On Saboteurs and Junkies in Czechoslovakia and Bosnia

Politicians love diminishing the value of brave public acts by individuals, who do not fear to revolt against them.

Jan Palach, who burnt himself 45 years ago in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, was labelled a lunatic, so that his act would lose a moral value in the eyes of the public. Driving public attention away from the reasoning behind his act, the communist regime needed to turn this heroic move into a meaningless accident.

Sabotage was the word of the era – whoever tried to stand against the regime, was a “saboteur” [diverzant].

But the Czechoslovak political propaganda failed to force out the memory of his self-immolation as well as the ensuing popular demonstrations against the totalitarian regime governed from Moscow. People remembered.

In 1989 people took to the streets in Czechoslovakia and subsequently forced the regime to remember too, no longer believing in any of the images the regime was trying to force upon them.

In a similar fashion, the Bosnian authorities are trying to present the current protests as actions driven by junkies, vandals and hooligans, who spend their lives on drugs and drunk, when they should be looking for jobs.

They skilfully use the media to support this discourse. Some journalists at their service show images of beautiful historical buildings vandalized and on fire after the last round of protests. They make references to burning books by the Nazis and the fire in the Bosnian State Archive (which is stored in the Bosnian Presidency, hence unintentionally suffered some minor damage).

They are using the same strategy as the communists did. They need to drive public attention away from the causes of the problem and shift the blame onto someone else.

Today, the word diverzant is not appropriate but “hooligan” or “junkie” – to go with the geistzeit – might do.

Yet another irony of history and politics. Times change, so do names and terms, but people tend to use the same means.

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