Over fifteen years ago, violent conflict ravaged Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and its neighbors. A fragile peace has held since 1996, and rapid reconstruction and steady development offer hope that the country will eventually be on the path to European Union integration. Why, during this period of stabilization and internationally-monitored political development, would a group of Bosnian youth form a nonviolent social movement and name it Dosta! (Enough! in English language)? According to Darko Brkan, a Dosta! organizer living in Sarajevo, this is exactly the moment for a citizens movement, or as he calls it, a “socially engaged culture.”
Dosta! was formed in late 2005 as an initiative started by a small group of activists who met through an internet forum. In those early days, the activists formed a protest group -- the standard venue was the front of the Assembly of BiH, the standard time was after work. After three months of gradually increasing membership, Dosta! selected its first big activity which sparked greater public interest: a targeted protest against an increase in electricity prices. Despite growing public support and recognition, the movement remains informal, independent and “free-minded.”
Dosta! aims to promote accountability and government responsibility to the people, and to spark civic participation of all Bosnian citizens, no matter what religious or ethnic group. With several hundred people from 15 cities around the country involved in nonviolent actions, this grassroots movement has established itself as a visible actor in Bosnia’s civil society. One recent campaign pressured Bosnia’s Federation Prime Minister to resign after public outrage channeled through diverse tactics exposed corruption around his alleged low-cost purchase of an apartment. Graffiti, coupled with a Facebook campaign, a deluge of phone calls to police stations, t-shirt mockery, and a city center billboard display, leveraged the media and people against the Prime Minister, forcing him to resign a final push from his political party.
What other social movements or nonviolent activists have inspired your own work as an organizer?
DB: There are many - I always say that once I started doing this it was only for the rush of it, for the adventure. At the time I was totally receptive of all the values and principles, and felt that it was really interesting. But then over the years, learning about different experiences, reading about them, meeting people, you just inhale all the values and principles about nonviolent struggle and civic engagement.
My story started as an IT student (not quite a nerd, but close to it!) and one day I got an invitation to go to an exchange in Barcelona for 15 days, and by pure luck I had a visa at the time. When I got there I met up with some people that were doing conscientious objection (CO) in the Insumission [disobedience; noncompliance] movement, and I just fell into it. Immediately I thought that what they were doing was great, and when I got back, that’s how the CO movement started. Just seeing all these people from different countries made me have to continue learning about other movements around the world, too many to mention! So the first was the CO movement, but after it continued all over the world.
What are some key principles to keep in mind when organizing a movement?
DB: First of all, you need to maintain the principles of nonviolence at all times. I think that’s crucial – not simply because I am a civil resistor, as well as a pacifist and anti-militarist – but from the more practical point of view, nonviolence is something that people can join in on. If it is really nonviolent, you will get more support from the general public. Something else you need to know is that you need informed and educated people. They need to know about everything that is going on; about your experiences, about how it [civil resistance] is done, what is happening in your country. You need to be informed about it and you need to pass it on to other people, which is crucial for them to be aware and not just outraged by what is happening. They need to really know and see the causes to be able to act upon them. The third thing I would say is that you really need to reinforce your values at all times. Whenever you have a chance, you need to get out there and say ‘these are the values we stand for; these are the goals we want to achieve, so come join us.’
What are some ways that you have been able to successfully mobilize people to participate in the movement?
DB: We started as a couple of people meeting over the internet, and we decided that we didn’t want to only speak about politics over the internet; we wanted to do something in public. So after work every day we would stand for an hour in front of the national assembly with a banner, and that was our protest. That brought nothing because nobody saw us, people were passing by, and there was no visibility so nothing happened. The first time we called for a protest was when the regulatory commission of electricity for the country moved the price of electricity up, and that was the mobilization point for the people. They felt that they needed to be a part of it, because they would be paying more for electricity.
This first protest brought mostly elderly people; there were 600 – 700 people, mostly over 50. You realize that the team you engage brings certain populations to events. For instance, we did a campaign on the prime minister for half of the country (because Bosnia is divided in two parts), one of the most hated, corrupt people in the country. After two or three months of doing things in public, it didn’t provoke any reaction. So we asked ‘what is the thing that people would appreciate the most?’ They don’t know what $5 million means, they couldn’t grasp the concept of it. But there was this small, not visible article - an interview done with him by an internet media group asking how he got his apartment – and basically he said the government bought the apartment and he bought it from the government with some certificates, about $500 total. It was a big apartment in an elite part of the city; everybody knows about these sorts of apartments, and everybody knows how much $500 is worth, and everybody knows that you cannot buy that apartment for $500. And when we hit on that publicly, it caused total mobilization; there were people writing graffiti on his building saying ‘give back the apartment, you thief.’ Then, he made the mistake (it backfired on him) of doing police investigations looking for who wrote the graffiti, there were police storming the area around the apartment. It seemed like a major security breach. And then we mobilized people, just to say ‘I wrote the graffiti.’ There was a Facebook group set up for people to come in and write ‘I wrote the graffiti.’ People were calling the police saying ’arrest me, I’m the one who wrote the graffiti.’ People were writing emails to the police. There were famous people from bands appearing on TV wearing a t-shirt saying ‘I wrote the graffiti,’ without saying anything about it; just appearing in public. And he totally lost all support, even from his party, and in order not to lose touch with the people, the party made him resign after a month.
So, there are different ways to target the issues – we had a lot of failures also– but I’m just trying to give the good examples. The Internet can help; we even did SMS mobilization for a couple of events that were last-minute events. Basically, the most important thing is to have something that the people can feel, that they can be passionate about, and that they know is feasible, and that by being there with their support they can actually change something.