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Balkan Report: August 27, 1997

27 August 1997, Volume 1, Number 5

Bosnian Serb Split Widens. Biljana Plavsic, the president of the Republika Srpska, continues her battle against Radovan Karadzic and his hardliners for control of the Bosnian Serb state. Each side wants to control key institutions, but the result is that some of those institutions have now split into two.

Plavsic summoned the army general staff to a meeting at her headquarters in Banja Luka on August 26. She can count on the backing of the First Krajina Corps based in that northwest Bosnian town, but recent statements from the military leadership as a whole show that the Pale-based hard-liners probably have the upper hand among the generals. Her goal now is for the army to declare itself neutral.

The police, however, are where the real power lies, and they have openly split. There are now two ministers of the interior and two police forces. And while the Pale government is still officially the only cabinet, two deputy prime ministers and the finance minister have quit and endorsed Plavsic. Her vice president has also weighed in on her side, as have several legislators.

It seems only a matter of time before she forms a rival government, perhaps after the elections she has called for October. In any event, she will likely go into the campaign at the head of a new party, because the governing Serbian Democratic Party is also splitting up.

The electronic media, too, now have rival branches in Pale and in Banja Luka. Pro-Plavsic journalists in Banja Luka revolted against pro-Karadzic management on August 22. Two days later, the mainly young staff in the northwest started broadcasting their own television programs criticizing Karadzic. Pale called the broadcasts treason.

RFE/RL Lets the Non-Nationalists Speak. But free media in Plavsic's view are those that express her opinions, not those of all opponents of Karadzic. RFE/RL, however, regularly gives the microphone to parties and individuals who believe in a multi-ethnic Bosnia founded on the principles of civil society.

On August 22, for example, several representatives of two multi-ethnic coalitions explained their hopes and concerns on RFE/RL. One leader warned that Plavsic has yet to show that she has really embraced the values of the Dayton agreement and repudiated nationalism. Other speakers recalled that her power base, Banja Luka, was known during the war as the "heart of darkness" because of the ruthlessness with which the Serbs carried out "ethnic cleansing" there. The opposition leaders stressed that only parties based on the values of civil society, not on nationalism, can help Bosnia put the war behind it.

Another coalition spokesman announced that his coalition will use the campaign slogan "Put an end to the looting" in an effort to target voter attention on the corruption that has enriched the Serbian, Croatian, and Muslim nationalist leaderships alike. He stressed, however, that the drive against the profiteers must observe legal norms and aim at due punishment for the guilty.