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Balkan Report: November 26, 1997

26 November 1997, Volume 1, Number 18

The Bosnian Serbs Elect a Parliament. Voters across the Republika Srpska went to the polls on November 22 and 23 to break the power stalemate between President Biljana Plavsic and her hard-line opponents in Pale, who support Radovan Karadzic.

Karadzic backers like Momcilo Krajisnik, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, and Aleksa Buha, who leads the Serbian Democratic Party, hammered home their message right down to election day that Plavsic is a traitor. They charged that she is working with the international community to change the Dayton agreement in order to recast Bosnia as a unitary state.

Plavsic, for her part, never tired of stressing that Dayton offers much to the Serbs if they will only take advantage of it. She also argued that cooperation with the international community is the only way to attract aid and investment to the impoverished Republika Srpska. On the eve of the election, she told the Madrid daily "El Pais" that not only should Karadzic and fellow indicted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic be sent to The Hague, but also Krajisnik, Buha and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. She charged that the last three men have for years robbed the Serbian people and failed to respect the Dayton agreement.

The OSCE, which is supervising the election, will announce the results in two weeks. This is to allow enough time for absentee ballots mailed abroad to reach Bosnia and be counted.

Muslim and Croat refugees are also eligible to vote for legislators in their home districts. Some pundits suggest that the Serbian vote might be split between supporters and opponents of Plavsic, thereby giving Muslim, Croatian, and non-nationalist parties the ability to tip the balance in favor of Plavsic.

RFE/RL Draws a Balance Sheet for Dayton. RFE/RL noted in a commentary on November 21 that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic went into the Dayton talks just over two years ago with a very weak hand. Serbian troops had fled Krajina and were in retreat across Bosnia. His own state's economy was in tatters, which was due partly to international sanctions imposed to punish Belgrade for its policies toward Croatia and Bosnia.

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, by contrast, was at the height of his prestige and power. His armies had laid to rest the intertwined myths of Serbian invincibility and Croatian military ineptitude. Tudjman felt secure that he had entered a firm strategic partnership with Washington, and that Croatia would become a major regional power.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic also had reason to be pleased. His armies, together with Tudjman's, had reversed the Serbs' territorial gains that had once included two-thirds of Bosnia and threatened to confine the Muslims to a narrow sliver of land around Tuzla and Sarajevo. American pressure on Croatia would ensure that he need not fear an attack from that quarter. And the international community would provide him with ample development and reconstruction aid.

Two years later, RFE/RL concluded, Milosevic is still in an unenviable situation. Not only is his state still impoverished and isolated, but his domestic political grip is loosening as well. He may have broken the unity of the "Zajedno" coalition in Serbia, but he failed to secure the election of Zoran Lilic as Serbian president. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic faces, moreover, a stiff challenge from newly elected Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic and Republika Srpska President Plavsic.

The big change since Dayton, however, is that Tudjman and Izetbegovic are both also under a cloud. The Americans have chastised their erstwhile Croatian protege for his failure to honor his commitments made at Dayton. It is true that Tudjman did finally turn over some indicted Croatian war criminals to The Hague, but that was not enough to return him to the international community's good graces. Critics at home and abroad note that he continues to be intolerant of dissent and has a limited understanding of Western norms of democracy.

Izetbegovic, too, has a tarnished reputation. This is in part due to growing recognition that the Muslims as well as the Serbs and Croats have engaged in "ethnic cleansing" and refuse to let refugees of other nationalities come home. Most recently, moreover, Carlos Westendorp and other representatives of the international community have exposed rampant corruption among the Muslims and their Croat partners in the federation.