People in Bosnia-Herzegovina are crossing the country's deep ethnic divides by the thousands to protest against the government's failure to remedy a lapse in the law that is preventing newborns from being given an identity number and, by extension, travel papers and healthcare.
The protests, which began on June 5, 2013 and have been dubbed “Babylution”, were sparked by the story of a gravely ill three-month-old girl, Belmina Ibrišević, who at the time could not leave the country to get the stem cell treatment abroad that she needed, even though her health was critical and necessary treatment could not be provided in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Days later, the unrest intensified following the news that one-month-old Berina Hamidović [sr] died at the Institute for Mother and Child [sr] in Belgrade, Serbia of sepsis after the medical treatment she needed was delayed.
The baby could not leave because of the country's failure to pass a new law on ID numbers after the old law expired in February. Thanks to this legal gap, newborn babies only receive a temporary number which impedes them from receiving travel documents, which would be necessary to seek medical treatment abroad.
Protesters began speaking out against lawmakers’ inaction under the hashtag #JMBG, which stands for the Unique Master Citizen Number. On June 6, demonstrators gathered in Sarajevo and blocked the Parliament building, refusing to allow politicians and foreign guests inside to leave the building and demanding the urgent passing of the Law on Unique Master Citizen Numbers.
Suad Baručija posted a video on YouTube of supporters arriving from Zenica to join the Sarajevo protesters, in which they are heard chanting “We want change!”:
On Twitter, the news quickly spread under the hashtag #jmbg, as those present at the peaceful protest or nearby transmitted the events of the evening live. Director of Communications at International Center for Transitional Justice Refik Hodžić (@ledenik1) tweeted a picture of a person leaving the Parliament building through a ground-floor window:
A video on YouTube posted by Cyber Media Technology titled “We want JMBG!” summarizes the first days of the #JMBG protests:
The following day, protests stopped briefly [ba] in Sarajevo and the Parliament building was no longer blocked by citizens standing guard out front. But those involved in the protests created the website JMBG for everyone! [ba] with this message:
Mi smo građani i građanke ove zemlje – roditelji s djecom, studenti i studentice, domaćice, radnici i radnice, nezaposleni i nezaposlene, penzioneri i penzionerke, bez obzira na pripadnost etničkoj ili religijskoj skupini, ili bilo koji drugi status, te nam je zajednički interes da se poštuju prava svake osobe, a prije svega djece. Obraćamo se svim građankama i građanima, koji/e žele da žive u državi u kojoj političari i političarke rade svoj posao i izvršavaju zakonske obaveze. Državi u kojoj su nacionalni i stranački interesi sekundarni, a u prvom planu je dostojanstven i siguran život građana i građanki.
We are the citizens of this country – parents with children, university students, housewives, workers, the unemployed, pensioners, regardless of ethnic or religious groups, or any other status, so it is in our common interest that the rights of every person be respected, those of children above all. We address all male and female citizens who wish to live in a state in which politicians do their jobs and complete their legal obligations. A state in which national and partisan interests are secondary and the dignified and safe lives of citizens are primary.
The website also details the demands of citizens regarding legislature related to Unique Master Citizen Numbers and the creation of a fund for the treatment of threatened categories of the population.
Even though baby Belmina's parents eventually managed to get her across the border for treatment, the death of one-month-old Berina Hamidović due to this bureaucratic obstruction to her medical treatment, as Bosnian news outlets reported [ba], further fueled protests.
Citizens throughout the region paid their respects to the little girl, while the story shook with tremendous strength and speed Berinda's birth country of Bosnia-Herzegovina and neighboring Serbia where she died. From that moment on, the situation escalated quickly: from minute to minute on social networks, web portals and blogs, bitter citizens organized for protests, united and calling for support anywhere they could get it.
#JMBG is among the first to show the power of the new Facebook hashtag feature, while the JMBG fan page already has close to 23,000 fans on this social network.
The protests in Sarajevo continue, now under the name “Babylution” – a peaceful revolution that managed to bring over 10,000 people into the streets on June 18 with the support of public figures [sr] and musicians from the former Yugoslav republics who have expressed their grief and revolt.
Citizens are invited to attend the peaceful protests every day beginning at noon until demands are met.
Veče za pamćenje. Bez mrlje i najmanjeg problema. Umoran sam, ali bih uz ove ljude ostao koliko god je potrebno. Borba se nastavlja! #jmbg
Once an identification number, #JMBG has now become a hashtag, a meme, and a call for revolution in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Politicians have been given a deadline until June 30 to pass the law and create a solidarity fund for those who need medical treatment. Should Bosnia's Parliament fail to meet this deadline, citizens have vowed, among other actions, to organize the first Facebook hashmob [cr], a novel concept described as a hashtag-driven flashmob.
Until then, the “Babylution” continues.