Although they experienced serious police intimidation, these women were not scared. On the contrary, they decided to fight even harder and launch the battle on several fronts – every day on the bridge by the river, and at the same time pursuing a legal and political struggle. What is currently happening in the small rural village of Kruščica is significant for several reasons: the locals of that settlement have shown us that it is possible to organize themselves and receive widespread support in the ethnically divided environment; that women’s emancipation is one of the most important tasks for our society, and that it will not be achieved by fulfilling mere legal formalities, and that the struggle for the common good will empower them by offering positive experiences of self-organization, solidarity and joint action. It is in this struggle that we recognize the elements that Danijela Dolenec points out as the key advantages of the present struggles based on common goods: advocacy of the democratic principles of horizontal self-government and participatory decision-making; These struggles are based on the collaboration of people, are criticizing capitalism and the state and they promote a philosophy of real needs, unlike those grounded just on an individual’s interest.
This article was written after talks with Hata Hurem, Amela Zukan and Tahira Tibold, guardians of the Kruščica river, who recently became members of the council of the local community association (mjesna zajednica, MZ) alongside with three other comrades. The conversation was led in a building near the bridge of the Brave Women of Kruščica. As the cold days arrived, the villagers had to build this shelter; initially it was a small, inconspicuous object covered only by nylon. Over time, they made insulation, a wood stove, and basic equipment was set up so that their long winter nights were easier. In the meantime, this little handmade shelter has become the heart of the community. People gather here, interact, exchange knowledge and experiences, drink coffee, share cakes and celebrate birthdays, and you can even try good and fresh local products from their gardens. I was lucky to try a homemade dessert – just pickled and roasted pumpkin. They say in a (positive) joke that this shelter will be a museum that will remind them of their struggle and how they defended Kruščica. All this shows how much this struggle affects the lives of women in this place and what it means to them. A local woman described it this way: “For these four months, on the bridge, my children grew up and I did not even notice it.”
Amela told us how it all started.
“Haris Hurem, a local teacher, was the first who found out about the possible construction of a small hydropower plant a few months ago. He did an extraordinary job – he informed the people and tried to challenge the project legally. The first actions were cleaning the site, river basin and the surrounding area, because it was deliberately neglected, probably so that people could easily give up on the fight and even be thankful to someone for removing it. We also launched a petition, and organized one protest in front of the Vitez Municipality, however, no one addressed us. As early as August 2nd (2017), the first truck came to the future construction site, but we immediately stopped it and made it turn away. Since then, we began to guard the river, constantly, 24 hours a day. Although not all the locals are coming, the vast majority are supporting us in the fight against the construction of the hydro power plant. There are different causes of absence of the bridge guards, most people are afraid that they may have problems at work, and this is a poor community, there is little opportunity for employment, people are being blackmailed. Another truck tried to pass, of course unsuccessfully. We found out that the special police would come on the 24th of August, so we, the women, decided to sit on the bridge because we thought they would not touch us, and especially not hit us, because that’s something you don’t do to bare handed women. That evening we gathered on the bridge in a large number. At three 03:00 in the morning we got to the bridge and waited. Special police appeared before the sabah prayer, sometime around 05.00. We held tightly because we knew they would try to remove us, but we did not believe they would use force. We got an ultimatum to get off the bridge within 3 minutes, otherwise they would do it. They told us that if we refuse to obey the order, they will pull us all, we will get huge fines and they tried to intimidate us. They told us they had an order to trample, demolish, and throw people away. In this case the police was obviously acting in the interest of politics, instead of the people. We refused to get up because we could not believe they would really hurt us, but we were wrong. The ultimatum didn’t even expire, and they had already attacked us, like we were some serious criminals. You could hear screams, danglers, shouting, the tangled sound of hard plastic shields that hit us, on our feet, hands, the sound of beating was horrific. Some women were dragged on the road, they were insulting us and cursing all the time. They didn’t show us any permission for these actions, it seemed like nothing could stop them. They detained 23 women who were literally pulled from the bridge into a bus brought by the police. They made a cordon between the locals and the seized women. We did not know what was happening to them (the detained women). We were all in fear. The women who received medical help were not given medical forms, and without them we cannot prove in the court that we were attacked. The behaviour towards the detained persons was inhumane. A cold room, with an unpleasant smell, and confused people, who did not understand why they were in custody. Why are they attacking us, we are not criminals, we just defended our right to water and life. That’s everyone’s right, isn’t it? The other locals gathered and went to the police station to seek the release of the women. It was never clear to us why they kept them for so long. Police made even a small scam, instead of taking just personal statements they took witnesses statements, like they were already charged or participated in criminal event. After that, they took every imprisoned person, one by one to that small and dark room to warn them: if they go to the bridge again, the special police will wait for you again, you will be arrested, again and will receive high fines. By using these methods and techniques they tried to find out who our leader was and why we did it. But our answer was simple – we are all leaders because our leader is a river and because it is our source of life we will not give up.
We do not think we did anything illegal. We never blocked the road so that no one could pass the road was blocked only for machines and contractors. Even 3 months ago, we sent a letter addressed to 7 institutions asking them to comment this case (the Mayor of Vitez Municipality and the Municipal Council, the Federation of BiH Parliament, the Health Council of the Municipality of Vitez, the Federal Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Health and Social Policy SBK Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, Human Rights Ombudsman, FBiH Parliamentary Security Commission). We asked them to revise the paperwork because everything started in our MZ. Allegedly a public debate on this project was held, but we did not know that. Imagine, a public hearing about the issue of an environmental permit was held in a private catering facility. They say there were about 40 people present. So how could only 40 people decide that a concession to build an HPP in Kruščica will be given, when our local community has about 2,500 inhabitants?! None of the local people knew about this event except for those present. How is it possible to bring such an important decision to our community at a secret public debate?  They planned to intimidate so we would give up, but all they can do is to keep trying, because every day we withstand is giving us more power” Amela said.
Even the Municipal Court in Travnik assessed that there was insufficient evidence to determine the individual responsibility of each of the detained person and suspended the misdemeanour proceedings. This was also commented by Enes Salkić: “It’s not clear to me why people who defend nature, who defend the water that gives us everything, that is a source of life, are punished. I cannot figure it out. So, what should be done to those who destroy nature if they treat us like this?”
The MZ is ours too!
The locals consider that all problems started at the MZ of Kruščica that worked against the interests of the inhabitants of the village. In the broadest sense, participating in the discussion is the practical use of the basic political right to discuss fundamental social, political and economic institutions and the principles of organizing social relations. Although the MZ represents the lowest form of direct participation of citizens in decision-making on local affairs, this form of local self-government is closest to them, and on the example of Kruščica we can see how important it is to be involved in time, and monitor the work of our MZ. We can say that this form of self-organization of citizens, based on the principle of self-government is devalued intentionally in order to undermine any direct participation of the locals. We should not forget that the MZ can perform a wide range of important roles, such as establishing contacts between citizens and local authorities, coordinating citizens’ requests, providing various services, initiating social and political activities in the local community, facilitating citizens’ participation in decision-making, etc.
Due to the stated role and its explicitly political character, the MZ are obviously targets for the action of political parties, which often prevent the free articulation of the local interest. The affairs of many MZ are obstructed or directly controlled by political parties, which is reflected in the actions of individual members of councils of those communities that have an interest to subordinate the local community to the interests of the party, as was the case in Kruščica. Political parties have significantly higher resources available to mobilize voters in elections than independent candidates who are not party-oriented, and for this reason it is easier for them to get organized in the MZ and get positions in the council. However, in this local community they did not count on a distinctly mobilizing character of the struggle for common goods, and a strong emotional connection namely present in the struggle for the rivers. This was confirmed by Hata Hurem, the current member of the Council of the MZ. She thinks that the rebellion made people more aware: “The people slept and were blind until the struggle against the construction of a hydro power plant began. Then we opposed. Our fight is also a struggle for our vision of Kruščica. We used to have 3 hotels, this is a well-known picnic area, since we have a beautiful nature. We want to focus our work on conservation of nature and development of resources for resting and recreation, which we had before (in the time of Yugoslavia). ”
Before the elections for the Council of the MZ, at the assembly of citizens, residents gave a vote of non-confidence to the president and members of the MZ because of the inactivity. Since then, for 3 months they were left without a MZ until the elections were held on 4th November of 2017. They say that the attendance was unprecedented compared to previous elections for the members of the Council and president of MZ. Usually, it was not even known when the MZ elections were held. This time, more than 400 people came to the polls, which was also marked by sabotage attempts. Namely, the reflector cable at the school playground, where elections were to be held, was cut off, as confirmed by the person who repaired the defect. Also, the municipality rejected the citizens’ request that the elections should be held on Sunday at 14.00 so as more people could come out and vote. They decided that the election would be held on Saturday at 17.00 when it was already dark and cold. Despite these attempts and obstructions the elections were successfully held. Women decided to run for positions in the local community after men have failed to agree on who to stand for. There was a conflict between a few people around the positions – who will be the president and the members of the council. Women stopped this conflict and decided that they will take over all election-related activities. It is important to emphasize that the men gave them full support. Once again, they demonstrated their determination to lead an important event for their community as they realized how important it is to take over the local community because the problems with the hydro power plant started exactly there. They proposed several people for the president. They went from door to door and talked to their neighbours; after extensive consultations with community, they decided together that Tahira Tibold was the best choice; they said she was a honourable and respected member of the community with life experience. Other women were chosen for being the most active in the struggle for the river, for doing research, collecting documents or keeping guards 24/7. As one local said, they are our ilegala , referring to the resistance movement from the Second World War. It was precisely the experience of the struggle that was crucial to change positions of power and relations within the community.
It is important to emphasize that these young women are without political experience or higher education. They had never been interested in politics until the moment they came to the bridge to defend the river. They do not know the procedures and are just learning and reading the Statute, but they say they are neither afraid nor fearful of this challenge because, above all, they have the support of the community and of their husbands. They are emphasizing this because they are mostly housewives and have to entrust their obligations to their husbands when they go to keep guards. They also say that there is a change in the relationship between men and women and the role of women in society. So far it has been considered that the woman’s place is in the house. Now, however, they realized that their role is much more significant and is not limited to housework and childcare. Now that they (men) must stand alone for that same kettle and take over women’s jobs while they keep the river, they realize what the position of women in society is. It is also appropriate to mention Silvia Federici, who states that women depend on access to natural resources more than men, and that the privatization of resources, such as water, will have a greater impact on the daily lives of women and therefore they are the ones that lead the struggle. Women are the main social force standing in the way of complete commercialization of natural resources. In Kruščica, we can identify grassroots women’s communalism – women now shape collective identity, change the relationships of power in the home and community, and open processes of self-assessment and self-determination from which we can learn much.  Economically, this fight is reflected in several ways; In addition to household affairs, women also deal with agriculture, and now, due to the constant downturn, these crops are decaying, such as raspberries, in which they have invested significant resources. They also have no time to make the homemade products they sell, which make significant part of their home budget. The fines they received can seem small to someone, but 200 KM in smaller rural communities is half of the monthly income for some families. Imagine families that live on one minimal pension of some 400KM, and there are a lot of those families. There used to be 3 hotels here, with restaurants and other facilities. Today, they say, nobody has any perspective.
Tahira Tibold, the newly elected president of the Kruščica Local Community Association, told us what happened in the elections and in the MZ, how they managed to nominate 6 women in a small place, where until then they thought a woman’s place was only by the stove, in the house and not in politics, and what their future plans are.
“We are altogether 11 of us, 6 Bosniaks, 4 Croats and 1 Roma representative. So far, the practice has been that everyone worked each for their own, but after these elections we decided to change this first. We organized a meeting and agreed that we would all work together now. When we got the reports for 2014 and 2015, we realized that big money was invested in Kruščica, about 500,000 KM, and the community did not notice those investments, and these projects are not visible, which is unbelievable when you see what amounts we are talking about. That is why we said: not more so, because when we are divided, the room for manipulation is bigger. Only when we work together it can be better for everyone, as it used to be. This struggle opened the path to coexistence. My deputy is Slaven Barišić. All projects are going to be completed until the end, and not like it was the practice before, there was always something to do and pay, but we didn’t know what has been done or how it has been implemented. For example, only the cleaning of the river bank cost 130,000 KM on a yearly basis. It is not clear to us how cleaning was done when we did not see anyone in the field? And we, the locals, are those who clean, voluntarily. By winning the elections we solved a big problem, because finally we have the legal body through which we can act. Until now whatever we tried to do, the main obstacle was that we were an informal group without legal status so they could easily reject our demands claiming we didn’t have the right to act. I also have no political experience, but I’m learning by doing. I know that the MZ mainly deals with utilities, rubbish, water, sewage, etc. It seems to me that the MZ is like a small municipality. Our plans are to make this place a better place for life. The first and fundamental goal is to protect the river the plan is to associate with as many neighbouring MZ’s as we can, in order to revive this part of the country. ”
Tahira told us and why this struggle for the river is a struggle for life.
“Everyone gets water, and us, who live here, do not have drinking water. We have pipes in front of the house, but there is no water. The water supply project in our village has never been completed. They all use some of their own, individual sources, but that’s not secure the pipes freeze regularly, and the water is not healthy. For 2 years they are promising us a solution, and nothing happens. Zenica has a water concession  from Kruščica, and Vitez is partially supplied from this source, but we do not have any of it. This is a struggle for life, for drinking water. Without electricity we can manage, but without water we cannot live. It’s not just a struggle for the life of people who live here, but also for all beings that live from the river. We noticed that the water flow is getting smaller. It used to run at about 520 l per min, and now the water flow is 260 l per min. The yield of the source is noticeably decreasing. Instead of protecting the sources, they started construction works in the water protection zone. They would dig the capture at a depth of 10 meters and there is a possibility to pull all the sources, including the one used for the water supply. No one thinks about the consequences. Vitez and Zenica usually have reductions in the summer because the flow of water has reduced, and probably illegal logging had an impact on it. I do not understand why the construction of a hydroelectric power plant is planned on water that is drinkable? Why should it be destroyed? These are the waters of the first category. Before the war, we had many factories, how much electricity they spent? Today, we don’t have any more of that, and how come we lack electricity? Obviously, there is enough for our market, but it seems that only export is important. Who manages all of this?
It seems to me that water wars will be led in the future! I think we are making a big mistake, why can’t we learn something from people who have some experience? Do we all have to be affected by this? No one starts their positions with these questions. I have heard that some time ago in Austria, they began to remove these hydropower plants because they noticed that the ecosystem was damaged. Because of the disturbance of nature, they stopped building them. The virus of a greed and corruption has affected the World; people are selling themselves for little money and they are so greedy so they don’t choose the means for gaining the wealth, it is never enough, they always want to have their glass overfilled. But they are not even aware of the danger, because what can you do with all this wealth if all of this (nature) collapses? Nobody sees beyond their nose, just give it to me, and today. And no one is aware that we inherited all of this and that future generations have the right to use the same environment. So why does it need to be destroyed today? There is no need for such unreasonable behaviour. That is why the struggles like ours are important. I hope we will start the wave of change in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that more people will wake up,” says Tahira Tibold.
References It remains unclear how the former Council of the MZ Kruscica can seriously argue that this suspicious public hearing is enough when an important decision for the community is made. Article 80 of the Statute of the Municipality of Vitez states that the council of the local community, in accordance with this statute, works for the needs and interests of citizens and making proposals for resolving issues of local importance, and it can convene meetings of citizens. Although problematic, Article 67 states that the local assembly of citizens can come to a decision if one tenth of citizens enrolled in the voter list of that assembly are present. They did not even use a mechanism that gives them legitimacy, and even if they were, about 250 citizens listed in the voter list should have signed, and not 40.  Federici, Silvia. Feminism and the Politics of the Commons. Link: http://www.commoner.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/federici-feminism-and-the-politics-of-commons.pdf  In 1967, the final agreement was reached and the relevant decisions were made by the council of the municipality of Vitez and the council of the municipality of Zenica, and the construction of the water supply system Krušćica already began in 1968. By the end of 1969, the catchments were built at the spring, and the 22 km long Kruščica-Zenica pipeline began operating the same year. The maximum capacity of the source is 520l / sec, which according to the agreement of the municipalities is divided in 23% for Vitez and 77% for Zenica. Source JP “VIK” d.o.o. Zenica – FROM ESTABISHMENT TO TODAY: http://www.vikze.ba/o-nama/historijat/
The article was originally posted here, in BCS.