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OMRI Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 37, 96-09-17

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

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 37, 17 September 1996




    Voting took place across Bosnia-Herzegovina on 14 September for six categories of offices, international media reported the next day. OSCE monitors called the elections one of the most complicated in history, but also described the vote in glowing terms as a virtually flawless success (see below). Estimates of the turnout ranged from roughly 60-80% of the electorate. The BBC pointed out that despite stringent security measures taken by IFOR and the UN police, only about 15% of the potential refugee voters made use of bus transportation to cross the former front lines to vote in their old homes. Parties have already begun exchanging charges of vote-rigging. In particular, the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Serbian opposition Alliance for Peace and Progress have slammed the behavior of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). -- Patrick Moore


    President Alija Izetbegovic is ahead of his top challenger for the Muslim seat on the Bosnian presidency, Haris Silajdzic, by 81% to 15%, OMRI's special correspondent reported from Sarajevo on 17 September. In the Serb race Momcilo Krajisnik has 78%, but his opposition challenger Mladen Ivanic has 20%, which is a remarkably strong showing given the hold of the SDS on the police and the media. A similar development is taking place among the Croats, where Kresimir Zubak is polling only 85% despite his Croatian Democratic Community's (HDZ) virtual monopoly on Croatian political life. His opponent Ivo Komsic has 13% as of 9:00 Tuesday morning. Izetbegovic narrowly leads Krajisnik in total number of votes, which puts him in line to be the first to hold the rotating chair of three-man presidency, Reuters noted. CNN said that final presidential returns are expected later in the day. The complete tally for all contests is not due until later this week. -- Patrick Moore


    OMRI correspondents in Sarajevo witnessed numerous irregularities or provocations, such as incomplete voting lists, voters being given pencils with which to mark their ballots, refugees not being provided with bus transportation, and refugee polling places being set up not in normal buildings but in a mine (see below). The correspondents gained the impression that the "international community" was determined to call the vote a success and hence any irregularities simply "would not matter." It appears likely that the three nationalist parties will take the most votes across the board among the Muslims, Serbs, and Croats, respectively, although anti-nationalists may do well in isolated cases such as Tuzla. If so, the vote is unlikely to mark a return of Bosnia to being a single multi-ethnic state but rather constitute one more step on the way to a partition along ethnic lines. U.S. envoy John Kornblum is now stressing the need to build common institutions, but it is difficult to see how this will happen with nationalists in control of all three groups. In event, OMRI's special correspondent reported from Sarajevo on 17 September that the Bihac pocket kingpin and enemy of Izetbegovic, Fikret Abdic, attracted few votes in his presidential challenge. In Muslim-held Bugojno, experts said that the bomb that blew up the home of a prominent Croat on 13 September was the work of a professional, Onasa reported on 16 September. -- Patrick Moore


    In the meantime, the officials of the SDS are already making plans that seem at variance with Kornblum's. Aleksa Buha, the titular head of the SDS, expressed worry about the location of future common governmental institutions and said that equality must prevail, Nasa Borba and Oslobodjenje reported on 17 September. "There was plenty of time for [the international community's high representative] Carl Bildt and [deputy high representative] Michael Steiner to find premises on the demarcation line between the Bosnian Federation and the Republika Srpska, or even to build new buildings [along that line]. I foresee further problems regarding this issue," Oslobodjenje quoted him as saying. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Other Serb leaders have been active as well. The Republika Srpska's (RS) acting president and the SDS candidate for RS president, Biljana Plavsic, has again spoken out on the question of a greater Serbia. Plavsic, in remarks reported by Nasa Borba on 12 September, observed that there is "no peace without the unity of all Serb lands." Plavsic also went on record as saying that the RS "has only that sovereignty which is afforded it by the Dayton peace agreement, and for now we are happy with that." Nevertheless, she said "there won't always be this kind of anti-Serb climate in the world," implying that her commitment to partitioning Bosnia remains solid. -- Stan Markotich


    The OSCE on 13 September nonetheless ordered Plavsic to apologize on Serbian television for making repeated calls for the breakup of Bosnia in violation of the OSCE ban on such comments, Onasa reported. Plavsic, a hard-line nationalist follower of indicted war criminal and de facto Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, read the apology three times that day. But Krajisnik said the following day that Plavsic's statement was given under pressure and "we will quickly forget it and move forward." -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But Bosnian Serb politics are not determined only in Pale. What is emerging a question of open speculation is how Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is influencing parties under his control in the Republika Srpska to address, or specifically to evade, the issue of the Bosnian Serb entity's political and legal status. On 12 September Nasa Borba reported that Milosevic recently held a closed-door meeting with officials from the Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska (SPRS), including with its chairman, Zivko Radisic, who subsequently dropped his candidacy for the RS presidency. But Radisic maintains he was not forced to withdraw his candidacy, only that Milosevic requested that he mute any rhetoric dealing with "the issue of unity with Serbia because they [Milosevic's governing Socialist Party of Serbia] are under great international pressure to recognize Bosnia and Herzegovina." The limelight and the politicking of dealing with the RS's status, Nasa Borba, noted, was the "hot chestnut [Milosevic] tossed into Plavsic's hands." -- Stan Markotich


    And Milosevic may have a chestnut or two for the Muslims as well. French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette confirmed on 16 September that Izetbegovic and Milosevic will meet in Paris this week, AFP reported. The summit will be the first bilateral meeting between the two presidents, although they have met at several international conferences on Bosnia. Despite an earlier visit to Belgrade by Ejup Ganic, the Bosnian Federation vice president, after which communication links between the two countries were reestablished, Belgrade has yet not formally recognized the Sarajevo government. Belgrade warned it would not establish diplomatic ties with Bosnia until Bosnia dropped a charge of genocide filed against rump Yugoslavia with the Hague-based International Court of Justice. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Returning to the elections, accused war criminal and paramilitary leader of the Party of Serbian Unity (SSJ), Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, spoke at a 10 September rally for his SSJ presidential candidate for the Bosnian Serb entity, Ljilja Peric-Tina. He used the occasion to blatantly revive calls for Serbian state expansion. Despite the fact that calls for secession are in contravention of the Dayton accord, Arkan said to his 3,000 followers: "Don't forget one thing, your capital and that of all Serbs is Belgrade... Serbia, Montenegro and the Republika Srpska -- that is [all] one state." In any event, on 4 September Beta reported that the OSCE provided Arkan's party with 300,000 marks (about $222,000) in campaign funds, mainly at the expense of German taxpayers. -- Stan Markotich


    On election day itself, technically speaking, nearly everything went as smoothly as the masters of ceremonies announced that evening in Sarajevo. They included former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke, his successor John Kornblum, Carl Bildt, and head of the Sarajevo OSCE office Ambassador Robert Frowick. Virtually nobody in Bosnia expected them to say anything different, no matter what occurred or how the other actors performed. The masters of ceremonies were comfortably helicoptered to neatly set-up polling stations in locations where neither dramatic nor embarrassing scenes were likely to disturb the impression of "elections as free and fair and democratic as one might expect here," as one of them put it.

    "Minor incidents," such as incomplete voter lists; a shot here and there; a lack of transportation in one village and empty buses in another; and voters waiting in vain to cross the Inter-Entity Boundary Line (IEBL) could not disturb the overall impression of a wonderful success -- a success Frowick summarized with the relieved words, "no one was shot."

    But the first reports from exhausted journalists and representatives from the UNHCR and non-governmental organizations who returned to Sarajevo in the late evening told a completely different story. Theirs was a story of humiliation, despair, and inhumanity, a story created not in the least by the international civilian and military community. But no one on the ground in Bosnia believes that revealing the facts that brought about the celebrated electoral success will alter the OSCE's prefabricated final word on the election's validity -- although that final word must supposedly wait for the official monitors' (none of whom were observed at the polling sites visited by OMRI) report and the judgment of Ed Van Thijn, Election Monitoring Group chairman.

    The IEBL for Muslim refugees from the municipality of Zvornik, now in the Republika Srpska, runs along the village of Mahala, a recent scene of clashes between visiting Muslims, local Serbs, and RS police. On the sunny election day, hundreds of Muslims assembled around the main square in the federation village of Kalesija waiting for shuttle buses to bring them across the IEBL to the polling stations in their former villages. The place was filled with a low murmur and not the loud laughter or impassioned discussions one usually expects at any large gathering in this part of the world. When a shabby old bus offering at most 30 seats returned from its last run, at least 60 people silently squeezed into it. The drive to Mahala -- turned into a fortress secured by U.S. IFOR troops and observed by the UN's International Police Task Force (IPTF) policemen and French UN Civil Affairs representatives -- lasted only five minutes. Days of heavy rain had turned the boundary line area into a mud field ploughed by U.S. tanks and "Hum Vs." As agreed between the parties, the bus was searched by federation police on the "sender's side,"$ while Republika Srpska police on the other side were supposed to accompany it to the polling station. With OSCE support, the local RS election committees had carefully arranged for Muslim refugee voters not to meet a single Bosnian Serb. IFOR eagerly helped to enforce this apartheid at the polling stations, which were often surrounded by barbed wire. The OSCE, IFOR, and the Office of the High Representative had agreed with the parties' interior ministers on "secure routes" that had to be used by voters driving vehicles carrying not less than eight persons. "Well, freedom of movement may be limited today," one friendly U.S. soldier said. Given that no refugee was allowed to continue from the polling stations miles outside Serb-inhabited areas to his or her place of origin, "limited" seemed far from the right word. "It's about security, not about terms," explained the soldier.

    Many refugees had no idea that they would not vote where they had registered to vote, and that there would be no chance to at least look at their former property or to meet a friend. Some took that news with fatalistic silence, while others simply would not go along with it. "We registered for Caparde, and that's exactly where you drive us now and where we are going to vote," said young Nedim B. after discussing the problem with his fellow refugees on the bus. The U.S. officer in charge made clear that IFOR would not accompany the bus to Caparde, just a few miles away from the official polling station. "It's much too dangerous," he said. "Republika Srpska police do not guarantee your safety if you go any further than planned." An old woman who had followed the translated exchange silently said firmly: "What do you think we are afraid of? We survived Omarska [concentration camp]!" The discussion became louder and increasingly emotional. Two new buses were already waiting. No one really understood who was in charge of what. The 14 allegedly IFOR- "protected" roads were instead called "monitored" roads. The small IFOR convoy patrolling the area between Mahala and the polling stations "is not going any further, period," said the soldier.

    The Bosnian Serb police in charge of accompanying the buses on RS territory said they had too few cars and personnel to provide security for anybody driving a few miles further. The Nordic IPTF policeman, watching and listening to the cacophony, jumped in: "The voters are free to go wherever they want." The French UN Civil Affairs representative asked disgustedly: "Remember Talleyrand? What can you expect in the Balkans but chaos!" Finally, the bus returned to Kalesija. The majority of refugees from Caparde decided to believe the threats and to vote with absentee ballots.

    A single RS police car had been available to accompany all the buses traveling between the polling stations and Mahala. The tactic behind that was simple: the longer the procedure, the fewer Muslims vote. Finally, the police car arrived back from one mission and headed with the next two buses for the Grbavci polling station "in Zvornik."

    "Zvornik" turned out to be a wide, muddy rock quarry surrounded by woods in the middle of nowhere, 16 km outside the town of Zvornik. Twenty-two Bosnian Serb policemen were standing around six supposedly unavailable police cars, watching a humiliating scene: Just as patiently and silently as they had waited in Kalesija for the buses to arrive, the refugees now waited in the mud to be allowed to vote. An OSCE representative led groups of them in rows of two toward two green army tents erected by U.S. IFOR troops at the furthest end of the rock quarry. A Serb flag without the Republika Srpska insignia waved above one of the tents.

    In a humane gesture that seemed entirely alien in that ghastly place, U.S. soldiers handed out cookies. "Babi Yar," commented one journalist. "Kurdistan,"$ suggested another. Overhearing those comments, a local translator replied, "No, Zvornik!" There were many execution sites similar to this around Zvornik, he said. "Just imagine, the families of Zvornik residents who might have been executed right here are being brought to this very place to vote." Only one kilometer down the road stands a row of empty houses. "It would have been easy for OSCE's monitors to at least insist on that more decent place, even if their superiors were not willing to insist against this apartheid voting from the very beginning," the translator concluded angrily.

    But technically speaking, "everything went smoothly." Three kilometers further away, was the village of Lazete, the site of mass executions and a grave containing 155 Muslim civilians from Srebrenica. Lazete's "Serbs only" polling station was in the very school where the victims had been herded the night before the execution, 200 meters from the mass grave. "I don't know of any executions or Muslims held here," said an elderly man on his way to vote. "Anyway, a school is a school," he mumbled, and turned away. Elections are elections are elections, say the masters of the game. -- Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo, 15 September


    Indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic voted in person at polling station No.6 in Rakovac, near Pale, at around 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, 14 September. IPTF spokesman Alexander Ivanko said that local UN civilian authorities "did not think this event important and did not inform IFOR about it."


    According to the UNHCR, nearly 600 voters from the Federation were unable to cast their votes in the Serb-controlled section of Gorazde because of obstructive behavior by the RS police and election committee members. The police deliberately slowed down buses carrying voters from the Federation. An ad hoc European Parliament delegation present in the rechristined "Community of Serbian Gorazde" had strong objections to the way voting took place: "The single polling station designated to displaced persons from the Federation processed voters much more slowly than the five polling stations designated for Serb voters, many of whom had been bused to Srpsko Gorazde from Belgrade, Vukovar, and other Serb areas. By midday, ten times more Serb voters had been able to vote than had persons who had been displaced from Gorazde. Those figures grew increasingly out of balance while thousands waited at the IEBL for transport to the polling station. Only the direct intervention of observers alleviated the situation late in the afternoon, when an additional polling station was opened." European Parliament delegation-members told OMRI they estimated more than 1,200 people were unable to vote in the district.


    The Srebrenica polling station for voters from the Federation was actually in the forests ten kilometers from Srebrenica center. To reach it, voters had to walk nearly a kilometer uphill along a muddy track.


    According to foreign journalists, several thousand Muslim voters from Zenica who wanted to vote in the Serb-held town of Doboj were unable to do so because of a lack of transportation. According to some of the refugees from Doboj, that obstruction was orchestrated by the Muslims' own SDA. That party was afraid to lose votes in presidential elections, since Federation voters casting their ballots in the Republika Srpska could only vote for a Serb candidate.


    The European Institute for the Media (EIM) -- which has since 1992 monitored the media during ten parliamentary and presidential elections in post- Communist countries at the request of the European Commission -- carried out a monitoring mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina from July through September. Their preliminary report, issued in Sarajevo on 15 September, states that: "The EIM mission found serious shortcomings in the performance of the media throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, especially within Republika Srpska and the Croat- controlled part of the Federation. In both those areas, the inadequacies have been so great as to call into question the poll itself."


    Doris Pack, chair of the Ad Hoc Delegation of the European Parliament, told OMRI: "We were very unhappy and angry with the way the OSCE handled the financing of political parties' media campaigning. It was our taxpayers' money and to see it spent by the parties of people like Arkan or Seselj, or for TV programs where the SDS speakers praised indicted war criminals, one must say, that it was not given in the best way." Pack further noted that there is no visible sign of return of refugees or freedom of movement; there is a lack of independent media; local elections had to be canceled because of large-scale fraud and manipulation; and thousands of voters were prevented from voting both abroad and within the country itself. She concluded by saying: "The time before the elections was tense and not free and fair. Preconditions were not met. But everyone, including the opposition, wanted these elections. Elections were wanted by the people here, they proceeded in a peaceful way, and now we have to entrench new joint institutions and see if people are ready to move on." -- Jan Urban in Sarajevo, 16 September


    But, once again, it seems that the idea of building new institutions is somewhat less than realistic. According to IFOR's projected election results -- modeled on a statistical analysis of voter movements and on numbers of people crossing from rump Yugoslavia into the Republika Srpska -- a "nightmare scenario" is in the offing, with Krajisnik becoming the first president of the new Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    And the Pale media's already victorious tone and a set of ultimatums targeting the OSCE and issued in the first hours after the polls closed are likely just the first signs of a hardened negotiating style that the international community may expect to encounter in the coming months. For example, an RS government minister told OMRI on the eve of the elections that the only compromise his government was ready to offer in the Brcko arbitration is whether to widen the corridor connecting the eastern and western part of the Republika Srpska from its present six kilometers to 19 kilometers. He specifically excluded the possibility of refugee return or giving up part of Brcko's river port, let alone a part of Brcko itself. No dramatic gestures are expected before the automatic lifting of sanctions against Belgrade and Pale six days after the certification of elections.

    Bildt is meanwhile trying to convene a meeting of the three members of the collective Bosnian presidency in New York before the sanctions are lifted, in an effort to extract some promises before the threat of sanctions disappears forever. Documents obtained by OMRI prove that IFOR and the IPTF decided two days before the elections not to actively promote freedom of movement, both outside the so-called Recommended Voter Routes and even within them. Instead, IFOR and the IPTF agreed to accompany the buses and provide security on roads, but prevent voters from traveling beyond designated special polling stations (see above). That is understood as a clear policy decision made on the highest level and a model for the future: no action will be taken to promote the fulfillment of the Dayton peace accord except in areas where the agreement of a signatory party is obtained, in this case the RS police.

    The anticipated decisive victory of the HDZ in Croat areas of the Federation strengthens speculation about future cooperation between the HDZ and the SDS in the parliament and presidency. It is unclear whether those two nationalist parties agree to local elections taking place under OSCE conditions. If the 14 September elections are to be taken as an example of the organization, transport, and blocked freedom of movement across border lines under international supervision, it is difficult to imagine that many people will try to exercise their right to participate in local elections across the IEBL again. In that sense, the elections have strengthened the sense of the inevitability of separation among people on the ground.

    The presidential triumvirate is meanwhile expected to enter into discreet negotiations on a tripartite split even before the local elections. Only significant gains by the opposition in both the Republika Srpska and the Federation could change that. Such gains would strengthen support for the still-powerful faction within the SDA leadership that is genuinely fighting to preserve a multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. Without that support, the SDA will be pushed to further slide toward representing a narrow nationalist Muslim outlook as a mirror image of the SDS and HDZ. Most significant in this sense will be the election results from Sarajevo and Banja Luka.

    Many politicians on the Muslim side, moreover, feel betrayed by the "tasteless and unfeeling" behavior of Holbrooke and the U.S. congressional monitoring delegation he led on election day. Most of the criticism targets their self- congratulatory tone used in the media and their far-reaching conclusions based on insufficient information, comments many believed were an attempt to influence the OSCE certification process. As one of the opposition leaders put it: "They do not understand that there are still strong forces who would still prefer a war to division of a country."

    Frowick too has been criticized, but for inaction. This centers on the seemingly non-existent efforts of the OSCE Media Experts Commission and the only last-minute activities of the Election Appeals Sub-Commission -- two powerful tools that his mission could have used to influence the fairness of the campaign. Changes in the OSCE mission are expected very soon to prepare it to function better in the next two big confrontations: the arbitration on Brcko due by mid-December and the local elections. -- Jan Urban in Sarajevo, 16 September


    One other possible flash point that seems fairly tranquil for now is Serb-held eastern Slavonia, the last bit of Croatian territory still under Serbian control. Jacques Klein, head of UNTAES, or the UN Transitional Administration in Eastern Slavonia, has said that a new amnesty bill is slated to be discussed in Croatia's parliament, Croatian Radio reported on 10 September. According to Reuters, Croatia drafted the law on amnesty for Serbs living in eastern Slavonia at least partly in response to mounting international pressure demanding that rebel minority Serbs (except war criminals) fighting against Croatia in 1991 receive a pardon. -- Stan Markotich


    Ivica Vrkic, the head of the Croatian government's office for eastern Slavonia, was quoted by Hina on 11 September as saying that all citizens have legal and constitutional rights to return to their homes. In what appeared to be a reference to ethnic Serb refugees from western Slavonia now in eastern Slavonia, however, Vrkic said that any mass return of displaced persons and refugees is "not possible" and that the issue has to be resolved "gradually." Vrkic added that "What [is]...needed first is the establishment of an open dialogue, regardless of differences in views, so that we can solve problems of all people affected by war." Vrkic, along with UN officials, was visiting with local authorities in the Serb-held town of Bilje. -- Stan Markotich

    Compiled by Patrick Moore and Josephine Schmidt

    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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