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Western Press Review: Republika Srpska Is Humpty Dumpty Teetering On The Wall

  • Don Hill

Prague, 26 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- " 'We are not supporting her personally,' says a Western diplomat. 'We are supporting her for what she stands for.' " So wrote staff writer Jonathan S. Landay in an analysis yesterday in "The Christian Science Monitor".

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Biljana Plavsic represents a growing challenge to Radovan Karadzic

European and U.S. interests in the former Yugoslavia have adopted an unlikely -- and somewhat embarrassing -- ally in Biljana Plavsic, the unwaveringly nationalist president of Bosnia's Republika Srpska. Substantial Western press commentary struggles with the meaning of this alliance of convenience, and the Serb Republic's fragility that a looming showdown is exposing.

The analysis continued: "What Plavsic represents is a growing challenge to the corruption-fueled power of (Radovan) Karadzic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime president. Restricted to his mountain lair of Pale east of Sarajevo by the threat of arrest by NATO, Karadzic has been using frontmen to run the republic's government and obstruct key Dayton provisions since agreeing to depart public life last year. Bolstered by Western political support, and protected by the NATO Stabilization Force (SFOR), Plavsic is promising democratization, a free media, and an end to the massive corruption through which Karadzic and his acolytes control the war-shattered economy. Her appeal has triggered resignations from the government and the ruling Serbian Democratic Party, or SDS, splintered the police, and won a pledge of neutrality from the Bosnian Serb army chief in her stronghold of Banja Luka, Bosnia's second-largest city."

Landay wrote: "Some uncertainty persists as to the extent of Plavsic's political reincarnation. The former Fulbright scholar, who studied for two years in the United States, remains a fervent nationalist. But experts say it is her nationalism and fervent Serbian Orthodox Christian faith that have powered her conversion from Dayton opponent to supporter. Determined to keep her exhausted and destitute people out of another war, she recognizes that the plan is their only recourse should SFOR withdraw as scheduled in July, they say."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: SFOR will be required to disarm one office holder and bolster another

Commentator Josef Joffe writes today that SFOR is undertaking a thankless but essential task in applying military force to political ends in Bosnia. Joffe writes: "Not too slowly but certainly surely a task is approaching the SFOR peace-keeping force in Bosnia that every army hates: using force of arms not simply to keep the peace but to instill a new political order.

"In specific terms, SFOR will be required to disarm one office holder (Radovan Karadzic) and bolster another (Biljana Plavsic). And it will have to do it quickly because by next summer the mandate of the force will have run out. Especially as no one knows if the Americans, without whom nothing happens, will let themselves be talked into extending their stay once again.

SFOR originally entered the scene to enforce the Dayton peace agreement. Now that has extended to include getting rid of Karadzic and opening the way for Plavsic, the lady who, in formal terms at least, is president of the Bosnian Serb Republic."

Where others have begun writing Karadzic off, Joffe warns that he remains a power. Joffe says: " But the real power remains in the hands of Karadzic, who is wanted by the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. He is now esconced behind a sort of private army consisting of 3,000 heavy armed policemen."

WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE: The West is making a long overdue departure from a contrived neutrality

The paper concurs with Joffe's wary focus on Karadzic's strength. The paper editorializes today that another central concern will be U.S. President Bill Clinton's strength of character when the shoving match turns to blows.

The editorial says: "Interventions By American, British and other NATO-led forces on behalf of (Plavsic) mark a long overdue departure from the contrived neutrality that has made a mockery of the peace agreement brokered at Dayton. " The editorial says: "In Pale, (Karadzic) commands a Serbian fighting force and a rival center of power. With NATO having sided with Mrs. Plavsic, it seems only a matter of time until Mr. Karadzic finds some way to retaliate."

The paper concludes: "The betting in Pale and Belgrade is that the U.S. administration will back Mrs. Plavsic so long as the hits are above the belt. The test will come when the fighting turns dirty, and Mr. Karadzic probably is plotting ways to subject Mr. Clinton to that test."

THE TIMES OF LONDON: Mrs Plavsic now enjoys a groundswell of public and institutional support

Tom Walker in Belgrade says in a news analysis today that fractures in the Serb leadership suggest that a Plavsic victory may be imminent. He writes: "(She) appeared (to be) on the point of winning the support of the Republika Srpska Army in her fight against Radovan Karadzic." Walker writes: "Coming on top of her success in breaking the Bosnian Serb state media in two, Mrs Plavsic now enjoys a groundswell of public and institutional support in western Republika Srpska, where Dr Karadzic's previously loyal cohorts are in disarray."

He says: "On Sunday night the state television studio in Mrs Plavsic's stronghold of Banja Luka made its first independent broadcast, transmitting its signal to most of western Republika Srpska through the Kozara television mast." Walker says: "Dr. Karadzic's grip on the media network, like the army, seems to have been a chimera. SFOR need not have bothered; Dr Karadzic's loyal police on Kozara simply melted away, and a switch was flicked in the Banja Luka studio."

He adds: "While state television was berating Mrs. Plavsic last week, the army, under the command of General Pero Colic, had issued a statement supporting Dr. Karadzic. A week later that, too, seems to have been bluster; yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Mikajlo Mitrovic described the statement as an act of treason. The army's loyalty, he said, was to the head of state -- Mrs Plavsic."

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The power struggle in the Bosnian Serb Republic is growing fiercer by the day

Writing today, Peter Munch comments from Banja Luka, not on the relative prospects of Plavsic and Karadzic, but on the severity of their confrontation. He says: "The power struggle in the Bosnian Serb Republic is growing fiercer by the day. The old heroes Karadzic & Co. are now seen as the villains of the piece by fellow-countrymen who call them the Pale clique and accuse them of graft and corruption."

Munch says: "Pale and Banja Luka are worlds apart. People in Banja Luka, population 200,000, are dismissive of the "backwoodsmen" in Pale. For too long they tolerated the course of politics in the Bosnian Serb Republic, for which they fought so hard, being laid down in Pale. A remote caste of rulers in the former spa resort of Pale are felt to have conjured megalomaniacal visions of setting up a new, Serbian Sarajevo in the woods overlooking the old and largely Muslim Bosnian capital."