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Balkan Report: January 14, 1998

14 January 1998, Volume 2, Number 2

Entities Torn by Divisions. The Bosnian Serb power deadlock continues. Legislators meeting in Bijeljina on January 12 re-elected as speaker Dragan Kalinic of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). The two deputy speakers and one parliamentary secretary were selected from each of the three other main Serbian parties. Legislators did not vote on a prime minister, despite previous demands by Carlos Westendorp that they elect Mladen Ivanic, who is Plavsic's nominee. The SDS on January 12 rejected Ivanic's request to address parliament and turned down his offer of six seats in his proposed cabinet, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Bijeljina. Ivanic said he will ask Plavsic to nominate someone else as prime minister if the hard-liners' opposition to him continues.

While the Serbs have been conducting their power struggle over the straightforward issue of cabinet posts, a much more subtle contest between the Muslims and Croats has been going on in the press since the beginning of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 January 1998). Briefly, Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the joint presidency, has accused the Muslims of trying to dominate the mainly Muslim and Croatian federation. He said that it is often easier for him to negotiate with his Serbian counterpart Momcilo Krajisnik than with the Muslim Alija Izetbegovic. Perhaps most important, he accused the Muslims of cynically giving up a claim to some of their lost towns in eastern Bosnia in return for Serbian support for a Muslim claim to the supposedly multi-ethnic Sarajevo.

The charges and counter-charges have followed each other in rapid succession, even though the issues involved have often been esoteric. Muslim critics say that Zubak is accusing them of being greedy and duplicitous because that is what the Croatian leadership in Zagreb believes, and that Zubak needs the support of President Franjo Tudjman and the anti-Muslim "Herzegovinian lobby" if Zubak is to become chairman of the Bosnian branch of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). Whatever the discussion's merits and outcome, it is clear that the Croatian-Muslim alliance remains, at best, a marriage of convenience as it enters its fifth year.

Doomed from the Start? And just as the two entities are each torn by divisions, some weaknesses in the Dayton agreement compound the problems facing Bosnia as a whole. Critics of Dayton have argued from the start that the treaty contains the same basic flaw of all proposed peace settlements since 1992, namely that it accepts the principle of territorial partition along ethnic lines, even while Dayton aims at restoring a multi-ethnic state.

This and other points were raised in a roundtable discussion sponsored by a number of non-nationalist societies and organizations in Bosnia and broadcast by RFE/RL on January 12. Participants noted that Dayton cannot by itself restore Bosnia's multi-ethnic society and traditions, even if it seeks to set up new institutions for a multi-ethnic state. One speaker added that power remains in the hands of the people who started and conducted the war in the first place, and that they will manage to achieve their goals of ethnic partition if they are allowed to remain in power. A representative of anti-nationalist Serbs pointed out that the federal parliament's recent refusal to grant the Serbs full constitutional equality with the Muslims and Croats bodes ill for the future.

Who Said That? "I do not believe the situation... will deteriorate into violent conflict. Both [sides] know there can be no winner." Alija Izetbegovic talking about Bosnia in 1991? It might have been, but actually it was Albanian Foreign Minister Paskal Milo discussing Kosovo on January 12, 1998.