Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: Bosnia

Magazine article Geographical

Geopolitical Hotspot: Bosnia

Article excerpt

In June, several hundred people were unwittingly trapped inside Bosnia Herzegovina's national parliament in Sarajevo for several hours as a series of protests engulfed the building.

The cause of the protests was, on the face of it, an unusual one. The crowd's anger was aimed at Bosnian parliamentarians and their inability to formulate a new law on identity documents. In January, the parliament missed a deadline to amend the existing law after a ruling from the Bosnian Constitutional Court in May 2011 rejected geographically tagged ID numbers.

According to press reports, nearly 3,000 people surrounded the parliament, among them women with babies, senior citizens and students, many holding placards proclaiming: 'We don't want entities, we want identities.' In the context of a country, that was torn apart by civil wars and ethnic violence during the 1990s, such demands for 'identities' is noteworthy.

The protests draw attention to something fundamental to the modern state--the identification and classification of its citizens. What the crowds recognised was something that citizens in countries such as the UK take for granted--the registration of a birth is essential and indeed a legal requirement for a new life to be invested with citizenship. If one doesn't have an ID number/birth certificate, then obtaining a passport, for example, becomes problematic.

Bosnia's parliamentarians stood accused of legislative torpor, having failed to agree on a mechanism for generating the 13-digit identification number given to every citizen. Following the court ruling, the previous legislation lapsed in February, and babies born since then have been left in legal limbo--without access to identification documents and, consequently, without recourse to passports and essential state sponsored services.

Some parliamentarians wanted the ID numbers to be generated randomly, while others were adamant that they should be generated according to where people lived in the country. The crisis came to a head when it was revealed that a young child had been unable to travel to Germany for urgent medical treatment because of the ID number impasse. A Facebook campaign spread the details of the bureaucratic inertia and stoked popular outrage.

The blockade around the parliament was eventually broken after several hours of negotiation and all of those inside. including a group of foreign bankers attending a financial conference (armed with their passports and ID numbers, no doubt) were eventually able to leave. …

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