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Balkan Report: February 4, 1998

4 February 1998, Volume 2, Number 5

Republika Srpska With a Human Face? Prime Minister Milorad Dodik's government took office in Banja Luka on January 31 at the third session of the new parliament. Serbian hard-liners belonging to Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) left the hall at the start of the ceremony. Muslim and Croatian deputies walked out when the Serbian Orthodox religious part of the inauguration began.

The legislature later voted to annul 33 laws passed by the SDS-dominated former parliament after Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic dissolved that body last summer. Dodik, for his part, pledged to reorganize Bosnian Serb Radio and Television "in accordance with the requirements of the Office of High Representative [Carlos Westendorp]... to develop into a professional, independent and responsible network, open to everybody."

Some 56 out of 83 deputies voted, furthermore, to move the Republika Srpska's capital from Karadzic's headquarters at Pale to Banja Luka, the power base of Plavsic and Dodik. As RFE/RL's correspondent pointed out, the SDS's allies deserted them on this issue, leaving the SDS in a clear minority. The new capital is one of Bosnia's major towns with a population of about 200,000, while Pale is a ski resort of about 20,000 inhabitants. The move is one more sign of the decline of the influence of Karadzic and his allies. It also marks the end of Karadzic's hope that the Serbs might some day have part of Sarajevo as their capital.

The Heart of Darkness. But it is not yet clear whether Dodik's inauguration and the move of the capital really signals that the Republika Srpska has firmly embraced the Dayton agreement. Banja Luka may have become recently known as the moderate political center, but during the war it was dubbed "the heart of darkness" because of the ruthlessness of the ethnic cleansing campaigns. Serbs not only drove out the Muslims, but sought to remove all physical traces of their presence from a town that had been a major urban center under Ottoman rule. Serbs thus blew up all of Banja Luka's mosques, included two from the sixteenth century that were UNESCO-registered cultural properties. The Dodik government's sincerity may remain open to question if it fails to open Banja Luka to resettlement by refugees and accept offers from the Muslim world to rebuild at least the two main mosques.

Meanwhile, Dodik said on February 1 that his government has the confidence of the international community and will bring money into the Republika Srpska, where the per capita monthly income is about $35 per month for those lucky enough to have a job (see "RFE/RL Bosnia Report," January 21 and 28, 1998). The prime minister added that he will travel to Washington later in the month and sign a $100 million credit agreement with the World Bank. Dodik also pledged to pay back salaries to teachers and police within ten days with aid money from the EU.

Key Comment. RFE/RL broadcast an interview with SFOR's former commander, General George Joulwan, on February 2. The general said that the majority of the wartime atrocities would never have taken place had NATO intervened in Bosnia sooner than it did.