Bosnia unrest: Bruised and bitter in Sarajevo
- 10 February 2014
- From the section Europe
Anyone thinking Bosnia's protests were strictly a matter of disenchanted youth might have changed their mind after a Sunday in Sarajevo.
Flashes of white hair dotted the crowd which gathered in front of Bosnia's smoke-blackened presidency building at noon. Some of these senior participants said they wanted to make sure the budding protest movement would not be written off as merely the province of young hooligans bent on vandalism.
Tomislav Bajkusa, 81, was among them. He pulled out an ID card which showed that he had been a concentration camp prisoner during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. Then he produced his monthly pension statement.
It amounted to 380 convertible marks a month, about £160 (194 euros; $265) to look after three people, including his adult son who, Mr Bajkusa said, had not been able to find a job since 1992.
"I want to be proud of my country again - this country as it is now is not functional," he said.
"I would love to see the youth gathered here today to get jobs and be happy. Nobody's happy anymore - nobody smiles, I don't smile. Even this soil we're standing on is crying."
There were certainly tears outside Sarajevo's main police station, where a group of parents had gathered, waiting for news of their children. Rumours had been spreading that police had beaten up some of the young people they had arrested following Friday's protests.
Jozo Simunovic sobbed as he spoke of his fears for his son Dragan.
"My daughter saw him in another police station in another part of town - and said it looked like he'd been roughed up," he said.
"He might have been protesting about unemployment and poverty. We've got nothing. All around, all you can see is poverty."
Another father seemed bemused that his son had been taken in by the police after he went for a walk on Saturday.
"He's 17, in his third year of high school," he said. "He's an A-student, attended different science competitions. He's a good kid. They won't tell us anything. They insulted my friend and told him his son was a terrorist."
Then a boy emerged from the police station, pulling a bloodstained sweatshirt up to his nose. When he let it go, a badly swollen lower lip became visible. Explaining that he was 15 years old, the boy said police had arrested him after one of his group of friends set off a firecracker.
"They told me to lie down on the ground, then they beat me with their fists," he said. "Then when I came to the police station I blacked out after I was kicked in the head."
By this time, hundreds protesters of protesters had arrived to support the families. A senior police officer addressed them through a megaphone, saying that only 10 people were still in custody. He insisted that correct police procedures had been followed.
The crowd finally dispersed as police bundled the remaining suspects into a van and drove them off to the prosecutor's office.
The big question is whether the protests will be a weekend wonder - or whether Bosnians are now determined to force changes in a governing system which they say has failed them utterly.
The response from the authorities has varied. In some places - Sarajevo, Tuzla, Zenica - senior officials have resigned. In others, like Mostar, there has been a firm clampdown on protest.
The International High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, has even raised the possibility of the deployment of European Union troops if disturbances continue.
But Tomislav Bajkusa has seen plenty in his 80-plus years, and he was far from impressed by Mr Inzko's attitude.
"He keeps calling for democracy," he said. "We've tried that for years but nothing is happening. This is the only way to sort things out. I'm against violence, but these protests must continue."