Nearly 3,000 people formed a chain around Bosnia’s Parliament on Thursday, trapping hundreds of politicians and civil service workers inside in a demonstration of anger over what protesters say is a government paralyzed by ethnic bickering.
What started as a small demonstration the day before has grown into a blockade of the building, with more people joining every hour and the protest stretching into the night.
They are demanding a new law on personal ID numbers after the old one lapsed in February, leaving all babies born since without personal documents. The crowd has rejected the government’s offer for a temporary solution.
Women with babies in carriages faced off with police special forces deployed to the scene. A statement from Parliament said that over 1,500 people are stuck inside the building, including about 350 foreigners attending the annual meeting of the European Fund for Southeast Europe.
Once carriage was marked with a sign reading, “You will not leave the building until I get an ID number.”
Sarajevo’s mayor, Ivo Komsic, joined the protest, saying “I am here also on behalf of over 1,500 Sarajevo babies who can’t get travel documents.”
Media reports about a 3-month-old baby that needs urgent life-saving medical treatment abroad but can’t travel because the infant can’t get a passport sparked the initial protest Wednesday.
In response, the government agreed to start issuing temporary ID numbers until a new law is passed within six months, but protesters are refusing to leave.
Bosnia is one of the world’s most over-governed countries. It consists of two semi-autonomous mini-states, each with a president, government and parliament. Those are linked by a joint parliament, government and a three-member presidency.
Disagreements between the ethnicities have nearly ground many government services to a halt.
Bosniak and Croat lawmakers want the last digits of ID numbers to be random, but Serb lawmakers are pressing for people in the Serb mini-state to have a specific number referring to their region.
Most of the protesters appeared to be Bosniaks and Croats, who have been pushing for a unified country.
Bosnian Serb lawmakers inside Parliament have expressed concern over their safety and said there won’t be a parliamentary session for security reasons. Some Parliament employees tried to escape through windows but protesters turned them back, yelling “Go back to work!”
Sarajevo cabdrivers are supporting the protest by blocking some of the streets around the building.
Many in Bosnia are frustrated with their ineffective Parliament. Lawmakers make six times the average Bosnian salary per month and there is a 20 percent unemployment rate.
The protesters are asking lawmakers to cut their salaries by a third and send that money to a fund that will be used for medical treatments of sick children.
“This is not just about the ID number. It is about their attitude toward us. It is about how unimportant we are to them as citizens,” said Tarik Celik, 26.