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Balkan Report: July 15, 1998

15 July 1998, Volume 2, Number 28

Biljana Plavsic Defies Pale: One Year On. On July 3, 1997, Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic stood up to the hard-liners around former President Radovan Karadzic and his main backer, Momcilo Krajisnik. She dissolved parliament and made it clear that she intended to call the shots in the Bosnian Serb entity. One year later, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Banja Luka on the balance.

The Service noted that Plavsic ultimately succeeded in turning the tables on her rivals by staging successful parliamentary elections later that same year and subsequently appointing Milorad Dodik as prime minister. The pragmatic Dodik leadership quickly became "an international political hit" and increasingly attracted foreign development aid. Virtually all organs and departments of the Republika Srpska are now based in Banja Luka.

But Krajisnik continues to represent the Serbs in the joint presidency. More people are still unemployed than are working. Many refugees continue to live in abandoned Croatian or Muslim homes or in a refugee center. And Plavsic's stated aim of bringing the big criminals to justice remains distant. To date, only small-time crooks have been dealt with, while the big fish go free. In sum, life remains hard for most people in the Republika Srpska, and Plavsic still has key challenges to meet.

Bosnian-Style Cleansing in Kosova. In Geneva on July 3, a UN spokesman charged that Serbian paramilitaries have been systematically destroying Kosovar villages recently according to a pattern established during the Bosnian war of 1992-1995. The spokesman said that paramilitaries plunder a village, transport away whatever there is of value that can be moved, kill the livestock, and set fire to the houses. He added that the existence of the pattern has been confirmed by the accounts of numerous refugees and foreign journalists, the Prague daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported.

Two days earlier, the Vienna daily "Die Presse" spoke to Sevdije Ahmeti, a Kosovar human rights activist, about the possible reappearance in the current conflict of another feature of the Bosnian war, namely the use of rape by Serbian forces as a deliberate instrument of policy. She told the paper that she has heard numerous accounts from Muslim Kosovar women that women are systematically abused by Serbian troops once the Albanians' houses have been broken into and the males taken away.

Ahmeti stressed that this aspect of the Kosovar conflict has not received as much publicity as it did in Bosnia. She said this is because rape is a taboo theme in Kosovar Muslim culture and women are generally too ashamed to talk about it, especially to someone outside their group. She noted that two sisters, aged 13 and 14, committed suicide on June 9 after being raped by four policemen.

Controversy Over Germany's Bosnian Refugee Policy. Dietmar Schlee of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the federal government's chief official responsible for Bosnia, said in Bonn on July 10 that of the 350,000 Bosnian refugees who arrived in Germany during that war, some 160,000 still remain. A total of 53,900 Bosnian citizens "voluntarily" left since the beginning of the year, and he expects a similar number to go home before the year is out. Schlee denied that the government is forcing people to leave against their will and said that "only" 1,056 persons have been deported, mainly because they had criminal records, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and "Berliner Zeitung" wrote.

Three days earlier, Ariane Quentier, who is a spokeswoman for the UN's High Commissioner for Refugees, said in Sarajevo that Germany's policy of strongly encouraging Bosnian refugees to go home is "premature." She stressed that the German authorities are virtually forcing people to return to areas where there are no homes or jobs for them, Reuters reported. "The UNHCR is very concerned [because] the latest wave of refugees aggravates an already difficult refugee situation in Tuzla. The [German] authorities are using take-it-or-leave-it tactics: 'If you don't take the [$4,700 resettlement payment] and leave now, you will be deported from Germany in few months.' "

The federal Interior Ministry and the state governments of Bavaria and Berlin have been particularly persistent in encouraging refugees to leave. German critics charge the authorities with mean-mindedness and seeking to exploit anti-foreigner sentiments in an election year. The government replies that Germany hosted more Bosnian refugees than any country except Serbia-Montenegro and Croatia, and that the time has come for the guests to help rebuild their homeland.

Zubak Chides His Rival. Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the Bosnian joint presidency and head of the recently formed New Croatian Initiative (NHI), told the Zagreb daily "Jutarnji list" last week that hard-line Ante Jelavic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has no attachment to Bosnia. Zubak noted that Jelavic was born in Croatia, and that he came to Bosnia to serve in the former Yugoslav army. Zubak stressed that the Roman Catholic Church is sympathetic to the NHI because the Herzegovinian-oriented HDZ has turned its back on the ancient but scattered Croatian communities of central Bosnia. Zubak himself comes from the Doboj region.

Observation of the Week. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman told the triumphant returning national soccer team in Zagreb on July 12 that they never would have attained the victories they did in the World Cup in France if there had not been a democratic Croatian state, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported.

Quote of the Week. "We are clearly in the early stages of a long, difficult negotiation, more complicated than in Bosnia.... I've always said that negotiating is like jazz. It's an improvisation on a theme." -- Richard Holbrooke in Prishtina, July 5, in the "International Herald Tribune."