ITW of Azra, young activist from Tuzla, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Azra Jasarevic is a young activist from Tuzla with whom we talked about the position of young women in Tuzla, including unemployment, migration, and ways of resistence and possibilities for change.

Azra is 28 years old and a journalist. She also completed the film academy, but she is unemployed, like most young people in Tuzla, and she has never been employed.

So far she has only been a volunteer with different projects. Currently she is included in activities of the “Association of citizens – House of Flame of Peace”. Azra told us that the working conditions are good, after all she is volunteering with people who are interested in what they do and where young artists are organizing festivals and various cultural events. So far her longest voluntary work was 3 months, and depending on the phase of the project, she has been hired to work several times per week, but never receiving money for her work.

She left Bosnia at some moment in her life, and when she returned most of her friends had started families. She doesn’t feel capable of having a family nor is she interested, since she is not existentially independent.

The biggest problems faced by young people, as she emphasized, are unemployment and low salaries, which are insufficient to start a family and have any kind of life which can provide satisfaction. Summer vacation became something extraordinary, whereas in the past it used to be quite normal, according to Azra.

When asked about the living conditions of young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina, she answered that everyone has a dream to leave the country, find a better job or continue education. “In the past, people went to Afghanistan to work. I do not know whether it is the US military or the companies that are supplying the US Army, but salaries were very good, so everyone – both educated and uneducated -went to Afghanistan to work and they even felt less stressed there than here. Nowadays a lot of people are learning German because they want to go to Germany. “

DSC00053Feminist caravan with women workers from Dita and Aida factory

Regarding the position of young women in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Azra said:

Since unemployment is somethig that affects young people in general, young women are also affected. And because our society is traditional, besides having problems with unemployment, young women are expected to take care of the family and organize the household, therefore the burden is slightly heavier on women than on men. I was spending a lot of time with workers from Aida factory during a protest, and besides poor working conditions, most of them are waiting to be registered in the National Service for employment, in order to get benefits for health insurance and pension. Often, in addition to a husband, women usualy have one or two kids and of course they take care of them, so they dont only have their own worries, but always a greater burden. I cannot see myself in this kind of life, since I have no desire for a family.“

When asked about reactions from others, she responds: “I don’t talk about it a lot. I suppose that others assume that I will start a family soon. I still do not say that I am expressively against it, so there is no conflict for now.“

While we were talking about organized resistances against oppressive systems like capitalisam and patriarchy in Bosnia, Azra emphasized the Bosnian Spring, which began in February 2014, as the last and greatest revolution in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Azra says that joint struggle and support to workers from factories is necessary to fight against neoliberal politics. “It is important for young people to fight against unemployment, so they won’t face the same fate. We have to take things into our own hands,“ she said.

The Bosnian Spring was a specific resistance to neo-liberal policies, which meant that the state would not start production and would not create jobs. Instead, capital holders rent working force in an open market where the offer always exceeds the demand, so the price is automatically lower. In capitalism, the state, canton, federation and local governments serve to create conditions for entrepreneurs, investors, shareholders who can – if they feel like it – dismantle machines and sell them as scrap iron or – in one piece – transfer them where the labor is less expensive and, of course, where the profit is higher.

On 7th February 2014, massive protests of citizens unsfatisfied with such living conditions were held on the streets of major cities across Bosnia and Herzegovina. State institutions, police cars, kiosks were burning in flames. Leading global media reported on the revolution and the general chaos in a country that hasn’t been abe to economically recover even twenty years after the war. A large number of people was injured and enormous material damage was done. The presidential building burned as well on that evening of the 7th of February in the center of Sarajevo. The historical acrhives of Bosnia and Herzegovina were also burned and for several hours there was chaos in the streets. In the days that followed, citizens continued to gather peacefully on the main streets of almost every city in the state. Cantonal governments were collapsing, citizens organized assemblies, people were looking for change.

In the beginning protests were not anti-regime, but rather anti-system, and before a series of attempts to mis-direct the actions, the protests were not directed to a particular party or coalition, but to the system. The protests had the goal of demanding the government to meet the basic requirements of workers: to revise the privatization and nationalize illegally privatized property, to open factories, to start production in the existing factories and to set a minimum, but dignified labor wage, reduce the privileges of power, and introduce a tax system in which those who earn the most also pay the highest taxes. After the Bosnian Spring, workers from Dita factory remain persistent in their goals: fighting against privatization and exploitation by continuing to occupy and keep all the factory equipment. During the time when the Feminist Caravan was in Tuzla, workers from this factory had not received their salaries for more than 40 months and their health and social insurance hadn’t been paid for 60 months. Every Wednesday, workers from Dita and other closed factories from Bosnia and Herzegovina, protest in front of the Commercial Court. They continue to struggle to get their jobs back.

DSC00058Feminist caravan in front of Dita factory

Workers from Dita factory have struggled for two years to start working again, and now they finally managed in their struggle. In June 2015, the assembly of creditors of the detergent factory Dita in Tuzla unanimously adopted a report on the status of assets and activities in the frames of bankruptcy proceedings. After that, also unanimously, the Assembly decided that workers continue with production and recovery of the plant, provided they duly settle all the new obligations. Contracts with all employees were terminated (92 remaining employees of Dita who have not terminated their employment before) and workers had crossed into a new company under bankruptcy, duly registered with all the workers’ rights and obligations. Thus, workers who saved the factory from looting and destruction and started production in agreement with the bankruptcy trustee and crucial financial assistance of the company Forex, became workers of a new Dita under bankruptcy, with guaranteed personal incomes and all the benefits, which will be paid regularly. In July they produced 130,000 pieces of popular detergent 3de and launched new products. Increased production of liquid detergents is only one of the fights that is successfuly organized by few workers of Dita, but starting production of powder detergents, Arix and Ida, is crucial for increasing the total production and creating new jobs, which workers always point out as their ultimate goal.

Mina Damnjanovic

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