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OMRI Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 31, 96-08-06

Open Media Research Institute: Pursuing Balkan Peace Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 31, 6 August 1996




    An endless game of "hide and seek" between the international community and Bosnia's Serbian and Croatian nationalists has lately dominated the country's political scene. The game was predictable enough for quite a long period, with rules well known to each side: the nationalists would pretend to hide, and the international community would pretend to seek. With clear rules in place, both sides were happy to play fair. But Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) broke the rules by becoming too visible and arrogant, forcing international mediators to abandon the status quo they had been so comfortable with and pursue him.

    After provoking the international community with statements about his candidacy in the September elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina, along with his sacking of the Republika Srpska's moderate premier, Rajko Kasagic, Karadzic finally found himself forced to give up all his political functions. Although he named loyal hard-liners to replace him with the obvious intention of ensuring the continuation of his nationalist policies, it appears that he is gradually becoming a political outsider.

    When Karadzic broke the rules, the terms of the game became strict. Nervous statements by Bosnian Serb officials demonstrate how great the pressure on them is this time. Republika Srpska Premier Gojko Klickovic said the Serbs have become fed up with the international community's "permanent pressure." Parliamentary Speaker Momcilo Krajisnik even denied that a meeting scheduled for 31 July with the U.S. envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina, John Kornblum, would be held, giving no explanation. The meeting was held all the same, despite the Bosnian Serbs' continuous refrain that there would be "no more concessions."

    The international community's pressure has not angered the Bosnian Serbs solely. Mostar Croats had taken for granted that they could boycott meetings of the city council chosen in that divided city's local elections until their demands were met. At least that was how it had worked in the past. So they were deeply offended when Michael Steiner, deputy to High Representative Carl Bildt, told them that the international community would not allow itself to be blackmailed in Mostar by "mafiosi figures." Mile Puljic, the head of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) in Mostar, reacted strongly: "It is clear that Mr. Steiner has sold his soul to the devil and proved to the entire world that he stands next to those who want a new war in Bosnia."

    Finally, an agreement was reached that the ministate of Herceg-Bosna would be abolished and replaced by a so-called Croatian "political community." There is no clear indication how long it will take to dismantle the Herceg-Bosna state structure; Bosnian Croat leaders have given no firm idea. As to Mostar, Croat- Muslim talks continued under EU mediation on 6 August after several deadlines came and went.

    The Bosnian Serbs are giving important posts to hard-liners who then make statements that contradict everything they have agreed to. Bosnian Croats have played games with their para-state of Herceg-Bosna for more than two years, but they are under great pressure to give up some of their authority. Besides, nothing really changes until a decision is made in Belgrade or Zagreb. Thus, one had to first see in the media that U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke was chatting with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade before an image of Karadzic signing a letter of resignation could follow. Similarly, U.S. President Bill Clinton invited an official visit from Croatian President Franjo Tudjman just as the important decision on the abolition of Herceg-Bosna was being made.

    Regardless of how naive or incompetent foreign negotiators sometimes look when sent off to the former Yugoslavia, the international community can deal successfully with Balkan rogues when it is tough and determined. Unfortunately, the byproduct of the West's hard-line stance is sometimes senseless violence and stubborn resistance, which reflect the nationalists' despair. Churches and mosques are being set ablaze. Explosions in both the Republika Srpska and the Bosnian federation are becoming more frequent. Nationalists have used every tactic at their disposal to scare refugees attempting to return to their homes. Buses bringing "the others" are being attacked; people crossing the borders between entities are being arrested. Political terrorism goes hand in hand with the ethnic terrorism. Workers are being fired from their jobs because of "wrong" political affiliations in the Republika Srpska just as in the Croat- and Muslim-held towns in the Bosnian federation.

    Yet the first Bosnian postwar elections in Mostar were praised by all for their dignity and lack of incident. And the first train has set out from Sarajevo via Mostar to the port of Ploce, on the Adriatic coast, following four years of war. Croatian nationalists in Mostar did not join the celebration by ordinary people at the rebuilt Mostar railway station, but they also could not spoil it. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    With the Bosnia-wide elections only five weeks away, however, there are growing indications that all three nationalist parties are using so-called "electoral engineering" to solidify their power in strategically important territories. Not only are they padding the areas where ethnic majorities already exist, but they are also manipulating the registration process to increase their proportional representation in post-election Bosnia- Herzegovina. Displaced persons, absent military personnel, and even the dead will all play key roles.

    Of all the parties, the HDZ is making the most daring attempt to change the situation on the ground. Its instrument is allegedly a much-debated provision of the OSCE voter registration rules that allows displaced persons to register in places where they supposedly intend to live in the future. Months after the elections, it will be moot whether these voters have actually moved or not. Existing reports suggest an organized campaign by the HDZ to use this provision to win or to preserve control over a number of key areas.

    These include the towns of Gornji Vakuf and Fojnica in central Bosnia, which would establish a land corridor connecting the ethnically cleansed territory of so-called Herceg-Bosna with Kiseljak and Vitez -- two rich industrial enclaves in central Bosnia which are firmly under HDZ control but remain surrounded by Muslim territory. "In theory, election engineering could easily change the results of the war in some areas," admitted an OSCE election expert who spoke to OMRI on the condition of anonymity. "Fojnica has a voter population of only 16,000 and Gornji Vakuf slightly over 25,000. In a country with around one million displaced persons, you have lots of options of how to play with the elections."

    For the last several months, the HDZ has also allegedly been organizing the gradual withdrawal of the Croat population from other outlying enclaves in central and northern Bosnia -- villages such as Jajce, Vares, Zepce, and Dastansko. The Croat residents who lived in these areas in 1991 were told to prepare to move and register for voting in Herzegovinian towns like Drvar, Glamoc, and Bosansko Grahovo. In the past, these towns were predominantly Serb, but the HDZ appears intent on creating a new Croat majority.

    The facts on the ground thus clearly contradict the recent verbal promises made by the HDZ leadership and Tudjman to abolish Herceg-Bosna. "The HDZ always wanted to have Herceg-Bosna [extend] up to central Bosnia. This was already their proposal for the Owen-Stoltenberg plan back in 1993," said Ivo Komsic, Croat member of the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina and a leader of the Croat opposition. "The HDZ sees the elections as another opportunity to achieve this goal. First they made sure that no Croat opposition candidate could register in central Bosnia. Everybody who wanted to run against the HDZ was threatened. In September the whole of central Bosnia will be open to HDZ manipulation and deals with the SDA," which is the leading Muslim Party of Democratic Action.

    In Jajce, the largest of the Croat outlying enclaves, moving out is the order of the day. Croats no longer invest there, and Croat officials have stopped paying most of those on the public payroll. The UNHCR no longer runs the distribution of humanitarian aid, while the local Red Cross offices have been accused of withholding aid from those who refuse to comply with the plans of the HDZ. According to preliminary OSCE data, more than 20 percent of the population of Jajce has applied to vote in a new place of residence. In contrast, and not surprisingly, the corresponding figures for the contested towns of Gornji Vakuf and Fojnica are only 0.5 percent and O.1 percent, respectively. Preliminary analysis also shows an unusually high number of people interested in voting in Capljina, a town south of Mostar which is of strategic interest to both the HDZ and the SDA.

    In Gornji Vakuf, the HDZ continues to play the displaced person/intend to move game. Just 24 hours before the end of registration, HDZ officials asked the OSCE for an additional 3,000 application forms, allegedly for persons from other municipalities who wished to come personally to vote and live in this area. According to party officials, these people could not register to vote by absentee ballot in the municipalities where they live, because they were afraid of the consequences. A different HDZ official -- unaware of his colleagues' discussion with the OSCE -- claimed that the forms were needed for soldiers serving in the Bosnian Croat army (HVO). On the last day of registration, OSCE brought the 3,000 forms but insisted on checking every person that would apply to fill them in. By noon, only one person had done so.

    Voter registration patterns in the Republika Srpska also clearly reflect a government-organized re-population campaign. The right to individual choice is openly subdued to "national interests (see below)." Tens of thousands of voters have been told by the authorities to register in the key town of Brcko and in eastern Bosnian towns with pre-war Muslim majorities. After many complaints, OSCE Election Appeals Subcommission "expressed its deep concern over evidence that the SDS in Doboj is guilty of linking humanitarian assistance to the voter registration process." Throughout the RS, official media report daily that "none of the refugees expressed a wish to vote in the Muslim-Croat entity, proving once again that any living together is impossible." And it is expected that many of the 150,000 absentee ballots coming from active military duty personnel and special police forces of all three sides will be targeting strategically important areas.

    Another possibility for fraud in the upcoming elections is the high number of unaccounted for and "nonconfirmed as deceased" voters still left on the lists of eligible voters based on the 1991 census. An estimated 250,000 died during the war, plus around another 100,000 of natural causes over the last five years. But the combined total of roughly 350,000 is far more than the mere 85, 000 that the OSCE says have been identified and removed from the registration lists. "Think, just as a simple statistical exercise, that there are hundreds of thousands of Krajina Serb refugees, Croat nationalists from Croatia, or Sandzak Muslims who can be organized for this," said one official. "And think that we have no way how to check a person who comes on election day and claims to be a refugee with this name -- you are getting very near a nightmare."

    In response to these fears, Christian Christiansen -- in charge of OSCE voter registration -- said that every voter's thumb will be marked with indelible ink to prevent one person from voting more than once. "In the end," he added, "we can say that we have made sure that even the dead will -- if they come to vote -- do so only once." -- Jan Urban in Sarajevo


    Meanwhile among those who are definitely alive, RS Acting President Biljana Plavsic on 30 July began her election campaign by touring northwest Bosnia, Onasa reported. Talking with local officials in the towns under Serb control, Plavsic said that borders, territory, sovereignty and the issue of the disputable town Brcko on the border between the Bosnian federation and the RS are the minimum that the Serbs would accept. Plavsic also said that the September elections will verify the sovereignty of the RS, and underscored that the Dayton agreement nowhere contains the term reintegration. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But politics have been conducted by other means as well. An explosive device was discovered in a hall in Brcko just before a meeting of the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska (SPRS), AFP reported on 4 August, citing Beta news agency. Tanjug called the machine a smoke grenade. The SPRS is the Bosnian branch of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and is the main electoral rival of Karadzic's SDS among RS voters. Provocations such as beatings, bombings, and stonings against the SPRS have been reported over recent months, and Onasa said on 1 August that additional incidents took place recently in Teslic, Zvornik, Brcko, and Derventa. -- Patrick Moore


    The SPRS has friends of its own nonetheless. Zoran Lilic has said that the upcoming 14 September elections in Bosnia will "eliminate from power the illegal regimes... [whose mandates] ran out a long time ago." In a further sign that relations between Belgrade and the current Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale are under strain, Lilic added that the election results would eliminate political extremists from power and pave the way for the consolidation of democratic institutions, AFP reported on 28 July. -- Stan Markotich


    That does not mean, however, that Belgrade is not playing a role in consolidating ethnic cleansing. The Helsinki Committee on Human Rights stated that three refugees from Sarajevo have alleged that Belgrade authorities barred them from registering for the 14 September Bosnian elections, Onasa reported on 31 July. Beta says that the three refugees were prevented from registering to vote in the towns from where they came. There are a growing number of reports that Belgrade officials are increasingly reluctant to provide registration forms to refugees whose home in Bosnia is now under Bosnian government or Federation control. Instead, those officials are pressuring refugees to accept voter registration in the Bosnian Serb- controlled Republika Srpska. OMRI contacts in the RS have reported that officials there, too, are forcing people to register for localities in the RS in a clear attempt to alter the ethnic map (see above). -- Stan Markotich


    Meanwhile among the Muslims, opposition parties have accused the SDA of replacing the managers of state-run companies in Tuzla with party candidates, AFP reported on 29 July. In the first prewar elections, Tuzla was the only town in Bosnia-Herzegovina where nationalist parties did not win a mandate. It remains the only town governed by Muslim politicians who are not from the SDA. Opposition spokesman Jasmin Imamovic said the state has the right to administer the companies but only in accordance with federal law. Elsewhere, the SDA and the opposition Joint List continue to trade accusations over an SDA poster that implies that it is the duty of all Muslims to vote for the SDA. -- Daria Sito Sucic and Patrick Moore


    TV Srpska has meanwhile started an unusual series of election broadcasts,

    "Elections '96," bringing together representatives of 15 parties of which three were from the Bosnian federation, the Media monitoring group of The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) - Media Plan, reported. Although the participants did not find a common language, and some of the presenters were hostile to the Federation-based parties, their presence in Banja Luka itself was an accomplishment. According to the 18 July story run by the weekly Svijet, the representatives of the Muslim Bosniak Organization (MBO), the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Union of Bosnian Social-Democrats (UBSD) were not very courageous in front of the aggressive Serb presenter. But Amila Omersoftic, the managing director of the Bosnian state television, who came to Banja Luka to present her party "Zena B-H" (B-H Woman), stood her ground despite provocations by both the presenter and the audience who called the studio to ask questions. Svijet's commentary was that Omersoftic, who has been fiercely criticized as the director of the state RTV for her alleged SDA biases, by this appearance on the Bosnian Serb TV partly improved her image with the audience in the Federation. Spokesmen of the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska, however, said that the SDS-controlled TV was treating Croats and Muslims well, while it treated opposition Serb parties "like its worst enemies," Onasa reported on 4 August, quoting Politika. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Elsewhere in the Republika Srpska, Italian NATO troops accidentally came upon a major arms depot while looking for potential polling sites in Markovici near Sokolac northeast of Sarajevo. The cache had not been registered with IFOR and contains 1,000 tons of weapons and ammunition occupying a space of 1,200 square meters, AFP reported on 5 August. At least 4,000 Serbian civilians mobbed the 30 Italians as they tried to begin carting off the ammunition, a job that IFOR said would require 100 trucks to complete. Two Bosnian Serb officers claimed that the site was about to be registered with NATO, but the Italians noted that it had not been declared before and was dangerously concealed near civilian housing. The crowd in any event forced the Italians to return to the depot with their trucks, the BBC noted. Under they Dayton agreement such unauthorized caches can be confiscated and destroyed. -- Patrick Moore


    Moving to northwest Bosnia, many of the Muslim followers of local rebel kingpin Fikret Abdic fled when Croatian forces overran the area last fall, and many of those stayed in crowded nearby Croatian camps, fearing retribution by the Bosnian army. The Croatian government recently set 31 July as the deadline for 2,000 refugees to leave the Kuplensko camp, Onasa reported. They were given the choice to move to other refugee camps in Croatia, to go to a third country, or to return to Bosnia. Most of the refugees have already returned to their homes in Bosnia, but those who remain in Croatia still fear political persecution if they return. UN spokesman Ivanko acknowledged this fear, saying that the bridge blast may have been "an attempt to prevent refugees from the camp returning to Bosnia," AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Turning to international dimensions of the conflict, London's Sunday Times reported on 4 August that the U.S. wants to stage a covert air operation to seize Karadzic from his base at Pale, Reuters noted. The paper quoted British Defense Secretary Michael Portillo as saying, however, that Britain would refuse to cooperate with such a mission, asking: "how many British lives is that worth?" He added that "whilst we believe Karadzic must be brought to justice... our immediate priority is stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the holding of democratic elections next month." Portillo denied that there is any rift between London and Washington over policy toward Bosnia, but students of the conflict know that such differences have long existed. Croatian sources told OMRI that they believe that the story was deliberately leaked by London to thwart American plans. -- Patrick Moore


    On another aspect of the international scene, the World Bank has agreed to grant Bosnia-Herzegovina $75.6 million in credits to finance five reconstruction programs, AFP reported on 31 July. The projects involve de- mining, housing reconstruction, electricity production, employment, and the demobilization and reintegration of 425,000 Bosnian army soldiers. The loans are interest-free and will mature in 35 years. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    This report returns to the Republika Srpska. "I know Doboj has a reputation as a hard-core nationalist and pro-Karadzic stronghold but, believe me, Teslic is worse," says one of the men. "We have at least some space for opposition here, but Teslic has only Savo." Sitting in an outdoor cafe, the faces of two other men around the table light up with sarcastic smiles. During the war, the Orthodox priest "Pop" Savo often carried an AK-47 rifle in public. One night in November 1995, after the Dayton peace accords were signed, Savo proclaimed Milosevic a traitor of the Serbian nation and then sprayed his portrait with bullets.

    Their voices are kept low and whenever someone passes the table there is silence. Across the street several buildings bear the signs of a recent explosion. On Tuesday night, 23 July, a car bomb exploded in front of a shop just a few meters from the city police station, causing considerable panic among the policemen on duty. "At first they thought it was an attack on them, but then they found out whose car and whose shop it was, and went back to sleep," explains one of the men. Three more cars were damaged in the explosion, he says, and the police station and several other shops were hit with splinters. "It's not unusual in the last few months. A short time ago, the car of a high army officer was bombed. Everybody believes that all this is part of a fight among the war profiteer mafia gangs which own most of Doboj by now." He then continues: "The police never find anything, because they are part of it. We are lucky that it always happens at night and that, until recently, no innocent people got hurt."

    The local mafia grew in wartime and today represents the most powerful economic, political, and power element in many towns of the RS. In an impoverished economy, the mafia decides who gets a job or a place to stay. In Doboj, it also includes powerful individuals from the surrounding villages; these men sometimes occupy the apartments of expelled Muslims, Croats, or even Serbs who went abroad because they did not want to take part in the war. In contrast, refugees from other places are being told to stay in collective centers.

    "The biggest danger with this violence is that there is no law and no order that can touch these people. Violence and harassment are already part of the SDS election campaign," says one of the men around the table. Attacks on opposition politicians and activists are numerous and always remain unreported in the SDS-controlled media. In Teslic, bombs have exploded lately in the weekend house of the opposition Socialist party chairman and in a shop owned by a known Socialist supporter. Two members of a regional committee of this party were attacked and beaten up.

    "Last week Doboj saw a bit of this as well," says one man. "The Socialists are trying to campaign in the villages, while the SDS is doing everything to prevent them from talking to people. The SDS was surprised to see that the first few public meetings that the Socialists had around here were well- attended and that people reacted positively toward the opposition. So, when the Socialists announced a meeting in the village of Grabovica, the SDS occupied the hall rented for this meeting and placed armed guards there. Locals claim that they saw the SDS government Minister Vojo Radiskovic helping to organize it. The local police proposed to the Socialists that they postpone their meeting. They refused and arrived at the given time at the building. One guard, local SDS activist Stanico Milacak, stepped out holding a hand grenade -- and suffered a heart attack. He died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Meanwhile, the Socialists held their biggest public meeting to date around Doboj in a nearby forest. The scandal dragged on even to Milacak's funeral service. When SDS secretary Gligoric spoke at the ceremony, he accused the Socialists of being responsible for Milacak's death. Nobody remembers anything like this ever happening in this part of the country, but the majority of neighbors and people present there felt so insulted and ashamed that they left the ceremony."

    "Of course, nothing of this is ever reported by the official media," claims another. "Only the new independent biweekly Alternativa dares to write about these events. But probably only because it is close to the Socialist party, anyway. Journalists from the official media in Doboj are somewhat special. I don't know about any other place in Republika Srpska where so many stupid rumors would be taken up by the press and government television as here in Doboj. Lately we have heard that NATO airplanes were dropping chemicals over Doboj, causing the deaths of dozens of cattle and sheep, and that many children and women with breathing difficulties allegedly had to visit the emergency room of the hospital. Well, I didn't feel anything, and when I asked my wife who is a doctor, she thought I was mad. Such stupidity is not only reported on Pale TV but even in Belgrade's Politika newspaper. I am just waiting for the latest rumor to make it to the press. Yesterday, I heard from the guy who works here for the Tanjug news agency and for government TV that NATO helicopters are dropping poisonous snakes' eggs and cobras." Everybody laughs. "People are so tired of politics," he continues. "When Karadzic had to step down, most people just did not pay attention. The media went crazy, but some people even celebrated -- in private and very silently. The SDS guy in our house put up Karadzic's poster on the entrance door and now he watches [to see] who would dare take it down."

    The old steam locomotive stands on the main street of Doboj as a reminder of old days. Several battered Karadzic posters are glued to its side. Two weeks ago, when they were still fresh, Alternativa ran a photo of the locomotive on its front page with the headline: Train to Nowhere. -- Jan Urban in Doboj

    Compiled by Patrick Moore

    This material was reprinted with permission of the Open Media Research Institute, a nonprofit organization with research offices in Prague, Czech Republic.
    For more information on OMRI publications please write to

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