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Balkan Report: July 31, 1997

31 July 1997, Volume 1, Number 1

A Period of Rising Tension. President Biljana Plavsic remains locked in a bitter political struggle with the Bosnian Serb establishment led by Radovan Karadzic over the future of the Bosnian Serb entity. Plavsic wants Republika Srpska to be a state based on the rule of law, and she argues that her opponents want a mafia-like oligarchy to continue to dominate its political and economic life. And she has charged that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is the man ultimately behind Karadzic and his mafia.

The struggle between these two visions of the future has led to clashes in the country's parliament, its key political parties, and the courts. Plavsic on July 22 won a major victory when the country's Constitutional Court overruled the cabinet's objections to Plavsic's decision to dissolve parliament and call for new elections. But that fight is far from over, as the court must now rule on the parliament's objections to her actions.

A Mixed Media Scene. One of Plavsic's most difficult challenges is getting her message out to her own people. On the one hand, foreign media have generally applauded Plavsic for her courage. But the ability of her opponents to control much of the state-run media in Republika Srpska has limited her ability to make her arguments to the population at large. Most of the time, her only channel to the population is via a few local radio stations. When her opponents cut her access to Bosnian Serb television based in Pale, she spoke on a local radio station in Banja Luka and gave interviews to the independent Radio B-92 in Belgrade.

RFE/RL's Role. In this situation, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service is playing a special role. Along with the Voice of America and other international broadcasters, RFE/RL has given President Plavsic and others opposed to the existing power structure a channel to speak to the population directly. In addition, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service has regularly presented analytic programs on Plavsic's challenge to the current power structures and on the ways in which Milosevic has sought to block peaceful democratic change in the region. For example, on July 17, RFE/RL reported from Banja Luka about the incidents directed at foreign personnel and what those developments mean for changing balance of power in Republika Srpska. And as the conflict developed in the course of July, RFE/RL featured programs tracing the long history of infighting among the Serbs -- including the conflict between Plavsic and Milosevic since 1993.