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Balkan Report: January 28, 1998

28 January 1998, Volume 2, Number 4

Housecleaning in the Republika Srpska. The new government led by Prime Minister Milorad Dodik issued a statement in Banja Luka on January 27, in which the authorities announced the sacking of 17 directors of state-owned firms. These include the electric company, the main gasoline company Energopetrol, two refineries and a key coal mine.

It remains to be seen, however, who the new appointees will be. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic has repeatedly criticized the former government as being the instrument of mafia-like structures that conducted lucrative smuggling operations during the war and continue to evade customs and tax responsibilities. Dodik himself has a background in what in the former Yugoslavia is politely known as "import-export." The question is whether he will replace the old crowd with their "business" rivals or with technocrats. The quality of the new appointees will also be a pivotal issue in the changes slated for the customs and tax departments.

And the changes will affect other sectors as well. Goran Matrak, the editor of the daily "Glas Srpski," has been sacked. Critics regard that paper as simplistic and excessively nationalistic. Information Minister Rajko Vasic will appoint his replacement soon, as well as new chief editors for Bosnian Serb television based in Banja Luka.

A Smooth Transfer of Power? A key issue this week is, of course, whether the old government will hand over its responsibilities and go quietly. A spokesman for Carlos Westendorp, the international community's chief representative in Bosnia, said in Sarajevo on January 26 that the outgoing team is not moving fast enough in that direction. Nonetheless, outgoing Interior Minister Slavko Paleksic formally handed over control of the ministry to Milovan Stankovic in Bijeljina that same day. The ceremony took place at a meeting of Bosnian Serb police chiefs, who agreed to reunite the force and end the split between followers of Radovan Karadzic and supporters of Plavsic.

Dodik, for his part, told RFE/RL in Banja Luka that the transition has been proceeding reasonably smoothly, but that he does not rule out that the Radovan Karadzic's supporters in Pale might stop being cooperative at some point in the future. He added that, in any event, Pale's current relatively good behavior stems from its realistic reading of the overall political situation in the Republika Srpska, which includes growing support from Belgrade for Banja Luka.

Turning to his own tasks, Dodik said that his main concern is raising the standard of living and promoting economic development. The prime minister stated that he already has firm pledges of economic support from Germany and Japan. As to his own wealth, he said with a laugh that he has "enough to live on" but denied that he became rich during the war.

Dodik made clear that he intends to carry out the Dayton agreements. He nonetheless recognizes that the issue of war criminals will remain "difficult" for the Republika Srpska. Dodik told "RFE/RL" that he will defend the territorial integrity of the Bosnian Serb state, including its claim to Brcko. He added, however, that he does not want the border with Croatia to become "a Berlin wall" and has no objection to Banja Luka serving as a transit hub for motorists driving between Croatia and the mainly Croatian and Muslim Federation.