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Western Press Review: In Bosnia, Democracy's First Baby Steps

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka



Prague, 12 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- As Saturday's election day in Bosnia grows closer, Western commentators examine the prospects with ever-increasing skepticism.

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: We do not expect the election to be perfect

One exception is Anthony Lake, U.S. President Bill Clinton's national security adviser. In a commentary published today, Lake writes: "This Saturday the people of Bosnia will go to the polls to elect their national representatives. These elections are an essential step in bringing democracy to Bosnia. They are what the people want, and what Bosnia needs to help its hard-won peace endure. We should not, and we do not, expect the election to be perfect." Lake says: "After so much bloodshed and loss, there can be no guarantees that Bosnia's Muslims, Croats and Serbs will join together, and stay together, as citizens of a shared state with a common destiny. The whole point of the Dayton accords was to give them a chance to try."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Introducing new arms shipments into Bosnia seem designed to nullify Dayton

Also in today's edition, Frederick Bonnart, editor of the military journal "NATO's Sixteen Nations," comments: "Elections for a unified Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina will be held Saturday. About a fortnight earlier, on August 29, the first arms shipment arrived from the United States for the Bosnian Croat-Muslim Federation, which, together with the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb Republic, is to form this nation." Bonnart writes: "The purpose of the program is to transform the armed bands of Croats and Muslims, who fought a bitter civil war against each other in 1993, into a disciplined army controlled by a democratically elected administration." He concludes: "Into this potential tinderbox, new arms now are being introduced. . . . If the aim of the Dayton peace accord is to create a multiethnic nation, this action seems almost designed to nullify it."

LONDON TIMES: The vote is bound to confirm a divided Bosnia

Diplomatic correspondent Eve-Ann Prentice and Zagreb correspondent Anthony Lloyd write today in an analysis: "Bosnia is lurching towards flawed elections this weekend which, at best, may give peace a chance to last a little longer, and at worst may turn out to be the calm before another storm." They continue, "The fundamentals are unpromising," and add: "Few of the preconditions for a poll set out in the Dayton peace accord have been met and the preparations in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been taking place against a backdrop of intimidation, fraud and rigging."

The Times writers conclude: "One depressing fact for the casual observer is that there are no plans to enforce the election results. Even the most senior members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is organizing the poll, acknowledge that, as the situation stands, the vote simply is bound to confirm a divided Bosnia."

DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The elections are expected to confirm the existing ethnic leadership

Richard Whittle writes today in the U.S. newspaper: "The Clinton administration describes Saturday's elections in Bosnia the way a parent might see a toddler's first effort to walk -- admittedly flawed but vital if the child is ever going to get anywhere." He says: "Critics say the elections -- expected to confirm the existing ethnic leadership -- will undermine President Clinton's policy of trying to create a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina whose Serbs, Muslims and Croats will share power and work together to rebuild their country."

HANDELSBLATT: An extended military presence won't guarantee peace

Christoph Rabe comments in today's edition of the German newspaper: "The problems in Bosnia absolutely won't be settled by the elections. Considering their unconcealed animosity against each other, one can hardly expect that Serbs, Muslems and Croats will create a useful political fabric. So nobody is expecting seriously that this election will bring peace and unity to the Balkans." He writes: "Now as before there is the danger that the Bosnia-Herzegovina state will be short-lived. Even if the international military presence were to be extended beyond December 20 and long into the year 1997, its presence wouldn't guarantee peace."

WASHINGTON POST: Diplomatic groundwork is being laid for a continuing U.S. presence

Michael Dobbs writes today in an analysis: "The Clinton administration has laid much of the diplomatic groundwork for a continuing U.S. presence in Bosnia in 1997 by agreeing with its European allies to confer on reviewing implementation of last year's Dayton peace agreement and charting future action." He says: "Officials said the victors in the Bosnian elections will be invited to attend a ministerial-level conference in London in early December to decide on the future of the international community's involvement in Bosnia following the expiration of the present one-year peacekeeping mission. The London conference will be sandwiched between meetings of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe in Lisbon from December 2-3 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on December 10-11, the organizations responsible for overseeing the civilian and military provisions of Dayton."

Dobbs writes: "In private, officials on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledge that some kind of continuing American and NATO military presence in Bosnia in 1997 is virtually inevitable in order to prevent a renewed outbreak of fighting. But the question of a NATO follow-on force is extremely sensitive politically because of the Clinton administration's commitment to withdraw all U.S. troops from Bosnia after 'approximately one year.' "

BERLINGSKE TIDENDE: Indicted war criminals walk around freely

The Danish newspaper commented recently: "The peace agreement (in Bosnia) functions only on paper. Bosnia-Herzegovina lives on, although the self-proclaimed Croatian state long ago should have been dismantled. Indicted war criminals walk around freely as NATO does it best to avoid a situation where it will have to use force to apprehend them. Although there are occasional optimistic spots, the three warring parties in Bosnia react reluctantly to international pressure to live up to the peace agreement's requirements." The newspaper says: "The (expected) division of the republic after the elections will mean that (among other things) a million refugees will have to kiss good-bye their dream of returning to their homes. Their dissatisfaction sooner or later may ignite a new war."

NEW YORK TIMES: Flaws in the peace accord make the goal of a united Bosnia impossible

In a news analysis in yesterday's paper, Chris Hedges wrote: "Senior NATO officials, convinced that Bosnia will remain carved into ethnic enclaves for the foreseeable future, say they are drafting plans to prolong the NATO presence here by at least two years to prevent a resumption of fighting." Dobbs says: "NATO officials, along with senior Western diplomats, say flaws in the peace accord have made the goal of a united Bosnia impossible. They contend that the creation of a zone that cuts across Bosnia and is patrolled by a peacekeeping force has carved a de facto border separating the Serbs from the Croats and Muslims."

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