It’s a Riot!

Europe’s Lawless Summer

It is looking like a summer of discontent in Europe.

In late May, “youths” in Sweden rioted for several days, torching cars and houses. At the beginning of June, tens of thousands of Turks took to the streets against the Erdogan government. Around the same time, Bosnian lawmakers were held hostage for two days by an angry mob in Sarajevo, while a “student protest” in Banja Luka quickly turned political.

As usual, each of these events received a degree of media spin. Rioters in Sweden were described as “youths,” supposedly disaffected by the country’s economy and “inequality.” Turkish protesters were denounced by the government as criminals. Demonstrators in Sarajevo were described as desperate parents demanding government ID numbers for their children, while the Banja Luka protesters were supposedly students demanding the construction of a new dorm. Reality, however, is somewhat more disturbing.

Youths” and “Racism”

Riots in Sweden began on May 19, in the Stockholm suburb overwhelmingly inhabited by immigrants. According to the AFP, “It was apparently triggered by the police shooting and killing of a 69-year-old resident who had wielded a machete in public.” The agency then quoted unnamed “activists” who claimed that the incident “sparked anger among youths who claim to have suffered from police brutality and racism.” So they went on a car-burning spree for almost a week – in cities across Sweden.

The mainstream media have near-universally tried to explain the cause of the riots as “rising inequality” – in a country that has a poverty rate barely above 1% and has made enforced egalitarianism into a dystopian art form. They have also been very careful to label the rioters as “youths” as opposed to properly identifying them as African Muslims. The politically correct mask slipped only when obligatory noises were made about the possibility of rising “racism.”

Swedish police did very little to disperse the rioters, choosing instead to ticket torched cars. The riots ended abruptly on May 24, as both heavy rain and squads of Swedish vigilantes combined to make night-time car-torching suddenly seem much less appealing.

Not much was said about the incident that supposedly sparked the riots. Perhaps because an incident in London on May 22 demonstrated that angry immigrants armed with sharp objects weren’t exactly a picture of innocence.

On a busy street in the London borough of Woolwich, two men of Nigerian extraction assaulted an off-duty and out-of-uniform British soldier Lee Rigby, slaughtering him with knives and cleavers. Shouting about being the soldiers of Allah, they attacked the police that showed up fifteen minutes later. Both men were arrested and charged with murder, whereupon the media proceeded to worry about “anti-Muslim backlash.”

Recep’s Neo-Ottoman Shopping

By contrast, the protests in Turkey that began in late May seemed like an orderly expression of genuine popular discontent. The government of Recep Erdogan, nicknamed “Sultan” for both his autocratic habits and nostalgia for Ottoman times, had plans to demolish a small park in Istanbul, and build a replica of Ottoman artillery barracks to serve as a shopping center.

A brutal police crackdown resulting in three deaths prompted solidarity protests in other Turkish cities, quickly turning against the Prime Minister. For his part, Erdogan has called the protesters çapulcu – translated by some in the West as “vandals,” but in fact meaning “looters,” “marauders” and “plunderers” – which seems unfair, as the Taksim Square crowd seems less intent on looting that the Swedish “youths,” for instance.

In any event, there is little hope of the protests doing much to stem the tide of Turkey’s re-Islamization. The military has been neutered, and Erdogan’s AKP party has enough support to weather the crisis. Whether Erdogan himself will is another matter.

Babies and Students

In the first week of June, protesters held hostage for two days the lawmakers of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as a number of international visitors – in the Parliament building in Sarajevo. Officially, their grievance was the inability to get national ID numbers (!).

Back in January, Bosnia’s Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law governing the ID numbers was unconstitutional, devolving the power to issue the numbers to Bosnia’s entities (The Serb Republic, the Muslim-Croat Federation, and the Brcko District). While the Serb Republic and Brcko quickly passed regulations to make issuing IDs seamless, the dysfunctional, Muslim-dominated Federation held out for an imposed law returning that power to the central government. This left several thousand newborns without ID numbers. When one such child needed a passport for an emergency medical procedure abroad, her case was used to start the siege.

Baby strollers were placed on the picket line for maximum media effect, and the lawmakers denounced as “lazy” and dishonest. The demonstrators – and those backing them from the shadows – neglected to mention that the sick child received her papers in short order, that the Sarajevo province actually had working regulations for ID numbers, and that the whole thing could have easily been resolved within the Federation. That, however, would have left the ID numbers in entity jurisdiction, severely interfering with the plans of some organizations to engage in widespread voter fraud in next year’s general election…

In any case, the siege backfired, as Bosnian Serb and Croat lawmakers are now reluctant to travel to Sarajevo at all, halting the already stalled legislature.

Was it a coincidence that around the same time, students in the Serb Republic’s capital of Banja Luka organized demonstrations as well? Ostensibly demanding the construction of another wing of student housing – thus displaying quite uncharacteristic altruism and far-sightedness – the protesters’ demands quickly shifted to political reforms in general, targeting the Serb Republic’s president, Milorad Dodik.

Considering that two of the student leaders are card-carrying members of Dodik’s SNSD party, and that Dodik’s party secretary Rajko Vasic was pressured to resign for calling the protesters “bastards,” it is entirely likely that the protests might be a smokescreen for a coup within the SNSD. Nor is it unlikely that the Empire is backing such a development, determined to get rid of Dodik, but having failed to get anywhere by supporting opposition parties.

Calm Before the Storm?

Serbia has stayed relatively quiet, even though government abuses, inequality, corruption and even treason have given its people plenty of reasons to rage. Perhaps this is because the last time they had a revolution, this is what they got, so they are wary of giving Imperial mind-snatchers another chance. Then again, anti-government protests have been called for June 28, a portentous date in Serbian history, so anything may yet happen.

What all these protests, riots and demonstrations have in common, however, is the increased cynicism of both the government and the general population. In some cases, like Bosnia or Sweden, demonstrators are unwilling to work through the system. In others, like Turkey or Serbia, they can’t – that path has been closed off by an authoritarian regime (backed by the Empire, no less).

Whether it is the case of Swedish “youths” or Bosnian Serb “students” or Turkish “marauders” – all labels that don’t rightly apply – whenever the media and the political establishment misrepresent the causes and conduct of the protests, they actually erode what little legitimacy they may have left. And with governments left and right routinely disregarding their own laws, it appears only a matter of time before their subjects decide being law-abiding is for fools.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.