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Balkan Report: September 9, 1998

9 September 1998, Volume 2, Number 36

Zubak Talks to RFE/RL. Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the joint Bosnian presidency, left the Bosnian branch of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) within weeks after Ante Jelavic's election to the HDZ chair in May. In June, Zubak formed the New Croatian Initiative (NHI). His goals are in keeping with the interests of the Bosnian Croats, who, unlike their more radical Herzegovinian cousins, generally live integrated with Serbs and Muslims in often centuries-old communities. Zubak, who comes from near Doboj, apparently decided to follow the example of Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and break with the hard-core nationalists -- and thereby ensure a political future for himself and his people under the Dayton agreement in the general elections slated for 12-13 September.

Zubak made clear that he regards Bosnia-Herzegovina as his homeland in a recent interview with RFE/RL's South Slavic Service. He noted that Bosnia and Croatia have much in common because of a shared history, complimentary economies, and a mutual desire to become integrated into Europe. He stressed, however, that they are two distinct "internationally recognized states" and that Bosnia's future will be based on integration into the EU and to NATO, not on any special links with any of its immediate neighbors.

Turning to the key question of the return of refugees, Zubak said that the way to break the current impasse -- in which local authorities prevent people belonging to other ethnic groups from coming home -- Zubak suggested setting up SFOR-protected zones. In such areas, the writ of the local authorities would not run, but rather that of the peacekeepers. Refugees could then come home and then subsequently be integrated into local government structures. He stressed that there are large swathes of empty land throughout Bosnia, particularly in the Republika Srpska. Zubak said that this land must be returned to its rightful owners and not be used to consolidate "ethnic cleansing" by settling refugees from elsewhere there.

Speaking in Sarajevo some days after the interview, Zubak urged the international community to do more to "help create a level playing field" for the non-nationalist candidates, Reuters reported. He charged that his Croatian nationalist opponents tear up his posters, try to beat up or intimidate his supporters and attempt to break up his rallies. He also blasted Croatian Television (HTV) for its "quite unbelievable coverage" of his NHI. Officials of HTV had earlier promised representatives of the international community to improve the balance in their coverage of Bosnian politics.

No Debate for Izetbegovic. A spokesman for the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) said in Sarajevo on September 3 that Alija Izetbegovic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian joint presidency, will not take part in any debates in the run-up to the elections. The spokesman added that Izetbegovic will give interviews in the course of the next week to RFE/RL's South Slavic Service and to one other station. The president feels that his views are well enough known that he does not need to engage in additional public discussions, the spokesman concluded. "Oslobodjenje" reported that plans for a televised debate of Muslim candidates on September 3 collapsed because Izetbegovic and a minor candidate refused to take part, and because Fikret Abdic, the king-pin of the Bihac pocket region, did not confirm on time that he would participate. Muhammed Filipovic of the Liberal Bosnjak Organization said that Izetbegovic's refusal is an admission of political weakness.

Albright vs. Kinkel and Kohl. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited the Balkans early last week to remind Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that the future of the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina is within Bosnia-Herzegovina (see below). She also went on the stump for candidates in the Republika Srpska and the Federation who support the Dayton peace treaty. Accordingly, she spoke to Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and Prime Minister Milorad Dodik -- whom she called "a good ticket" -- but snubbed Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the joint presidency and a Karadzic-loyalist.

While in Sarajevo, she took a gentle swipe at unnamed "European allies," whom she feels have been too hasty in sending Bosnian refugees home. Albright said that she hopes that those allies "will recognize that it is irresponsible to force [the refugees] to return where there is no security, no housing, and no jobs."

Albright was referring first and foremost to Germany, where elections are due on 27 September. Some small far-right parties, such as the Republicans and German People's Union (DVU), are widely expected to win votes by appealing to anti-foreign sentiments at a time of high German unemployment. Partly to offset this appeal by the extremists, some politicians in the governing coalition have been particularly zealous in advocating the repatriation of Bosnians and Kosovars. These politicians point out that Germany took in more Bosnian refugees than any country other than Serbia and Croatia, that an influx of Kosovars into Germany has begun, and that Germany cannot afford to conduct charity on such a huge scale under the present economic circumstances. They also argue -- perhaps less convincingly -- that the refugees should go home because peace has returned to Bosnia and because there is no war in Kosova.

Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel was in Sarajevo at the same time as Albright, but in order to reopen the Volkswagen factory at Vogosca. He used the opportunity to reply indirectly to Albright by saying that there is no reason for anyone to find fault with Germany, which took in so many refugees. He stressed that the refugees will be going home with a knowledge of German and new professional skills, and that they can accordingly make a good contribution to Bosnia's reconstruction. Kinkel also appealed to the Bosnian authorities to help integrate the returning refugees. The next day, Chancellor Helmut Kohl said in Bonn that he can "do without criticism from American officials, even if it comes from a lady."

But a recent program on Austrian Radio International suggested that reintegrating the returnees is more easily said than done. The broadcast focused on Gorazde, where much of the wartime physical damage has been repaired but where social rifts will take longer to mend. Persons returning from Germany often find themselves resented as cowards who sat out the war in safety and relative prosperity, although the accusers themselves also admit that they would have gladly sent their own relatives to Germany had they had the chance to do so. Children and young people have trouble adjusting to the Bosnian schools. They are accustomed to learning and working in German in an educational system that encourages questioning and free discussion. They now find themselves taken away from their familiar schoolmates and forced to study in Serbo-Croatian in a traditional school system.

Quotes of the Week: "The ambitions of the international community [regarding refugee return] stumble over reality." - Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, quoted by Reuters on August 31. "Dodik enjoyed a benefit of the doubt for 10 months, [but] a time to deliver [on allowing refugee return] is getting closer. - Unnamed "source" cited in the same article.

"Europe seems to have been vacationing in August...[and that as a result] very little was said, let alone done," by the international community to deal with the conflicts in Kosova and the former Zaire during that time. Slovenia's Danilo Turk, current UN Security Council chairman, quoted by AP on August 31.