University professors among protesters in Bosnia and Herzegovina, ‘priceless’ archives burnt down in violent riots
Some academics have also hit the streets to show their support for the popular protests in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was rocked by country-wide street demonstrations today, that turned violent in places, with several government buildings set on fire, together with academic materials housed within.
The state archives in Zenica burnt down after government buildings were set ablaze by protesters there.
The archive consultant, Andrej Rodinis, told local media that some of the most valuable and priceless items vanished. The burnt archives included, he said, "most valuable texts from the Austro-Hungarian period, personal dossiers and files, archive texts from period between the two World Wars and certain oriental documents".
The damage has not been assessed properly yet, as there was no electricity after firefighters put the fire out, he said.
The archive director, Šaban Zahirović, told local media that the loss was irreversible and a "huge cultural shame".
"The burnt building can be rebuilt, but you cannot return such treasures. These materials survived three wars - WW1, WW2, and this last [Yugoslav] war, but today they perished."
In Mostar, a student housing building was among those set on fire by protesters, according to local media reports.
But despite the violence, the protests seem to have wide support in a society where people have been unhappy with the way ineffective governance structures have ruled the country since the war in the 1990s and the Dayton Peace Accord.
Vildana Alibabić, professor of food biotechnology at the University of Bihać, was amongst the protesters. While she condemned the violence, speaking to local media she also highlighted the plight of the ordinary people for whom there is no work, and whose pleas for better lives have been ignored by a government that is out of touch.
"They simply don't hear what the people are telling them," she said, referring to the political elites in the country. "And this, today, was in a way an escalation of their dissatisfaction - people just wanted to send a clear message: we had enough of you, we cannot stand this anymore."
"People are simply hungry, and this was the reason for me to come out and show my support," she said, saying the economic situation is even worse now than four years ago when the local government promised big changes that never happened.
"I am a university professor, and I have been watching for years how my students leave the faculty, well educated and prepared to get into the job market, and unfortunately end up at the unemployment offices."
She added that "thousands and thousands" of young people with degrees can't find work and "don't know what to do next".
She said the protests are popular, not political, and that she would be out on the street again tomorrow, appealing for everyone to come out, and remain peaceful.
But, she added, people have lost the trust they had in their leaders to such an extent it was not clear if the leaders will even hear the message.