This interview first appeared on Croatian portal Lupiga.com 10.02.2014. In light of the protests that have taken place in the last week throughout towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina Lupiga.com spoke to BUKA editor Aleksandar Trifunovic about how the protests are perceived in Republika Srpska.
“In Republika Srpska setting fire to federal institutions is being perceived as an attack on RS, and as unbelievable as it might sound that mantra is working. People here feel the same type of injustice, but the threat that this all could be an attack on RS coming from the Federation has been a very successful tool in making sure people forget their troubles and their empty stomachs.” All this according editor of Banja Luka based portal BUKA (6yka) Aleksandar Trifunovic.
On the question of how Republika Srpska precives the protests in the Federation and why it has not spread to RS he had this to say:
According to Trifunovic one of the main aims of politicians in RS is to make sure that they present any type of rebellion as form of treason and as enemies of RS. It´s very important to make sure that these protests are perceived as “Bosniak” in which case it´s easy to portray them as “hostile” thus creating ample room for manipulation.
Trifunovic goes one to say; if one is to judge the protests taking place in the federation by what is being written on social media outlets across the country, then it´s obvious that there is large support for the protests. Problems plaguing RS are the same one plaguing the Federation. With the added fact that strictly mathematically speaking the citizens in RS have more debt per capita than those in the Federation, so people feel the same type of injustice and it only makes sense that they at least in private sympathize with the protests.
“The reason why there is not more public support for the protests in another matter entirely, and that is the refusal of a vast majority of people in RS to come to terms with the disastrous politics carried out by the leadership in RS which have financially destroyed this entity. The official policy of RS for years has been trying to present and preserve the image of the RS as a successful economic model, not only in relation to the Federation, but also in relation to the whole region. This, of course, is not true and if it hadn´t been for loan by IMF those dependent on the entitiy´s budget would have been left without their wages. A special issue, also acknowledged by Milorad Dodik is how RS will find 500 million to repay previous debts. However, control of most media, especially public service, makes sure that the current politics manages to convince the majority of the most amazing things. Thus, for example, this time burning buildings and federal institutions is seen as an attack on RS, which is the mantra that, no matter how incredible it sounds is working.”
Does this mean that people in RS are more satisfied and any less hungry?
“None of this of course means that people in RS are more satisfied and any less hungry then in the Federation, but the threat of an attack from the Federation added with appropriate reaction from political allies and individuals in the Federation have proven to be a successful tool in making sure that people forget that they are hungry. How long that will last, I don´t know but it´s more than clear that that model of political rhetoric is meeting the needs of the ruling majority, and also the opposition who all keep saying that there is no need for protests in RS.”
When asked how he perceived the media coverage of the protests, by both the Federation media and the media in RS, Trifunovic said that;
“best way to describe it is to say that it was completely ignored. Only after 23 minutes in to the nightly news by RTRS did we get to hear about the protests in Tuzla without any pictures or footage. It was only the day after that there was some information but only about those that were perceived as a danger to RS. The protests in Banja Luka were given the usual treatment, above all it was treated as unimportant and miniscule, and given the number of protesters, it was, however it was not unimportant. Protest which paved the way for Milorad Dodik to become the premier of RS were by comparison much smaller.
On the question, why it was for some political parties and media outlets very important to portray the protests as exclusively Bosniak, Trifunovic had this to say:
If you portray the protests as exclusively Bosniak then it´s easier to create the image of them as being hostile, the same way some Croatian elements in the country did. The vast majority of people in this country still believe that the other side is the enemy. It is very difficult weight for the development of our society, and on the other hand, is very convenient for every type of manipulation. Now, in the comments, the young people who are protesting in Sarajevo accused of supporting some of the interests of Serbia. Potential for manipulation is enormous.
On the staged counter protests in Bjeljina:
“It is interesting that the government, even at the smallest sign of rebellion against the current state of affairs responds very quickly, as well as the media and the police. At the recent student protests in Banja Luka, there was more police than protestors. The reason for this is obvious. The government is afraid of protests and the development of a situation in which it would become clear that those opposing them were the hungry and angry people on the streets instead of the servile opposition.
So the goal is to portray anyone who tries to rebel as a traitor and an enemy. Fortunately, there are brave people who are right now suffering a terrible burden, but by deciding on this legitimate form of political expression they have growing support.”
The organizers of the protest walk in Banja Luka had to make it clear that their aim was not to in any way threaten the constitutional order in RS , while during last year´s students protests the students at the head of the column had to carry the RS flag, Has the situation come to the point where the protests are not legitimate unless you make sure that everyone know that you are a Serb or that you support RS?
“I perceive the use of that type of iconography in the light of what I have said before. Using any other type of iconography would result in attempts to discredit and attack the protesters. The ruling majority has a powerful media arsenal toghter with commentators who are very well paid in order to recognize and single out as enemies those that get fingered by the authorities in the entity. In my opinion it is therefore all the more important that those protest were held and the message it sent, and that is that the situation is bad and getting worse.”
Does that mean that those who organize these types of protests are in any physical danger? That because of their involment in civic matters they could lose their heads? Or is national identity more important than civil rights?
“For now the lynching is being done by the media, and the legal proceedings against those who are protesting. I sincerely hope that the government is aware of the reaction any act of violence in any form, against those few who dare to raise their voice against this disastrous policy could cause. I think more and more people realize that those politicians who are prepared to fulfill their duties are few and far between and that there is no force that can change that.”
This post has been edited and updated 12/02/2014