A four letter word is waking up Bosnia. JMBG, technically an acronym, stands for Jedinstveni matični broj građana, or Unique Master Citizen Number in English, the ID number granted to citizens.
Three weeks ago, three-month old Berina Hamidovic was one of many who had been denied papers because of a row between different political factions over the allocation of JMBG ID numbers. Except in her case, the consequences were far more tragic.
Her parents say the delay in taking their daughter without a passport to Serbia for urgent treatment cost the girl her life. Berina’s fate had shaken the country and thousands of Bosnians held a candle-lit vigil outside parliament to mourn her death and demand change.
Since then, continuing protests have urged lawmakers to pass a law to prevent such situations in the future. As a result of the blocked legislation, children born after February 2013 are not granted an ID number. The infuriated Bosnians had set the deadline of June 30 for a new law.
Anger swells in Bosnia
Facing political and legislative inaction – the law is on the agenda but still has not been voted – demonstrators took the streets in Sarajevo on July 1 with one slogan: “Come out and fire them.”
In a statement, the organizers of the demonstrations explained: “Through disobedience and non-violent methods, dissatisfied citizens can fight for their rights even if they face a far superior and influential opponent. […] the fight for children and the law on ID numbers must be a dignified and non-violent one.”
Gathered in front of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Parliamentary Assembly building, starting from 10 a.m this Monday, about 3,000 demonstrators held banners and sat down to block the streets of Sarajevo. On their flags, one symbol: a toddler’s dummy turning into a closed fist held up high.
The protestors don’t seem to want to stop with the demonstrations. “[The movement] must contain elements such as social boycott and / or disobedience, refusal to pay bills, fees and taxes, boycott of legislative and governmental bodies, “the JMBG campaign movement website says.
“These are just some of the ways how we can rebel against the system, which has for two decades refused to work in the interest of the people,” they add.
The Bosnian parliament has not sat since June 6, when protesters blocked lawmakers inside for 14 hours.
“Let’s wake them up from their long hibernation and push them to start doing their well-paid jobs,” Aleksandra Savic, head of a music centre in the southern city of Mostar told Reuters. “We are poor, our babies are dying. What else has to happen for us to realise things must finally change?”
Protestors are not alone in criticizing the parliament. On June 27, NGO Amnesty International released a statement saying the “delay in adopting a new law in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), assigning personal identification numbers to the new born citizens of BiH constitutes an illegal attack on the country’s citizens’ basic human rights.”
The Center for Euro-Atlantic Studies (CEAS), a left-leaning think tank, explains the heart of problem: “the JMBG consists of 13 digits: DDMMGGGRRBBBK. DD – date of birth, MM – month of birth, GGG – year of birth, RR – region, BBB – gender, K – control number. “
“The dispute arose over regional labels, seeing one number of political parties, predominantly from RS, asking for regional labels to be differentiated, respecting the entity borders, while other political parties, mainly from FBiH believe that registration marks should not incorporate entity boundaries or that, at least, this matter should be solved independently from the Constitutional Court’s decision implementation.”
“As a result, this dispute became yet another in a myriad of issues related to centralization vs. decentralization of BiH” the think tank, which has declared its support for the protest, writes. on its website.