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Balkan Report: January 21, 1998

21 January 1998, Volume 2, Number 3

President Plavsic Gets a Government. At a special session of the Republika Srpska parliament in Bijeljina on January 17, moderate Serbian deputies teamed up with Muslims and Croats to elect Independent Social Democrat Milorad Dodik prime minister. Dodik took 42 votes in the 83-seat legislature for a cliff-hanger victory. Hard-line deputies from the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) loyal to Radovan Karadzic walked out before the vote, as did their allies from Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party .

Dodik quickly set down his priorities, which include implementing the Dayton agreements and cooperating with the international community. He also called for improving the standard of living and combating corruption. In his 20-member government, the defense minister will be General Manojlo Milovanovic and the interior minister Milovan Stankovic.

Dodik (38), who comes from Laktasi in northwest Bosnia, made money during the war by selling Bosnian timber in Yugoslavia and importing fuel and coffee from there. Some critics charged that, with such a background, Dodik could well have links to the mafia-like structures that dominated such "import-export" trade during the war. These structures are linked both to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and to Karadzic's followers in Pale. The Belgrade daily "Blic" on January 20 suggested that Milosevic had, in fact, "imposed" Dodik on the parliament.

Krajisnik Gets Angry. Whatever Milosevic's role may have been, one thing is certain: the SDS leadership is livid over the whole affair. Soon after they walked out of parliament, top SDS leaders referred publicly to Dodik's victory as "illegal," "unconstitutional," "unpatriotic," or even as a "coup d'etat."

The hard-liners noted that Muslim and Croatian votes had been essential to Dodik's victory, and suggested that he would sell out "all that the Serbs had fought for during the war" and take the Republika Srpska back into a unified Bosnian state.

This was, in fact, the essence of what Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the joint Bosnian presidency, told RFE/RL on January 19. Krajisnik also stressed that Dodik's election took place amidst "unusual circumstances behind the scenes."

Krajisnik pointed out that Dodik's nomination and election took place within a day of each other, and that he was then able to name a government literally overnight. Such unusual speed, Krajisnik said, suggested that the whole affair was prepared in advance.

Krajisnik and the SDS leaders did not spell out exactly who they thought might have staged Dodik's victory, but they announced that they would charge him with embezzlement in the next session of parliament.

Dodik Gets Help. Dodik, for his part, can certainly count on help from the international community. Federal Yugoslavia soon hailed his victory, as did the U.S., the EU, and the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, Carlos Westendorp.

Westendorp's spokesman told RFE/RL on January 19 that Dodik can count on both political and economic support from the international community. The spokesman warned the SDS and its allies not to interfere with the smooth functioning of government and not to try to obstruct parliament. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel promised an aid package for the new Banja Luka government.

Parting Shots. Following the return of eastern Slavonia to full Croatian control on January 15, President Franjo Tudjman said that this will now leave him free to concentrate on implementing the Dayton agreements.