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Bosnia: Ruling Party No Stranger To Internal Conflict

By Nenad Pejic

Prague, 10 July 1997 (RFE/RL) - The ruling party in the Republic of Srpska, the Serb-controlled entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is no stranger to internal conflicts between moderates and extremists. The present infighting in the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) involving Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and hard-liners is the latest of the struggles which started the day the party was inaugurated in 1990.

Right at the beginning there was a conflict orchestrated by nationalist Radovan Karadzic, now indicted internationally on war crimes charges, in which Vladimir Srebrov, a writer and the founder of the party, was prevented from receiving any post in the SDS leadership.

At the beginning of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina Srebrov was arrested because he had tried to open up a line of communication between the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo and the Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale. He served several years in a Bosnian Serb prison and was severely tortured.

Another party conflict took place immediately after the November 1991 election in Bosnia-Herzegovina, when many moderate local party leaders were pushed out by extremists, an action arranged by the then president of the SDS executive committee, Velibor Ostojic, who is now a deputy prime minister of the Republic of Srpska.

The third wave of conflict within party ranks came in the September 1993 military mutiny in the northern Serb-controlled town of Banja Luka, when soldiers and officers rose up against crime and war profiteers. In spite of the widespread support for the mutiny it was crushed, and its leaders were either removed, disappeared or imprisoned. Interesting to note is that Biljana Plavsic, who was at that time Srpska vice president, was among those who unsucessfully supported the rebels.

The fourth clash was between the then prime minister of the Republic of Srpska, Rajko Kasagic, and pro-Karadzic Pale leaders. It was initiated by Kasagic's willingness to cooperate with international efforts to carry out the Dayton Peace Accords in order to secure a financial input into the Republic of Srpska, where the economy was in total ruins. In that row, the pro-Karadzic elements were not willing to offer cooperation on the same terms, and Kasagic was replaced as premier in the course of 1996.

The next round pitted Karadzic against the prominent Nikola Koljevic. This conflict over the direction the Republic Srpska should take, ended with Koljevic's suicide early this year, which many consider questionable.

A few years ago the sixth in the series of Srpska's conflicts began to germinate, a kind of regional power struggle between Pale and Banja Luka. Banja Luka used to resent being neglected in development projects of the old communist regime. Its long-felt discontent boiled over when the Serb authorities in Pale gave priority development to rural regions such as Pale and Romanija, instead of Banja Luka, the only urban part of the Serb entity. Especially galling were senseless economic decisions such as the one to build a new airport in Sokolac when one already exists near Banja Luka.

These decisions were intentional in that the SDS leaders feel more comfortable in the midst of their followers in Pale then in the sometimes antagonistic surroundings of Banja Luka. Banja Luka mayor Predrag Radic was ousted merely for expressing opposing opinions. Every attitude differing from those imposed from Pale's authorities has been suppressed.

As for opposition outside the party, using police forces, military or direct threat of force, the SDS has made any kind of overt opposition activity close to impossible. Opposition activists beaten up, free media closed, planted explosives, these are the methods used. Only in Banja Luka has any opposition managed to survive.

The seventh and latest wave of conflict started in recent days, between Biljana Plavsic and "the Pale extremists" as the international press calls them. The gloves are off, and the stakes are high in both political and financial terms. According to the Alternative Information Network (AIM), a news agency supported by the European Union, the financial stakes are tonnes of cigarettes, beer, detergents, canned food, flour, oil, gasoline - millions of dollars to be made by smuggling. AIM says those who control this trade rule the Republic Srpska.

No matter how this present conflict ends, it can lead to real change only when the key questions about war crimes, burnt villages, the killings and expulsions start being asked, when a discussion is opened about why the war started in the first place, why the SDS has been systematically destroying Islamic culture in the region, and why the party has organized the crime network. For crime lies not just on the surface, but is built into the very foundation of the Republic Srpska.

(Nenad Pejic is the director of RFE/RL's South Slavic Service.)