CAIRO – In the worst unrest since the end of the 1992-95 war, thousands of protesters marched across Bosnian streets on Friday, February 7, setting fire to government buildings and fighting with riot police, venting anger over lack of jobs and political inertia.
“We haven’t seen violent scenes like this since the war in the 1990s,” Srecko Latal, an analyst at the Social Overview Service, a research organization based in Sarajevo, told New York Times.
“People are fed up with what has become total political chaos in Bosnia, with infighting over power, a dire economic situation and a feeling that there is little hope for the future.
“The protests are a wake-up call for the international community not to disengage from Bosnia.”
In what protesters called the Bosnian spring, thousands of angry Bosnian youth, unemployed youths, war veterans and disgruntled workers marched on Friday against the government.
Moving for the fourth consecutive day, protesters set fire to government buildings in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s capital, and across the country.
The Bosnian news media reported that hundreds had been injured during the protests, including dozens of police officers, with bursts of violence in Sarajevo.
By night, protesters had dispersed in three flashpoint towns, including the capital Sarajevo, the northern city of Tuzla, in Mostar in the south, and in Zenica in central Bosnia.
All shops were closed and streets were littered with glass and debris.
Hours earlier, police in Sarajevo fired rubber bullets at several thousand protesters who set fire to the headquarters of the cantonal government and to a section of the country's presidency building.
"I think this is a genuine Bosnian spring. We have nothing to lose," said Almir Arnaut, an unemployed economist and activist from Tuzla.
“There will be more and more of us in the streets, there are around 550,000 unemployed people in Bosnia,” he added.
Images of burnt buildings and destroyed cars brought back images from 1992-95 war.
"This is so sad," a woman, who would give only her first name, Vildana, told Reuters, watching the government building still in flames.
"It took four years of war to destroy it and vandals now burned it in one day. This is just as in 1992."
The unrest was not limited to Bosnian parts of the country after some 300 activists and citizens staged a peaceful march in Banja Luka, the capital of Bosnia's Serb half, to call for unity among all Bosnia's ethnicities.
"We are all citizens of Bosnia and we all have the same difficult lives here," organizer Aleksandar Zolja, president of the non-governmental organization Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, told the rally, Reuters reported.
The unrest is unprecedented in postwar Bosnia, where Serbs, Croats and Muslim Bosniaks have tolerated political stagnation for years rather than risk a return to conflict.
In 1992, Bosnia fell into a devastating civil war left 200,000 people dead and millions displaced.
In the final months of the war, Serb forces overran the city of Srebrenica, killing some 8,000 Muslim men and boys in one of the most shocking massacres in modern history.
The war damaged the country's infrastructure and slashed the gross domestic product (GDP) by 75 percent.
The 1995 Dayton peace accord ended the war by splitting Bosnia into two ethnically-based autonomous regions, the Muslim-Croat federation and the Serb Republic.
The country of 4.5 million has since been largely dependent on foreign aid.
Over the past several years, the poor and ethnically divided country has teetered from one crisis to the next.
The political instability has undermined the country’s prospects of joining the European Union, and fanned economic hardship, including unemployment of more than 27 percent.