About 1,500 lawmakers, government employees and foreign guests were finally freed in the early hours of Friday morning after thousands of irate protesters had formed a human chain around the Bosnian Parliament building in Sarajevo for 14 hours to demonstrate against an impasse over a law on identification documents.
Women with babies in carriages, pensioners and students faced off with police officers deployed to the scene as foreigners trapped inside — including about 250 foreign bankers attending a conference to examine investment opportunities — called their embassies back home to say they had been taken hostage.
Some of the protesters held up a sign saying, “We don’t want entities, we want identities” — a reference to the byzantine bureaucratic system in Bosnia that has magnified ethnic enmities, entrenched political deadlock and impeded the country’s progress toward joining the European Union.
At the root of the crisis is the failure of lawmakers to agree on a new law on how to determine the 13-digit identification numbers assigned to every citizen. The previous law lapsed in February, leaving all babies born since then without the identification documents necessary to travel abroad or see a doctor.
Bosnian Serbs have demanded that the identification cards have a specific number specifying their region, while the country’s Muslim Bosniak and Croat legislators want the identification numbers to be random to avoid further stoking of ethnic division