from The New York Times..
By DAN BILEFSKY
June 7, 2013
It was a decidedly Balkan revolt and a rare explosion of people power in one of Europe’s poorest and most ethnically divided countries.
About 1,500 lawmakers, government employees and foreign guests were finally freed in the early hours of Friday morning after thousands of irate protesters had formed a human chain around the Bosnian Parliament building in Sarajevo for 14 hours to demonstrate against an impasse over a law on identification documents.
Women with babies in carriages, pensioners and students faced off with police officers deployed to the scene as foreigners trapped inside — including about 250 foreign bankers attending a conference to examine investment opportunities — called their embassies back home to say they had been taken hostage.
Some of the protesters held up a sign saying, “We don’t want entities, we want identities” — a reference to the byzantine bureaucratic system in Bosnia that has magnified ethnic enmities, entrenched political deadlock and impeded the country’s progress toward joining the European Union.
At the root of the crisis is the failure of lawmakers to agree on a new law on how to determine the 13-digit identification numbers assigned to every citizen. The previous law lapsed in February, leaving all babies born since then without the identification documents necessary to travel abroad or see a doctor.
Bosnian Serbs have demanded that the identification cards have a specific number specifying their region, while the country’s Muslim Bosniak and Croat legislators want the identification numbers to be random to avoid further stoking of ethnic divisions.
“The ridiculousness in Bosnia has reached new level,” said Srecko Latal, a Balkan analyst with the International Crisis Group in Sarajevo. “These protests show the extent to which people are fed up with economic and social stagnation and prolonged political crisis. But they may have done more harm than good, as it is very unlikely that any of these foreigners trapped will ever consider again investing in a country that behaves like this.”
The protesters were spurred to action after the parents of a 3-month-old baby posted on Facebook this week that their infant was unable to travel to get an urgent stem cell transplant in Germany because the squabble over the law had prevented the baby from getting a passport.
The 1995 Dayton accord brokered by the United States divided the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina into two entities — a Muslim-Croat Federation and a Serbian Republic — and ended a war in which more than 100,000 people were killed, a majority of them Muslims. But the complex power-sharing system it created has helped paralyze the country.
The international community’s envoy in Bosnia, Valentin Inzko, who managed to convince the protesters to relax their human barricade after promising to work to resolve the issue, said the foreign bankers attending the finance conference had appealed to their embassies to help them get out of a “hostage situation.” He told Bosnian state television on Friday that the episode threatened to undermine Bosnia’s international reputation.
“I received calls from Austrian and German diplomats asking to help them get out,” he said.
The government reached an interim deal to resume issuing identification numbers for the next six months. But the protesters insist that they will continue to protest until the impasse is overcome.