Balkans: Worst floods since records began

Serbian and Bosnian governments’ inaction provokes fury

The Balkans, mostly Serbia and Bosnia, and also a smaller part of Croatia, have been hit by the worst flooding since records began 120 years ago. The region was hit by three-months’ amount of rain over just three days. Torrential rain rapidly swelled rivers and streams, causing them to rise to record levels and burst their banks. The already soaked earth, following the spring snow melt, could not take millions of gallons of excess water. This resulted in floods that many are describing as catastrophic, even cataclysmic. It also triggered hundreds of landslides. Around 22,900 square km were under water, an area larger than Israel or Kuwait. The flooded area just in Serbia was almost the size of Cyprus.

There is no doubt that the floods are the result of the climate change which is increasingly noticeable in the region. Floods, interchangeable with droughts, are becoming more frequent. Temperatures in summer are now commonly surpassing 40 C (100 F) and extreme droughts are becoming a norm. What used to be a region with four very distinguishable seasons now has a climate that is very unpredictable, changeable and almost chaotic. Temperatures easily change by 15-20 C in 24 hours, in any season. Eastern Europe, and especially the Balkans, are experiencing climate change a lot more than the rest of Europe.

Large floods previously hit the area in 2006 and 2010, but this spring’s floods are without precedent. More than 2.5 million people have been affected. Nearly one million people have been displaced and lost access to clean water. There are very different figures concerning the dead, ranging from hundreds to thousands. At least 100,000 buildings and homes were destroyed. At the moment when the waters are beginning to recede, the most pressing concerns are animal carcasses and debris, and the possible outbreaks of diseases.

Criticism of authorities

Although there is probably nothing that could have stopped the catastrophic floods considering the amount of water that fell from the sky, there is a lot of criticism of how it was handled by the authorities. Most criticism is regarding clientelism, privatisations of public services and general disorganisation of relief for the victims. Some criticism is about outright criminal negligence. It is said that the first flood warnings were announced in mid-April and some minor flooding was even seen later that month. And yet almost nothing was done to prepare for the coming catastrophe.

First thing to bear in mind is that all three affected countries have, even at ’normal’ times, a largely dysfunctional, corrupt, mafia-like political systems, following the breakup of former Yugoslavia twenty two years ago and the civil war. A tiny elite (known as ’tycoons’ in the region) have enriched themselves first in war profiteering, black marketering, and finally in dodgy privatisations with the introduction of a particularly vicious and lawless neo-liberal capitalism. The rest of the population are increasingly impoverished; unemployment is high and welfare non-existent. Politicians are corrupt and in the service of foreign big business interests. The people of all Balkan countries feel removed and unrepresented by the political system. There is a feeling that they are left to care for themselves.

A disaster like this could only accentuate the problems in the countries. Although there were some successful evacuations of the flooded towns in Serbia, most operations were completely disorganised even though the danger of flooding was known days in advance. There were reports that towns which are run by the opposition had been left and ignored by the government. For example, Paraćin in Serbia, had been successfully evacuated only due to a good organisation by the mayor but was not even mentioned in the government-controlled media for a few days as being at all affected.

The worst case is undoubtedly Obrenovac, a town just outside the Serbian capital Belgrade. Although three days before the catastrophe the torrential rains and raising river levels were forecast, nothing was done to even inform the population of the dangers, let alone evacuate them. The town was flooded on the night of 14 May and the alarm was sounded at 5am the following morning when it was already too late and many had been killed. There are reports that the president of municipality of Obrenovac was urged the night before, by a few citizens who could see what was coming, to sound the alarm and start evacuations. The mayor allegedly answered that the alarm would create panic and that it was sufficient to broadcast occasional information on the local TV. At the same time, the mayor of Belgrade sent a message to the citizens of Obrenovac to stay in their homes, where many consequently found their deaths. So far, there has been no explanation for the mayor’s appeal and any possible credibility was definitely brought into doubt when, once the tragedy happened, the appeal ’disappeared’ from the website of the town authorities. The following morning, only two rowing boats were operational in the flooded town. The lucky survivors who managed to escape on top of the roofs were wondering what had happened to the rescue operations and why they have been abandoned. It is reported that the first rescue operations carried out in the town were actually Russian and not Serbian.

Media secrecy

It is difficult to know what exactly happened because the media is shrouded in secrecy. A few days after the surviving population were finally evacuated and the water resided, nobody was allowed into the town – the reason given was the need to disinfect. However many people are wondering whether there are other reasons; that it would possibly reveal a much higher number of the dead than the official number, or some other evidence of malpractice. There are rumours that the dam on the river that lies just before the town was detonated in order to flood the area rather than further down the stream where the main Serbian power plant is situated – and that therefore the town was sacrificed. But during night hours it was not clear just how much water there was already in the dam. Nobody yet knows for sure what happened but the questions, as well as calls for arrests, are mounting.

What the government-controlled media in Serbia do show is Prime Minister Aleksandar Vučić parading in his favourite role of a saviour. He is often filmed in a rescue boat or a helicopter. He already bears an ironic nickname ’Superman from Feketić’, after he last winter ’rescued’ a ten year old boy from a snow blizzard in the town of that name. Then, like now, the real rescue operation was compromised by wasting time and resources on filming Vučić running with the child in his hands towards a helicopter. Then, similar to the Belgrade mayor’s appeal to the citizens of Obrenovac, the video showing Vučić dressed as superman mysteriously kept disappearing from internet (but was seen on social networks by thousands). Vučić is also known for his intolerance to opposition and has a quick temper. His angry face fills the TV screens, shouting at any local authority that is not in the governing party for the mishandling the floods. He attacks those who criticise the government of acting against the national interests in these difficult times.

At the same time as Vučić was getting so much air time and taking advantage of the tragedy for photo opportunities and scoring political points, one person who has not been seen on TV is the Serbian president, Tomislav Nikolić. So much so that people wondered, for a while, whether he knew that there were floods! Later, it turned out that during the worst of the floods in Obrenovac, Nikolić was busy making rakia (a popular brandy in the region). So far, he has made one public appearance, only to say that God is to blame for the floods and to congratulate the government for responding successfully to the catastrophe. Incredibly he blamed the victims themselves for disorganisation. Nikolić outrageously stated that people did not adequately respond to the official instructions, or simply did not hear the alarms.

Shifted landmines

A very similar situation developed in Bosnia where after six days of devastating floods government ministers finally held a special cabinet session. They decided a state of emergency was not needed on the federal level, since the affected entities had already implemented their own. Bosnia-Herzegovina is divided into three ethnically divided and bureaucratically-riddled entities. The natural catastrophe only emphasised how dysfunctional the system has become. Even mourning days were declared separately – as somebody noted, as if the grief was different. However, in Bosnia there is another massive threat – landslides have shifted land mines from the civil wars in the 1990s, in fields. According to the Mine Action Centre, the 120,000 mines still left in the country after the civil war used to be contained in properly marked fields. Now they have spread and as much as 70 percent of the flooded territory could now be at risk of having land mines on it.

The floods have shown that both countries are completely unprepared for any type of a natural disaster. They showed a lack in equipment in the emergency sector – helicopters, boats, pumps, generators, even torches and candles. They showed a catastrophic lack of investment and maintenance of the dams, waterways and river basins. Many of the agencies responsible for the maintenance have been privatised, losing interest in investing in anything that does not bring sufficient profit. There are other problems that are rife in the region. One of them is excessive deforestation, which has made 75% of Serbian soil prone to erosion. Another problem is using the rivers as rubbish depots, which slows down or blocks river flows. Both show a lack of environmental understanding at the governmental level, as well as amongst many in the population. However, this cannot be corrected simply by shouting at the people for fly-tipping. A wider understanding of social consciousness is needed if we really want to bring about a change. We cannot expect a majority of the population to behave differently to the predominant ’values’ set up by the governing bodies – those of greed, self-interest, and even outright criminality.

There are positives in this tragedy though, and they concern precisely the working people of the region. Many people, used to caring for themselves and not relying on the government for help, self-organised rescue operations of their fellow citizens and animals. They showed that when it mattered most they are capable of great solidarity and humanity – exactly what their governments did not show. And not just that. The peoples of the whole region, who were only a couple of decades ago engaged in a bitter and ’age-long’ hatred and war, quickly sent aid to each other in the form of equipment, medicines, funds and labour-power. That kind of solidarity touched many hearts and rekindled once felt brotherhood.

"Government, we won’t keep you any longer"

The solidarity among working people was very well described in a Serbian blog entitled, ’Government, we won’t keep you any longer’: "Let’s clarify the following immediately: all praise to the people of this country. If we didn’t have ourselves, we would have been finished a long time ago. Observing the self-organization and force of solidarity that have been raised in a very short time, one cannot help but feel proud and immediately understand why we have survived all sorts of things throughout history”.

Because we are, after all, there for each other in the worst of situations. Perhaps in normal circumstances we take that for granted all too often. We imagine we are left alone, that everyone only cares for themselves, but this, what we are seeing these days, isn’t quite so”.

On the other hand, the government has shown unseen laziness, unpreparedness, and complete lack of organisation. And who needs a government like that?"

There are some people who are saying, if in a few months’ time the countries affected by the floods are still lead by the same greedy, selfish, useless governments, we, as people, should not deserve anything better. Or, that our real humanity will be tested by how we answer the calls from the citizens of Obrenovac to remove those who are responsible. This shows a frustration that many in the region are feeling about the lack of political consciousness and action among working people. This can only be corrected by (re-) building working class organisations and popularising socialist ideas in the region. The new-found solidarity arising from the terrible floods is a good place to start.

Balkan: najgore poplave od kada se vrše meteorološka merenja

Nepreduzimljivost srpske i bosanske vlade isprovocirala bes

Mira Glavardanov, CWI

Balkan, najviše Srbija i Bosna ali i manji deo Hrvatske, je pogođen najgorim poplavama od kada su počela da se vrše meteorološka merenja pre 120 godina. Na regiju je u periodu od tri dana pala tromesečna količina kiše. Usled obilnih kiša, reke su rapidno nabujale do rekordnih visina i probile nasipe. Već prevlažno zemljište nakon prolećnog otapanja snega nije moglo da upije milione kubika viška vode. Kao posledica, nastale su katastrofalne, čak kataklizmične poplave, kao i na stotine klizišta. Oko 22.900 kvadratnih kilometara je bilo pod vodom; ovo je teritorija veća od Izraela ili Kuvajta. Samo u Srbiji, poplavljeno područje je dostizalo veličinu Kipra.

Nema sumnje da su poplave posledica klimatskih promena koje se sve više primećuju u regionu. Poplave, koje se smenjuju sa sušama, su sve češće. Letnje temperature sada uobičajeno premašuju 40 C, dok ekstremne suše postaju norma. Region koji je nekad imao četiri veoma različita godišnja doba, sada ima nepredvidivu, promenljivu, skoro haotičnu, klimu. Temperatura se lako promeni čak za 15-20 C u roku od 24 sata, u bilo kom godišnjem dobu. Klimatske promene se u istočnoj Evropi, a naročito na Balkanu, osećaju mnogo više nego u ostalim delovima Evrope.

Velike poplave su prethodno bile zahvatile region 2006. i 2010., ali poplave od ovog proleća su bez presedana. Više od 2.5 miliona ljudi je pogođeno. Skoro milion ljudi je evakuisano i izgubilo pristup pijaćoj vodi. Cifre poginulih variraju od stotine na hiljade. Najmanje 100.000 građevina je uništeno. U ovom momentu kad voda počinje da se povlači, najveći problemi su životinjski leševi i smeće, kao i opasnost od zaraze i bolesti.

Kritika vlasti

Iako verovatno ništa nije moglo da spreči katastrofalne poplave ako se uzme u obzir količina vode koja je pala na zemlju, brojne kritike su uperene na reagovanje vlasti. Kritike se najviše odnose na klijentelizam, privatizaciju javnih službi i opštu neorganizovanost u pomoći žrtvama. Neke kritike se tiču upravo kriminalne neodgovornosti. Navodi se da su prve pretnje od poplava bile objavljene još sredinom aprila, dok su se omanje poplave desile krajem tog meseca. I ipak se ništa nije preduzelo da se pripremi za predstojeću katastrofu.

Prva stvar koju treba imati na umu je da sve tri države, nakon raspada bivše Jugoslavije pre 22 godine, čak i u ’normalno’ vreme imaju mahom nefunkcionalne, korumpirane, mafijaške političke sisteme. Malobrojna elita (poznata kao ’tajkuni’ u regiji) se obogatila prvo ratnim profiterstvom, zatim švercom i najzad privatizacijama nakon uvođenja naročito okrutnog i bezakonskog oblika neo-liberalnog kapitalizma. Ostatak populacije je osiromašen, nezaposlenost je velika, a socijalna zaštita nepostojeća. Političari su korumpirani i u službi stranog kapitala. Narodi svih balkanskih zemalja imaju osećaj otuđenosti od političkog sistema i prepuštenosti samim sebi.

Prirodna katastrofa je mogla samo da naglasi ove probleme. Iako je bilo nekoliko uspešnih akcija evakuacije u poplavljenim gradovima Srbije, većina operacija je bila kompletno neorganizovana, uprkos tome što se nekoliko dana unapred znalo za predstojeću opasnost. Navodi se da su gradovi u kojima vlada opozicija bili ignorisani od strane vlade; na primer Paraćin je bio evakuisan jedino zahvaljujući dobroj organizaciji svog gradonačelnika, dok u državnim medijima uopšte nije bio spomenut kao ugrožen u prvih nekoliko dana potpune poplavljenosti.

Najgore je ipak prošao Obrenovac. Iako su obilne kiše i povišen vodostaj bili predviđeni tri dana pre katastrofe, ništa nije bilo preduzeto da se građani obaveste o mogućoj poplavi, a kamoli da se organizuje evakuacija. Grad je poplavljen u noći 14. maja a sirene su se oglasile u 5 sledećeg jutra, kad je već bilo prekasno i kad je već uveliko bilo nastradalih. Predsednika opštine je navodno urgirala nekolicina samih građana koji su videli šta nadolazi da uključi sirene za uzbunu i počne sa evakuacijom. On je navodno na to odgovorio da će sirene izazvati paniku i da je dovoljno ako se s vremena na vreme puste kajroni na lokalnoj televiziji. U isto vreme, gradonačelnik Beograda je uputio apel građanima Obrenovca da ostanu u svojim domovima, gde su mnogi malo kasnije našli svoju smrt. Do sada nema objašnjenja za ovaj apel i ako je bilo nekog opravdanja za njega, to je definitivno dovedeno u sumnju kada je apel, nakon tragedije, ’nestao’ sa gradskog sajta. Sledećeg jutra samo dva spasilačka čamca na veslanje su bila prisutna u potopljenom gradu. Građani koji su imali sreće da pobegnu na krovove kuća su se pitali gde su spasilačke ekipe i zašto su ostavljeni na cedilu. Navodi se da su prve spasilačke ekipe u Obrenovcu ustvari bile ruske, a ne srpske.

Mediji ćute

Teško je znati šta se stvarno desilo jer su mediji okruženi velom tajnosti. Nekoliko dana nakon što su preživeli najzad evakuisani, nikom nije bio dozvoljen pristup u Obrenovac – razlog koji je dat je neophodnost dezinfekcije. Međutim, mnogi se pitaju da li postoje drugi razlozi: da bi to možda obelodanilo mnogo veći broj žrtava od zvaničnog broja, ili neki drugi dokaz o neodgovornosti vlasti. Postoje mišljenja da je brana na Kolubari uzvodno od Obrenovca minirana da bi se poplavilo to područje i tako spase termoelektrana nizvodno og grada, tj. da je Obrenovac bio žrtvovan. Obim tragedije je bio neočekivan jer je toku noći bilo nemoguće videti da je brana već bila prepuna vode. Ne zna se još uvek šta se tačno desilo, ali pitanja se gomilaju, kao i pozivi na odgovornost.

Ono što režimski mediji u Srbiji prikazuju je paradiranje premijera Aleksandra Vučića u svojoj omiljenoj ulozi spasioca, pa je tako često slikan u spasilačkom čamcu ili helikopteru. On je već nosioc nadimka ’Supermen iz Feketića’, nakon što je prošle zime u tom mestu ’spasao’ desetogodišnjeg dečaka iz snežnih nanosa. Onda, kao i sada, prava spasilačka operacija je bila kompromitovana gubljenjem vremena i resursa na snimanje Vučića kako trči prema helikopteru sa dečakom u rukama. Tada, slično apelu beogradskog gradonačelnika Obrenovčanima, video sa Vučićem obučenim kao supermen misteriozno je nestajao sa interneta. Vučić je takođe poznat po svojoj netoleranciji prema opoziciji, kao i temperamentu. Njegovo besno lice se viđa na TV ekranima gde se ljuti na bilo koje lokalne vlasti koje nisu u vladajućoj stranci zbog neorganizovanosti, dok istu kritiku usmerenu vladi naziva napadom na državu i njene interese u ovim teškim vremenima.

U isto vreme dok je Vučić koristio tragediju za slikanje i dobijanje političkih poena, jedna osoba koja se nije mogla videti na ekranima je srpski predsednik Tomislav Nikolić, da su se ljudi već pitali da li on uopšte zna da su poplave. Kasnije se utvrdilo da je za vreme najgore poplave u Obrenovcu Nikolić bio zauzet pečenjem rakije. Do sada se međutim pojavio, tek toliko da izjavi da je bog kriv za poplave i da čestita vladi na besprekorno obavljenom poslu. Nije mu nedostajalo beskrupuloznosti da takođe izjavi da je narod sam kriv jer se nije adekvatno odazvao instrukcijama vlasti ili da ljudi jednostavno nisu čuli alarm.

Pomerena minska polja

Slična situacija je u Bosni gde su tek posle šest dana katastrofalnih poplava ministri najzad održali vanrednu sednicu, tek toliko da odluče da nije potrebno uvoditi vanredno stanje na nivou federacije jer su to već učinile entitetske vlade. Bosna se sastoji od tri etnički podeljena i birokratski napumpana entiteta. Prirodna katastrofa je samo naglasila nefunkcionalnost sistema. Čak su i dani žalosti proglašeni odvojeno; kao što je neko rekao, valjda se različito tuguje – u zavisnosti u kom se entitetu živi. U Bosni međutim preti još jedan ogroman problem – klizišta su pomerila minska polja. Prema Centru za uklanjanje mina BiH, 120.000 mina je bilo ostavljeno nakon građanskog rata u obeleženim poljima. Te mine su otplutale s vodom i postoji rizik da 70% poplavljene teritorije sada ima mine na sebi.

Poplave su pokazale da su obe zemlje u potpunosti nespremne za bilo kakvu vrstu prirodne katastrofe. Pokazale su nedostatak u opremi u sektoru za vanredne situacije – helikopteri, čamci, pumpe, agregati, čak i baterijske lampe i sveće. Pokazale su katastrofalan nedostatak ulaganja u održavanje brana, rečnih tokova i korita. Mnoge vodoprivredne organizacije su privatizovane i tako izgubile interesovanje za ulaganje u bilo čega što ne donosi dovoljno profita. Postoji još velikih problema u regionu. Jedan od njih je masovno i neplansko sečenje šuma što je prouzrokovalo da 75% teritorije Srbije postane pokriveno erozivnim tlom. Drugi problem je što se reke koriste kao deponije đubreta, što usporava ili blokira tok reka. Oba problema ukazuju na nedostatak ekološke svesti, na nivou vlasti i stanovništva. Ovo se međutim ne može ispraviti grdnjom pojedinaca za bacanje đubreta u reke. Potrebno je šire razumevanje društvene svesti ako stvarno želimo da dođe do promene. Ne može se očekivati da se većina stanovništva ponaša drugačije od prevladavajućih ’vrednosti’ koje je uspostavila sama vlast – pohlepe, koristoljublja, pa i samog kriminala.

Ipak, ima i nešto pozitivno u ovoj tragediji, a tiče se običnih, radnih ljudi u regionu. Mnogi od njih, naviknuti da se brinu sami o sebi i da se ne oslanjaju na vladu za pomoć, sami su organizovali spasilačke akcije svojih komšija, ili životinja. Pokazali su da su sposobni za veliku solidarnost i humanost kada je to najviše potrebno – baš ono što njihove vlade nisu pokazale. I još nešto. Svi narodi u regionu, koji su samo pre par decenija bili okovani vekovno dugom mržnjom i ratom, pohitrili su da pošalju pomoć jedni drugima, u vidu ljudske snage, opreme, lekova, novca. Takva solidarnost je dirnula mnoga srca i probudila nekadašnje bratstvo.

"Državo, ne bismo te više zadržavali"

Solidarnost među radnim ljudima je vrlo dobro opisana u blogu pod naslovom "Državo, ne bismo te više zadržavali": "Odmah da razjasnimo sledeće: narodu ove zemlje svaka čast. Da nam nije nas, propali bismo odavno. Gledajući silu solidarnosti i samoorganizacije koja se podigla za vrlo kratko vreme, čovek ne može a da ne oseti ponos i da mu momentalno ne postane jasno zašto smo izdržavali sve i svašta kroz istoriju.

Zato što smo, na kraju dana, u najgorim situacijama tu jedni za druge. Možda u normalnim okolnostima to uzimamo previše zdravo za gotovo. Umislimo da smo sami, da se svako bori za sebe, ali to, vidimo ovih dana, i nije baš tako.

Sa druge strane, država je pokazala je neviđenu tromost, nespremnost i potpunu, ali potpunu dezorganizovanost. A kome takva država treba?"

Ima i onih koji kažu, ako i za nekoliko meseci zemlje koje su pogođene poplavama i dalje budu imale iste pohlepne, sebične, beskorisne vlade, mi kao narod onda i ne zaslužujemo bolje. Ili, da će se naša humanost tek videti po tome kako ćemo se odazvati pozivima Obrenovčana da se smaknu oni koji su odgovorni. Ovo pokazuje frustraciju koju mnogi osećaju zbog nedostatka političke svesti i akcije među radnim ljudima. To se jedino može ispraviti tako što će se (ponovo) izgraditi organizacije radničke klase i popularizovati socijalističke ideje u regionu. Novo-pronađena solidarnost je dobar početak za to.

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