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OMRI Pursuing Balkan Peace, No. 39, 96-10-01

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

From: Open Media Research Institute <>

Pursuing Balkan Peace
No. 39, 1 October 1996


  • [01] Pursuing Balkan Peace
  • [02] "A ROYAL MESS"

  • [01] Pursuing Balkan Peace

    is published by the Open Media Research Institute. It is a compilation of news concerning the former Soviet Union and East-Central and Southeastern Europe. Contributors include OMRI's 30-member staff of analysts, plus selected freelance specialists. OMRI is a nonprofit, public service research organization funded by the Open Society Institute, indepdendent grants, and contracts with broadcasting organizations.

    [02] "A ROYAL MESS"

    This is how one observer has described the 14 September elections in Bosnia- Herzegovina and their aftermath. Indeed, the news from the past fortnight reveals a highly imperfect vote and provides ample reasons for concern about that troubled country's future.

    The returns from those elections are nonetheless interesting for a variety of reasons. First, although fairly high turnouts were reported for Bosnia- Herzegovina as a whole, in more than a few cases the number of ballots cast exceeded not only the number of voters who turned up, but also the number of registered voters in that locality. In some cases, the figures reached 111% for one polling station, and 104% for the country as a whole. Second, these bizarre figures were revised and altered a number of times, so that it was often difficult to get a sense of what the final count actually was. It was similarly troublesome to discern whether the irregularities in tabulating what had been called "the most complicated elections in history" were the result of confusion or of deliberate vote-rigging.

    But the OSCE, which was monitoring the elections, was not to be deterred by matters such as turnouts of over 100%. Indeed, its spokesmen stressed that, while there may have been some difficulties and irregularities, there was no massive fraud. The conclusion seems to have been that the acts of mischief on the respective sides served simply to cancel each other out and that the results should be declared valid. This is, in fact, what the OSCE decided when it ruled on 29 September to overrule its own legal advisors (who wanted a recount) and pronounce the results official.

    Part of the reason for this haste to give a seal of approval to an election that was obviously neither free nor fair is that the major powers were anxious to declare the vote a success so that they could claim that the implementation of the Dayton peace agreement was on schedule. They -- the U.S. in particular - - had, however, sponsored the Dayton peace talks but then failed to enforce basic civilian provisions of the treaty. These points included ones of clear relevance to the elections, such as ensuring freedom of movement, the right of refugees to go home, and freedom of the press and of association. Indeed, IFOR had even been lax in carrying out some of the military provisions and was content first and foremost that the fighting had stopped, just as the OSCE said it was happy with the elections if only because "nobody got shot" on election day.

    With this tacky record behind it, the "international community" was anxious to put on a brave face, call the elections a success, and show that the Dayton process was on track. This was of particular importance to the Clinton administration with just weeks to go before an election of its own, and some Sarajevo wags suggested that the OSCE was really the Organization to Secure Clinton's Election.

    It had become obvious, however, that some things could not be simply swept under the rug. The local elections, for example, had been postponed because of gross fraud in voter registration. Some of the foreigners were anxious to get them out of the way in October or November, but it soon became clear that problems regarding the voters' lists and freedom of movement could not be cleared up before spring at the earliest.

    That raised the question once again of the need for something like IFOR to be present beyond the expiration of its mandate and into the new year to ensure that at least basic order could be maintained. Many local leaders, particularly among the Muslims and the Croats, favored an extended international military presence, but they received no clear answer from abroad. The main reason was that, while Great Britain, France, Germany and some others were willing to consider a longer stay, few were willing to contemplate one without U.S. participation. The Clinton administration, however, was unwilling to commit itself one way or another in public before the November election. The future of security in Bosnia will thus remain something of an open question until the Americans go to the polls.

    But even if a new IFOR is approved and in place in 1997, it is difficult to see what more it can do than stop a new outbreak of fighting unless its mandate is changed. There seems to be a general lack of political will in the world's capitals to enforce the provisions of the Dayton agreement and show the nationalists on the ground in Bosnia that the international community means business, as it did last year when the effective Rapid Reaction Force supplanted the hapless UNPROFOR. In the meantime, those nationalists will continue to test the limits of the possible in the face of what they regard as weakness on the part of NATO, the UN and the OSCE. IFOR will still get tough with refugees wanting to return to their homes -- although they have every right to do so under Dayton -- but let indicted war criminals run free. And nationalists from all three sides will take up their government posts to which they have been freshly elected, by voters who turned out to the tune of 111%. -- Patrick Moore


    The mechanism in the process is, in fact, already in motion. The three members of the chief executive body met on 30 September at the new Hotel Saraj on the road between Sarajevo and Pale. The international community's High Representative Carl Bildt and his deputy Michael Steiner welcomed the Muslims' Alija Izetbegovic (who also holds the rotating chair), the Serbs' Momcilo Krajisnik, and the Croats' Kresimir Zubak, but then left the three to talk alone. (The three men's nationalist supporters might note that they did not need interpreters.) Onasa quoted a spokesman as calling the talks "business- like," but Oslobodjenje referred to a "very good atmosphere" and Nasa Borba even mentioned a "friendly atmosphere." The footage on CNN, however, did not show the men as looking particularly comfortable. In any event, Oslobodjenje noted that the three agreed that Parliament and the presidency will both meet on 5 October, and that the first session of the cabinet will take place by 30 October. They also agreed to free their remaining prisoners. - - Patrick Moore


    Krajisnik told Serbian television that he is calling on all Bosnian citizens to "accept reality" and cooperate in order to avoid new deaths and clashes, Nasa Borba reported on 30 September. Krajisnik said that it is out of the question and humiliating to the Serbs that he take a loyalty oath to the integral state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as requested by Izetbegovic. The Serb leader said that issue would instead be solved through a compromise. When reminded how difficult it was to build a consensus between Serbs, Croats, and Muslims in the prewar parliament, Krajisnik said the situation has changed, and the Dayton agreement has guaranteed that no nation can dominate another. "We are completely independent and separated from the Muslims and Croats. Our home is the Republika Srpska, where we are independent to make decisions best for Serbs, while having a consensus in a joint institutions." -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Returning to the elections, the OSCE's election coordinator Ed Van Thijn had, in fact, already said on 24 September that the ballot was not "free or fair," but denied that there was "fraud or manipulation... of sufficient magnitude to affect the elections." He added, however, that freedom of movement and association will have to be ensured before local elections can be held, and that the nagging problem of padded or purged voter registration lists will have to be solved as well, Onasa reported. This means that the local elections will indeed be postponed into early 1997, the BBC noted. Challenges to Van Thijn's announcement that the vote would be validated came quickly from the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Also on 24 September, the acting president of the Republika Srpska (RS), Biljana Plavsic, claimed that "the figures have been adjusted in order to answer the political needs of some. This adjustment has been accomplished with the help of illegal ballots that the electoral commission of the Republika Srpska was unable to check. The Republika Srpska can not accept a revision of the results relying on these mysterious ballots," AFP reported. -- Patrick Moore


    Former Premier and head of the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (S BiH) Haris Silajdzic also questioned conditions before and during the elections. On 20 September he told state radio, however, that "we now should build both from within and without a consensus on the integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will not succeed without the help of the international community. And we need to work on an international consensus that BiH, as an integral country and state, is needed by the world. We must not rely on the goodwill of some countries, nor on the influence of only a few. As you know, relations among countries [can] change. They are not something constant. Therefore we must rely on a world consensus that it is necessary to preserve the integrity of BiH for the sake of peace and stability in the region. The international order will in many ways depend on how the Bosnian problem is ultimately solved." -- Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo


    Meanwhile, others drew other conclusions from the vote. Gen. Jovan Divjak appealed to the Serbs living on federal territory to form their own political party and seek their own voice in Bosnian politics. Divjak is a Bosnian Serb who remained loyal to the Bosnian government and held a command throughout the war, but was cashiered when the SDA consolidated its control over the military after Dayton. He pointed out that the Serbs make up "10 to 15% of the population on the territory controlled by the government, but on the list of candidates [there] they were not even 1%," Oslobodjenje on 27 September quoted him as saying. -- Patrick Moore


    And in Serb-held Doboj, the first unofficial election results caused heavy disappointment and fear "about any further possibility to implement Dayton and to solve the Bosnian crisis," said one opposition party follower. "Almost the same assemblies that created the ethnic hatred will now meet again." People in the queue in front of the polling station said they resent Izetbegovic mainly for the fact that he always talked of the "Serb's entity" instead of the Republika Srpska, which they said revealed his own weighted agenda. Furthermore, Izetbegovic talked constantly about the "reconstruction of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is unacceptable [for the Serbs]." The only way out is "the independence of the Republika Srpska." One independent journalist in Doboj said the fact that "BiH TV mentioned Warren Christopher congratulating Izetbegovic, without mentioning the two other members of the presidency, became one more argument for those who believe the international community wants to dissolve the RS." In a Doboj pub, people were heard talking about their fears that "the only solution for the Serb people will be to fight another war." -- Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo


    But a major Muslim political figure from Serbia-Montenegro is pleased with the vote. Rasim Ljajic is the leader of the local branch of the SDA, which has close links to Izetbegovic's organization. It represents the Muslims in Sandzak, which is divided between Serbia and Montenegro but which has a slight Muslim majority. Following the Bosnian vote, Ljajic said that "the SDA victory in Bosnia will pave the way for our election victory," Onasa reported on 27 September. He added, however, that large numbers of Sandzak Muslims intended to move to Bosnia from Sandzak once the situation stabilizes there. Within the last 15 days, some 17 Muslim families from Sjenica in Sandzak moved to Sarajevo. -- Fabian Schmidt


    They may have cause to regret their decision, however. President Izetbegovic warned the UN General Assembly that the conflict could resume in Bosnia- Herzegovina if the Dayton peace accord is not enforced, adding that an international military presence will be necessary "for a certain and limited period of time." He criticized the local Croats for maintaining their para- state of Herceg-Bosna despite numerous promises to dissolve it. Izetbegovic singled out the Bosnian Serbs for criticism because they block Muslim and Croatian refugees from going home and because they refuse to hand over indicted war criminals to the Hague-based tribunal. Oslobodjenje on 26 September quoted him as saying that "if genocide without punishment is possible, then Bosnia and Herzegovina is not possible." Referring to the new government for the entire country, he said that it should include representation from the opposition, work to enforce the Dayton agreement, and promote media freedom. -- Patrick Moore


    The Bosnian president began speaking out on the future, however, already when the first returns were released. AFP on 19 September quoted his remarks on Croatia, local nationalists, and Serbia. "We believe that Croatia is heading towards democracy. It does not have any other way out. At present we don't see any great democracy there... but in the future we see Croatia inevitably as a democratic state and as such it will not interfere in the affairs of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the meantime, Bosnia-Herzegovina will get stronger and when you combine these factors you will see that Bosnia has a future." Asked about the fact that many of the same nationalist leaders as elected in 1990 in Bosnia have been elected again, he quoted Hegel: the "same things are not the same in different circumstances. The historical context is different." Turning to Serbia, he said: "the idea of a greater Serbia is both militarily and politically defeated. In 1991 people did not believe this," he said. -- Patrick Moore


    Meanwhile in Bergen, Norway, NATO defense ministers for the first time announced that the alliance will start planning for a possible role in Bosnia after IFOR's mandate expires at the end of the year. No concrete measures are likely to be announced until after the U.S. elections in November, the BBC reported. British Defense Secretary Michael Portillo nonetheless said that "we can't abandon the investment we've made [in Bosnia]" in promoting peace and stability. And in Paris, Foreign Minister Herve de Charette announced that a major international meeting on Bosnia will take place in early November to deal with the future of Bosnian state institutions, AFP reported on 26 September. -- Patrick Moore


    Back on the ground in Bosnia, tensions continue regarding the village of Jusici on Bosnian Serb-held territory, where armed Muslims have returned to rebuild their homes. The UNHCR is expected to clarify the matter soon, Oslobodjenje reported on 25 September. But later that day U.S. General George Casey said that Muslims must first leave and process the necessary paperwork before they can live there. Nasa Borba stated on 26 September that Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic has agreed to this formula, but the next day the paper said that Muratovic denied the story. The UNHCR then put forward a proposal that the Muslims leave for 72 hours, but it is not clear if they will accept although the Serbs have, Onasa noted on 30 September. It appears, however, that the Muslims are determined to force the issue of their right to go home as specified in the Dayton agreement, and that the original number of returnees has grown from 100 to 300, Reuters said. The additions include women and children as well as military-aged males. A UN police spokesman accused the Muslims of trying to taunt the local Serbian police. -- Patrick Moore


    Turning to a somewhat different story about refugees, German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther warned that Bosnian refugees who refuse to repatriate "will not end up in the Bosnian winter but in court," AFP reported on 30 September. The interior ministers of Germany's federal states agreed earlier that repatriation of the 320,000 Bosnian refugees currently in Germany should start on 1 October, but they left it up to each state to decide on timing and procedure (see ). Repatriation is to start with unmarried people and couples with no children, and refugees may only be sent back to "safe" regions, with each case to be dealt with on an individual basis. Chancellor Helmut Kohl told the Bundestag that instead of spending 15 billion marks (10 billion dollars) for housing the refugees in Germany, it would be more reasonable to spend that money on the reconstruction of Bosnia, enabling them both to return to their homes and to have employment. But the Guardian on 28 September pointed out that German politicians forget that most of the refugees do not have their homes anymore, and that more than 200,000 of them have been evicted from various parts of Bosnia, particularly from those under Serb control. In other news, Vehid Sehic, head of the Tuzla-based Alternative Citizens' Parliament, backed the German decision by saying on 28 September that the repatriation of refugees is a higher priority than a civic society and democracy, Nasa Borba reported on 30 September. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    But the cold weather has indeed begun to set in, and international experts have suspended their work in excavating mass graves in eastern Bosnia until next spring. They uncovered nearly 500 bodies this year, virtually all of whom are Muslim males from Srebrenica who appear to have been executed, international news agencies noted on 25 September. The experts stressed that it is necessary for Bosnians to know the truth about war crimes if they are to begin looking toward the future, a point that Izetbegovic also made at the UN. But grisly evidence continues to emerge, and British IFOR troops announced on 27 September that they had discovered the headless bodies of six Bosnian Serb soldiers in a ditch in northeast Bosnia two days earlier. The men appear to have been killed in the last stages of the war, AFP stated on 29 September. -- Patrick Moore


    Such mass atrocities may be a thing of the past, but Oslobodjenje on 30 September reported the killing in Sarajevo two days before of Nedzad Ugljen, the deputy head of the controversial Bosnian government intelligence organization, the Agency for Research and Documentation. The next day the same paper called him "the man who knew too much," and suggested that rivals within his agency or in the Ministry of the Interior were behind the murder. In Mostar, a hand grenade landed on the apartment balcony of Josip Jole Musa of the opposition Joint List, causing material damage. He was recently elected to the Bosnian Federal Assembly. The opposition Croatian Peasants Party (HSS) blamed the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) for the blast since it controls the west Mostar region, Onasa reported on 30 September. Along the busy but dangerous Route Arizona in northern Bosnia, a Muslim was shot and wounded on 27 September when his car was hijacked on Bosnian Serb territory, Onasa noted. And in Dublin, Ireland, officials of more than 30 countries met on 28 September to discuss plans for a modern and democratic police force for Bosnia-Herzegovina. The UN-sponsored conference sought to raise $99 million, but few countries made firm commitments. The largest was a $17-million package from the U.S. -- Patrick Moore


    And Bosnian police work certainly needs improvement. Federal ombudsmen accused the police of violating human rights in every canton, Onasa reported on 26 September. The ombudsmen said that the police hold prisoners for longer than the legal limit without telling their families, drag out investigations for up to three years, and still make charges against people who served in the Serbian or Croatian armies despite the amnesty. People have been denied passports, and in Mostar have been intimidated from visiting the ombudsmen's office. -- Patrick Moore


    Still on the darker side of life, the Institute for Public Health in Bosnia- Herzegovina reported that 278,800 people were killed in the country between 1992 and 1995, which represents 6.3% of the entire population. The information that more than 50% of the victims were Muslims is based on local office reports and estimates in areas where official data are not available. There are 1,370,000 displaced persons in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and 1,250,000 refugees outside its borders, Oslobodjenje reported on 7 September. These figures represent 58.2% of the country's population. In addition, in June of this year 43 persons were killed and 17 committed suicide in Sarajevo alone. The deaths are attributable to economic and social pressures and post-war trauma. -- Daria Sito Sucic


    Lejla, 19, is dressed conservatively in a long skirt and wide jacket, her hair hidden under a dark blue shawl. She laughs warmly: "no, it's not because of my parents! You know what? They think I'm crazy [to dress in traditional Muslim style]. But," she says, "they are typical Sarajevans: anything goes." The daughter of a mathematician and an economist, Lejla grew up in an atmosphere of tolerance. Although both her parents are Muslim, the environment at home was completely non-religious. "To be honest, I don't think I would ever have bothered about our culture or the Koran if it weren't for the war." Her friend Jasmina, 20, like Lejla a first-year student of Romance languages, nods: "at first you are just trying to find answers. Why? Why does one group of people want to exterminate another? Then you realize that someone is forcing you to belong to a group-- or a 'nation,' as it were, in the former Yugoslavia -- to which you have only very loose ties, if any. And one day you really do belong to it." Searching for answers, she continues, means diving deeper and deeper into your own culture's history. "I had never thought that I would become a proud Muslim," says Lejla, "or that I would find an identity in religion."

    Neither young woman understands the West's fear of growing Islamic fundamentalism in its backyard. "Would anyone talk of Catholic fundamentalism in Italy, where most people obey Christian laws?" Jasmina asks. Religious traditions must not contradict modernity, she agrees, but adds angrily: "Bosnia is not some closed-off valley in a backward country, and we are not illiterate peasants following the orders of some self-proclaimed Islamic leader!" Lejla adds: "true Islam is not a sinister medieval practice!" But as with any religion, she says, if you don't leave space for discussion, if you are unwilling to interpret rules set in ancient times to fit a modern environment, then you do slide back into the Middle Ages.

    "Why," she asks, "do so many people in Europe believe that Western-style educated people like us could change into some Middle Eastern mujahedin fundamentalists?" Not that she condemns Middle Easterners -- "you always have to look into people's history and try to understand why they became what they are" -- but their ways are alien to her, although in any event she is disgusted with "these Western fear-mongers." "Again this week, a French newspaper claimed that Islamic countries will expect religious obedience in return for the aid they give us," Lejla says. "Europe should know better then that. It only needs to look into its own experience. Did all the development aid it pumped into Third World countries make them turn into Protestant or Catholic strongholds?" The fact that "Europe constantly pointed fingers at the few foreign mujahedin fighters we had" makes both women furious. "Others haven't even tried to help," says Lejla.

    But why, if they support a modern version of Islam, do the two women adopt traditional dress rules? After a moment, Lejla answers: "It's more a personal reaction than obedience." When the war started they had just entered their teens, and they tried hard to keep up with the teenage world they were so completely shut off from. "You know, for us, fashion became everything," Jasmina says, "though we couldn't go anywhere. We needed something other than grenades and snipers and water and food to occupy our minds." Her mother, who "never ever had a needle in her hand before," started to tailor fashionable designer pieces for her, modeled after pictures in a few magazines that went from hand to hand in besieged Sarajevo. "And we spent hours fooling around with whatever make-up our mothers had left." Although it may sound strange, both agree that they came to identify fashion and make-up with war. Among their old friends, they are the only ones who have turned to Islam. "None of our old friends, whether Muslim or not, thinks what we're doing is odd. But it's true, we don't make many new ones."

    It has become a common picture in Sarajevo's streets to see a traditionally dressed Muslim girl window-shopping with a super-modern, stylish girlfriend. But what about boyfriends? "What about them?" asks Jasmina defensively. "Of course we have boyfriends." Lejla jumps in: "Well, maybe it would be different if our parents were religious. I know a girl who is not allowed to leave the house alone, much less have a boyfriend. But that is very rare here, even among religious families." The question whether the boyfriend has to be Muslim makes them laugh. "He must be tolerant, that's all," they agree.

    In Koran school, the girls would often discuss with the women which religious traditions for women were required in a modern society and which not. "I think we will come to the understanding that free will and tolerance are more important than blind obedience," says Jasmina. "Personally, I think that each person should remain recognizable as an individual and not drown in a mass of believers. For the time being, it is not only part of my identity and pride to dress traditionally, it also makes me feel supported. Still, maybe tomorrow I won't need it anymore. To be a modern Muslim woman, freedom of choice is essential." After a thoughtful moment, Lejla concludes: "tolerance is the basis of all great world religions. The problem is that both the followers of Christianity and of Islam all too often interpret their holy books to suit their personal purposes. If there is anything in the writings that is absolutely clear and needs no interpretation, it is tolerance." -- Yvonne Badal in Sarajevo

    Edited 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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