Bosnian Federation TV report anticipates further workers' protests in 2003

Hoover's, 2 January 2003, 11:39am

Nikola Grabovac, the former Bosnian Federation finance minister, has said that the IMF and the World Bank effectively direct the Bosnian economy, and are doing great harm because they do not understand the local conditions. In a report on the gloomy prospects for the economy in 2003, workers' representatives complained about faulty and fraudulent privatization and missing wage payments. They forecast an ever-rising tide of strikes. The following is the text of a report from the “60 minutes” current affairs programme broadcast by Bosnia-Hercegovina Federation TV on 30 December:

[Host Bakir Hadziomerovic] Bosnia-Hercegovina is threatened with complete economic collapse in the year to come. Assessments of an imminent economic disaster by relevant economic experts, who anticipate that 120,000 workers may lose their jobs in 2003, were reason enough for us to address this as the central topic of “60 minutes” at the end of this year. First story: “The international financial institutions, Bosnia-Hercegovina authorities, and the collapsing economy” by Sanjin Beciragic.

[Reporter Sanjin Beciragic] Story No. 1: Krajina-born Asim Muric, a.k.a. Dzin, is one of the 400,000 disenfranchised, deceived and robbed workers in Bosnia-Hercegovina. In 1974, Dzin did excavation works for the foundations of the Wire [Zica] Manufacturing Company. During the war, he was a member of the Bosnia-Hercegovina Army. From the end of the war to 1999, he was laid off. That same year, Dzin was dismissed, together with another 160 workers. The disappointed and manipulated workers did not accept the dismissals. They are still asking for their overdue wages to be paid. They are keeping the factory under blockade and have been waiting for justice for a full 17 months.

[Asim Muric] [passage inaudible] But we will see it through, we will win.

[Reporter] The Privatization Agency chose to sell the enterprise through a public subscription of shares instead of through a tender. The enterprise is falling through because of this, which indirectly benefits the last but one director of the firm, Emko Horozovic, who has set up a private business. His factory manufactures the same type of products, and he is thus definitely doing his former workers in.

[Muric] I was doing well in [two words indistinct]. I went to the seaside two or three times. I would bring my family back and return on my own and have a good time. I had as much money as I wanted while I worked.

[Reporter] The enterprise has been sold for only KM [convertible marks] 100,000, not counting the paper vouchers. The scale of the fraud is sufficiently illustrated by the fact that the land on which it [the factory] was built alone is worth five times as much.

[Sulejman Samardzic, member of Zica trade union] In my view, this is a crucial mistake not of the Privatization Agency but of the enterprise's management and Board of Directors, because the management and the Board of Directors decide on the privatization model. Among three [as heard] possibilities tender, public subscription of shares they chose public subscription of shares and it has proven to be-

[Reporter, interrupting] Is it normal for you that they have chosen this model?

[Samardzic] [long pause] I cannot comment on that, because in all the three cases the reason is the laws.

[Unidentified man] We just have to either go through the court or with this last agreement, the payment of our claims is a priority. Or for the state to bring those blackshirt people [crnokosuljasi in the vernacular] to kill these people here, for the whole world to see.

[Reporter] Nikola Grabovac, the former Federation finance minister, was on a good track to destroying the parallel Federation system once and for all. Looking for a victim in the AM-Sped affair [disputed payment of deposit to company], High Representative Paddy Ashdown chose Nikola Grabovac. Time will show that his removal does not have anything to do with AM-Sped but does have something to do with Grabovac's conflict with the IMF and the World Bank. The question arises whether Bosnian experts are a problem for internationals.

[Grabovac, Faculty of Economics professor] After two or three cases that have happened here, any smart expert will not get involved because he would be confronted by the international community. Take the case of Prof Dr Stijepo Andric, who was removed as the head of the Board of Directors because he disagreed with the concept of privatization. We can now all see that he was right there. However, when he was removed he was also denied his right to vote. Can you imagine, this man has permanently lost his right to vote in Bosnia-Hercegovina.

Prof Dr Stojanov was the head of the Board of Directors of the cantonal agency he has now been removed and is not in that office either. Prof Dr Hasan Muratovic is not holding any office in those structures either. When I talked to them, many of them told me we had a conference in Zenica a few days ago—my opinion is not my opinion any more. Economic experts are unanimous when it comes to this, but [they tell me] “Why would I come into conflict with someone and be removed very soon then?”.

[Reporter] The IMF and the World Bank decide on everything that has to do with the economy in Bosnia-Hercegovina, and thus also on the size of the entity and state governments' budgets. Thanks to IMF and World Bank demands, not a single KM in next year's entity or state budget is intended for employment.

[Grabovac] The Federation budget for the next year was adopted without the right to discussion, without a public discussion, and in it all the incentive measures for production have been removed. The only measure that has been kept is the payment of the premiums for milk and tobacco. All the other measures employment-related measures, small business incentives, export incentives have been discontinued.

[Reporter] At the same time, the IMF and the World Bank are advocating duty-free import into Bosnia-Hercegovina. In this way, with the wholehearted support of the yes-men from the local government, they are doing the Bosnia-Hercegovina economy in.

[Grabovac] People who come here as visitors from outside do not understand things in Bosnia-Hercegovina, they are often not up to that level either, and they then propose measures that are simply mind-boggling, that do not resolve the problems at all. They themselves sell our property to third parties according to their economic reasoning that does not suit us.

[Reporter] A strike is no longer news in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Strike stories are a regular column in the Bosnian media, just like the weather forecast. A solution for the Bosnia-Hercegovina economy does exist, claims Grabovac.

[Grabovac] There are measures that must stabilize the economy, and measures should be passed that will be implemented over an eight-year period. On the other hand, the first [word indistinct] must be passed now in order to start operating next year. I claim and I think that this too will, of course, remain as a record [changes thought] and we will be glad to revisit this, if necessary, in three, five or eight years, to see [if this has happened]. Large investments and many changes are needed to achieve this.

[Reporter] Perhaps it's not irrelevant to note that, precisely thanks to the role of the international community, the value of the most profitable local firm, BH Telecom, has disastrously fallen from [word indistinct] billion to a worthless KM 400m. This is, nevertheless, not surprising in a state where the local governments in most cases do not have a say.

[Grabovac] Speaking of powers, the government objectively does not have more than some 20 per cent of the powers that a normal government would have, because all is subject to instructions of the IMF and the World Bank. They take 80 per cent of the decisions, and when the decisions are [proven to be] wrong then they say “but we have only assisted you”.

[Reporter] Of course, the main precondition is that precisely the internationals should postpone, at least for some time, the payment of Bosnia-Hercegovina's foreign debt, which by all appearances they will not do. One instalment, on the new basis this year, is around KM 300m; investing this money in job creation would mean 30,000 new jobs. While we are waiting for a solution and reforms, which even the most prominent experts in this country base on the fact that they require a full eight years, foreign middlemen and local self-proclaimed businessmen and power-wielders are selling Bosnian enterprises and supplying reasons for today's story of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

[Mirsada Abdagic, member of the strike committee of Rad] We do not want the strike to boil down to a sack of flour. We want the employer to give us what we have earned and what the law allows us. And the employer should not care whether I use my pay to buy a sack of flour or go to the Carribean.

[Senad Sepic, head of Rad trade union] We received the last salary in March, and we received advance payments meaning the minimum pay for April, May and June. We consider those as advance payments because taxes and contributions were not paid to the state. Those were therefore off-the-book salary payments.

[Ilija Pasalic, head of the Una-Sana Canton organization committee of workers' strikes] From Slovenia he brought a suitcase with around KM 350,000 and distributed some meals allowances to us. And he distributed the salaries that had been the subject of a lawsuit to some of the workers there were around 70 of them overall. He then ran out of money and he still owes 68 salaries to 28 workers.

[Mesud Dolic, head of Zitoprerada trade union] We ask for the payment of workers' claims under the contract of sale—the obligation to pay salaries assumed under the contract of sale and we ask for the payment of the salaries for the period since the buyer took over Zitoprerada.

[Sevda Habibovic, Siemens trade union] The firm has been sold, we do not even know how. The workers have nothing, we are looking for something to save us. We have been on the street for seven years.

[Bajro Melez, trade union of Sarajevo Canton metal workers] We already have situations in many Sarajevo Canton companies where workers' cards are returned to workers without the payment of contributions and all the other obligations that the employer should have fulfilled and this is [two words indistinct]. Our second demand is a revision of privatization in firms that are doing this. A general strike 100 per cent, and 100 per cent this time we are sending the message to the public that we will see it through [sentence as heard]. One hundred per cent.

[Reporter] The responsibility for this situation lies precisely with the internationals and the inert and obedient government. In 1999, there were 250 strikes; in 2000 and 2001, around 150 each. The year that is ending has been marked by strikes whose exact number we will never learn.

[Asim Muric] This bridge should have some name because -

[Reporter, interrupting] What name would you give it?

[Muric] The Bloody Bridge.

[Reporter] Why?

[Muric] Because we will have to fight here.

[Reporter] The year that we are expecting with joy and hope might be the poorest year for Bosnia-Hercegovina since Dayton.