In Sarajevo, no more waiting for Godot

In a New York Times op-ed piece, philosopher Srecko Horvat compares a scene from Sarajevo 20 years ago to one today. In 1993

A BOY, his voice heavy with embarrassment and regret, was performing Samuel Beckett in Serbo-Croatian. “Mr. Godot,” he said, “told me to tell you that he won’t come this evening, but surely tomorrow.”

Embattled and under siege, Sarajevo waited for the international community to come to its aid while thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed.

Now 20 years later, Bosnia and Herzegovnia are in the throes of protest and flames over officials’ corruption. But this time, instead of waiting for Godot,

Around the country, protesters are not just occupying streets and public squares but organizing plenums to create alternative governments. In Sarajevo, one such assembly was taking place at the youth center, which before the wars of the 1990s was one of the most popular Western-style clubs in Yugoslavia. During the war it was hit by artillery shells and caught fire.

Now I watched as more than 1,000 people — mothers without a job, former soldiers, professors, students, desperate unpaid workers — gathered here to discuss the future of the country.

Horvat reports the results of these people’s assemblies, which have been powerful. (So read the op-ed.) This reminds me of Arendt’s observatipn of the power that springs up when people gather together and  of that slogan that has inspired grassroots movements around the world, “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

This does not mean that the international community should ever sit by and say, let them take care of their own problems.  But neither should the international community come in and install an alternate regime or force democratization practices that might be counterproductive. As the director of the southwest Industrial Areas Foundation, Ernesto Cortes, Jr., says, Never do for anyone else what they can do for themselves. That’s his “Iron Rule.” So the best kind of help is that which helps communities organize themselves and decide their own futures.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.

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