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Western Press Review: Bosnia Elections A Stunning Success? Disastrous Fraud? Boring? Pick One

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 16 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Depending upon which international observers you listen to, Saturday's polling in Bosnia-Herzegovina resulted in a stunning success, amounted to an elaborate fraud -- or was so uneventful as to be "boring," as U.S. diplomat Richard Holbrooke, no doubt approvingly, told the "Suddeutsche Zeitung." Views from Western press commentators are equally mixed

LONDON TIMES: A Serb close to Radovan Karadzik could be the next president

Writing from Sarajevo in today's edition, Stacy Sullivan says: "The next president of Bosnia-Herzegovina could be Momcilo Krajisnik, a Serb close to Radovan Karadzik, who has been indicted for war crimes, The prospect of Mr. Krajisnik's becoming first chairman of the presidency is believed to be behind an announcement by the Muslim-led Bosnian government yesterday that it would not recognize the results of Saturday's election in the Serb-held half of Bosnia because of voting irregularities."

NEW YORK TIMES: It was no mean achievement that 2 million Bosnians voted

The paper says today in an editorial: "Measured against the destructive military conflict still raging less than a year ago, Saturday's national elections in Bosnia marked a clear advance. But measured against the promises of reconciliation and democracy contained in the peace agreement reached in Dayton, Ohio, the elections were disappointingly deficient." The newspaper says: "Bosnia remains devastated and traumatized by the 42 months of warfare that divided the country, tore apart its cities, left 250,000 people dead and drove more than a million from their homes. It was no mean achievement that some 2 million Bosnians, including hundreds of thousands of refugees who voted absentee, cast their ballots."

"But," The Times says, "the strong turnout was not the only measure of this election." The editorial says: "If the balloting produces large majorities for the main Serbian, Croatian and Muslim nationalist parties, that can only reinforce the psychological and territorial boundaries that already divide Bosnia along ethnic lines." The editorial concludes: "The United States and other countries supervising the peace accord will have to make sure that the new national institutions meet and begin functioning without delay."

HANDELSBLATT: It can't be expected that conflicting parties will sit down with reconciliatory gestures

Christoph Rabe comments in today's edition of the German newspaper: "The first elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina after the war were neither fair nor free, but thanks to a strong military presence they took place without serious incidents. Yet the fragile peace probably has become no more stable." He writes: "It can't reasonably be expected that the conflicting parties suddenly will sit down with reconciliatory gestures to create the political institutions of the country. Quite the opposite."

LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH: The election was one more step towards division

A commentary by Tim Judah said: "The sponsors of peace in Bosnia held their breath (Saturday) as its divided communities went to the country's first post-war polls. After the predictions of violence, the nationwide elections had passed off remarkably peacefully by the evening." Judah wrote: "But when the winners are declared later this week for the three-man presidency and new democratic assemblies, the present ruling parties are expected to be reconfirmed in power on rigid nationalist lines." The writer said: "Scenes at the polling stations gave the impression of a perfectly normal country, (but) far from the desired normal poll that would begin the process of reintegrating this divided country, it was clear that the election was one more step towards its division."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: U.S. officials rushed to apply their stamp of approval on the proceedings

Tracy Wilkinson writes in a news analysis today: "Independent monitors (yesterday) assailed Bosnia's first postwar elections, saying technical flaws and political obstruction prevented large numbers of people from voting and raised questions about the validity of the poll. Even as an increasingly troubled picture of the elections emerged, U.S. officials rushed to apply their stamp of approval on the proceedings, in which Muslim refugees were bused to separate and often substandard polling stations."

"The elections were held Saturday with little violence thanks to the presence of 60,000 NATO troops. But there were complaints (yesterday) that some of those troops permitted Bosnian Serb police to block and intimidate non-Serb voters returning to the towns from which they were expelled during the 3.5-year war. Only 20,000 refugees crossed the ethnic boundary line from the Muslim-Croat federation into the Bosnian Serbs' Republika Srpska to vote, with 4,000 going in the other direction, according to NATO figures. Up to 150,000 had been expected. The turnout was reported between 68 percent and 70 percent."

WASHINGTON POST: Some efforts to portray the election as a success appeared a little forced

In an analysis today, John Pomfret writes from Sarajevo: "A day after the people of Bosnia voted in their first election as an independent state, many international officials painted the largely nonviolent election as a complete success." He says: "The positive interpretation of the vote appeared largely to be an American-led effort. Critics of the election have argued that it will simply cement Bosnia's ethnic divisions and move the country a step closer to partition. However, many of the U.S. officials in Bosnia for the election claimed that the voting marked the country's first step on the road to reunification." Pomfret writes: "Some of the efforts to portray the election as a success appeared a little forced."

FRANKFURTER RUNDSCHAU: The danger of a new war lurks around the corner

The paper editorializes today: "The success of the three nationalistic parties, which was expected, should not be seen only as reaction to intimidation and fear. It must be recognized also as a demonstration of the unity of the respective mother republics." The newspaper says: "Bosnians who have a common determination have little time left to convince their countrymen that only united can they achieve peace and progress. The danger of a new war still lurks around the corner."

LIBERATION: The United States counts on economic pressure to force the Serbs to play the game

In today's edition of the French newspaper, Helene Oespic-Popovic writes in a commentary: "Even without waiting for the result of the vote, American diplomacy has put its weight into the balance in order to assure itself that the Serbs elected to the Bosnian common institutions take their seats and play the game of cooperation." The writer continues: "And the United States basically counts on economic pressure in order to force the Serbs to play the game." She says: "It is unlikely that Belgrade will resume its policy of defiance towards the international community, because Serbia still has a long way to go to be reintegrated into international institutions, especially financial institutions."