarajevo-based Social Overview Service think tank.

The grievances – unemployment, corruption and political paralysis – have their roots in the deal that ended the war, divvying up power to stop the fighting between Orthodox Serbs, Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosniaks.

The accord agreed at a U.S. air base in Dayton, Ohio, brought peace – and planted the seeds of a future crisis.

Its highly-decentralized and dysfunctional system of power-sharing has proven woefully unfit to steer Bosnia through economic transition or the process of integration with the European Union, to many their best hope of prosperity.

To ignore the grievances of the Dita workers means to risk an even bigger explosion. To address them means opening up the peace deal, and a Pandora’s Box of competing agendas and ideas of how the country should be rearranged.

“Europe will try to use this crisis as an opportunity,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. But while the violence may spur efforts to restructure the country, it also risks stirring the kind of ethnic undercurrents the protests have so far avoided.


Reuters has the full article

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