Hope Reborn at the Antifest


Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country ravaged by a war that between 1992 and the beginning of 1996 caused 100.000 deaths (exact figures are unavailable), is certainly looking a lot better but the social situation is dramatic. One statistic says it all: unemployment is at 45%.

This country of 4.5 million inhabitants is divided into two entities between which there exist multiple points of tension: the federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (51 % of the territory, 65 % of the population, capital Sarajevo) and the Republika Srpska (49 % of the territory, 35 % of the population, capital Banja Luka). In the whole country there are 48 % of Bosniacs (called Muslims between 1970 and 2000), 37 % of Serbs (mostly Christian Orthodox) and 14 % of Croats (mostly Catholics) |1|. Among the 10,000 inhabitants of Sarajevo that were killed during the war, 1,600 were children. The siege of Sarajevo lasted from 5th April 1992 until 29th February 1996 |2|.

One of the catalysts of the Yugoslavian implosion at the beginning of the 1990s was the weight of the public debt contracted in consequence of the neoliberal reforms of the 1980s. The leaders of the richer republics (Croatia et Slovenia), in pushing for separation, considered that independence would help them reimburse their part of the Yugoslavian debt ( which later had been shared between the six former republics of the ex-Yugoslavian federation) by shedding, what appeared to them to be the millstone of the less privileged countries (Bosnia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro). This provoked a series of chain reactions expressing the most objectionable nationalism. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which considering its multiethnic nature is a mini Yugoslavia in itself, was caught up in the maelstrom of a war which multiplied acts of barbarity against the population, the massacre of 8,000 Bosniacs at Srebrenica in July 1995 being the most dramatic example. This massacre that much resembled a genocide was perpetrated by units of the army of the Republika Srpska under the command of general Ratko Mladic and assisted by a Serbian paramilitary unit. United Nations forces on the ground turned a blind eye. This is one of the reasons why the Bosniac population holds the UNO in such discredit.

Return to Sarajevo After 18 years

This is my second visit to this town. The first was in February 1994 at the height of the war. Our delegation left Belgium in two cars (several of us were members of « Socialism without Borders » and of the « International Workers Aid for Bosnia») to go and express our solidarity with the multiethnic Resistance to the war that was ravaging ex-Yugoslavia and especially Bosnia-Herzegovina. On that occasion our small delegation only arrived on the outskirts of what resembled a ghost town. The buildings were damaged and the social life was reduced to very little : no cafes open, two or three shops for absolute essentials and the occasional sound of an exploding shell or a round of machine gun fire. Official reports stated that an average of 329 shells burst each day during the siege.

Eighteen years later I am subject to another brutal shock. Certainly hundreds (even thousands) of the buildings still bear the marks of war, but it is undeniable that the historical town center shows signs of relative prosperity. Hundreds of craftsmen, shops and restaurants offering local specialties create a zone of permanent animation. There is a certain easy going calmness in the atmosphere. Many terrace cafes are well filled. I discover a cultural richness to this town that I could only imagine in 1994.

In Sarajevo, mixing and coexistence of cultures is evident. Today in a one kilometer perimeter we find several superb mosques dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, one of the three biggest synagogues in Europe (a large part of the Jews expelled by the Catholic kings of Spain during the Reconquista of the 15th century found refuge in this great, principally Muslim, town |3|), and Catholic, Orthodox or Evangelical churches. Capital of the most westerly European province of the Ottoman Empire, Sarajevo in the 17th century figured among the biggest cities of Europe with 80,000 inhabitants (comparable to the populations of Genoa, Florence, Brussels or Antwerp; about twice the population of Bordeaux, Barcelona or Cologne).

A country under the supervision of the international institutions

Since the end of the war in 1995 the country has been under the supervision of the international institutions. The agreements signed in Dayton (USA) in December 1995 specifically stated that the director of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Central Bank may not be of Bosnian extraction! The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have installed their representatives in the country alongside the foreign troops supposed to keep guard over the terms of the peace agreements between the two resident communities (in 1995-1996 there were up to 60,000 foreign troops stationed in the country under NATO command. Today there are still some 1300 troops under European command |4|). The population has put up with seventeen years of reinforced neoliberal policies and as previously said, the result is dramatic: in February 2012, according to the official employment agency, 44.2% of the active population were unemployed compared to 35% in 2000 |5|.

With the exception of the distribution of water, electricity and the transport systems, almost all the public sector industries have been privatized and in many cases dismantled and sold by their new owners who have put an end to their activities. Everywhere in Sarajevo there are agencies of the two biggest Italian banks, Intesa San Paolo and Unicredit, along with Austrian and German banks. Also to be considered is the investment of Arabic countries in hotels and finance. The hypertrophy of the financial sector exists alongside a chronically under-invested productive sector.

The IMF at work

While the first « Antifest » was going on in Sarajevo, the arrival of a new IMF mission was announced. They were there to finalize the compensatory conditions of a new loan that would enable the repayment of previous loans and follow up the lethal neoliberal policies. The IMF put the Bosnian authorities under pressure to reduce wages and jobs in the public sector, reduce the benefits to wounded war veterans, lower retirement pensions and make their access more difficult, and cut spending on public health care (which is still free in spite of fifteen years of World Bank and IMF pressures).

Hope reborn at the Antifest

The Antifest event from the 13th to 20th May 2012 was made up of cultural activities (concerts attended by between 100 and 300 people) and political debates. Between 50 and 90 people, young for the most part, took part at each of the eleven debates. Among the topics were « Eco-socialism » « The Greek crisis » « The crisis in the European Union » « Reactions to the European Union crisis |6| » « What kind of feminist activism does Bosnia really need? » « Rosa Luxembourg and Mother Theresa: ideological confusion » « Perspectives for direct democracy in south east Europe » etc. The Antifest was organized by a young political group called “Unified Organization for Socialism and Democracy” (which brings together several groups of activists with different ideological sensibilities). It was supported by the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation and collaborated actively with the subversive festival of Zagreb. The subjects largely covered the principal concerns of a fringe of youth which wants a radical alternative to the capitalistic and patriarchal system. Decidedly, after the remarkable success of the Zagreb |7| subversive festival, new forces for change are at work in this part of the Balkans.

Eric Toussaint, doctor in political sciences (University of Liège and University of Paris 8), president of CADTM Belgium, member of the president’s commission for auditing the debt in Ecuador (CAIC), member of the scientific council of ATTAC France, coauthor of “La Dette ou la Vie”, Aden-CADTM, 2011, contributor to ATTAC’s book “Le piège de la dette publique. Comment s’en sortir”, published by Les liens qui libèrent, Paris, 2011.

Translated by Mike Krolikowski 


|1| See http://www.cadtm.org/Zagreb-Sarajevo-Les-resistances-au

|2| See the C.I.A. site : https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bk.html

|3| During the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia Sarajevo’s Jewish community was decimated (9000 Jews were killed out of a total of about 10 000).


|5| See http://arz.gov.ba/en/statistika-en (official site of the Bosnie Herzégovine employment agency), see also the site of the C.I.A. : https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/bk.html and also for the year 2009 : http://bhinfo.fr/Le-taux-de-chomage-grimpe-a-42-1/

|6| I covered this theme on the basis of my text http://www.cadtm.org/Eight-key-prop…

|7| See  http://www.cadtm.org/Zagreb-Sarajevo-Resistance-in-the

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st  Century
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
The Bully Recalibrates: U.S. Signals Policy Shift in Syria
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Ron Jacobs
The Murderer as American Hero
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Uri Avnery
Abbas: the Leader Without Glory
Halima Hatimy
#BlackLivesMatter: Black Liberation or Black Liberal Distraction?
Michael Brenner
Kissinger Revisited
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Jason Cone
Even Wars Have Rules: a Fact Sheet on the Bombing of Kunduz Hospital
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Ronald Bleier
Am I Drinking Enough Water? Sneezing’s A Clue
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)