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The Ukrainian demonstrators are exhibiting dignity and grace as they protest corrupt government with Molotov cocktails and firearms, while in BH mobs and hooligans are burning and looting without provocation. A double standard is at play.
A few days ago, the BH media carried the words of Doris Pack, a member of the European Parliament, about how she had long expected the riots in BH and Ukraine. Although she was misquoted – her reply related only to BH, not to Ukraine as well – it is interesting to compare the recent events in the two countries.
The protests in BH began on 5 February
and the rioting lasted three or four days, after which the gatherings of small groups of people were mostly reduced to blocking traffic. In Ukraine, the protests have been going on since late November, when President Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement with the EU and accepted financial assistance from Russia. The culmination came in mid-February, when nearly 100 people were killed in clashes between police and demonstrators. The reasons that people took to the streets in both countries are quite similar; it boils down to government repression, widespread corruption, and overall impoverishment. Still, there’s no comparison when it comes to the intensity and scope of the rioting – although if one considers the population ratio (Ukraine has around 45 million people, BH a little more than 3.5 million) and the number of demonstrators who have actively participated in the clashes (several thousand compared with several hundred), the percentages are not that different. Demonstrators in BH set around ten buildings ablaze and clashed with police in several cities. In Ukraine, that was often the net outcome for only one day, and the protestors have used not only rocks, sticks, and baseball bats, but also Molotov cocktails, pyrotechnics, and catapults – and in recent days, firearms as well.
The people targeted by the protests have used terms like “hooliganism,” “mercenaries,” and “coup” to describe the whole scene, trying to turn things to their advantage and absolve themselves of responsibility. It’s almost impossible to believe how many similarities there have been in the statements coming from officials in the two distant countries. “What is happening today is vandalism, banditry, a coup d’état,” said the now-former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, rejecting calls for his resignation. Some ten days earlier, former Sarajevo Canton Chief Executive Suad Zeljković said in his resignation speech that “it is not hungry people who are out in the streets, but rather hooligans, bandits, and criminals.”
There has been complete hysteria on social networks during the protests in BH – among both those who support the protests and those opposed to them. Very little rationale, reason, or awareness, but plenty of egotism, ideological flavor, and intolerance of different opinions, even among journalists. Bosnians and Herzegovinans usually exhibit a high degree of empathy for the world’s disenfranchised citizens, and so they have supported the Ukrainians’ struggle with posts, likes, and shares. But there is also an inexplicable phenomenon: At the same time, many of those people have condemned the disturbances taking place in the streets of Tuzla, Mostar, Zenica, and Sarajevo, as if BH’s citizens have no reason to protest…. Is it not obvious hypocrisy that someone in Ukraine who is trying to bring about a change of government by violent means, attacking the police and using an impressive arsenal of weapons, can be a “demonstrator,” whereas someone who has a similar goal but not even close to the same methods is a “hooligan, a looter, a mercenary, and a vandal”?
Demonstrators or mob?
The media reporting about the protests can also be said to suffer from a lack of principles. There is no need to mention the difficult working conditions and pressures endured by journalists in BH. Those who are trying to do a conscientious job face so many barriers that it’s often easier to give up instead of tilting at windmills. However, neither that consideration nor the accelerated dynamic of events can justify the dissimilar treatment of the protests while the biggest riots were going on. Without getting into an analysis of the media’s overall reporting or editorial policies, a few examples from online portals show that specific words can give a similar event a completely different connotation and help shape public opinion.