AIM: start



TUE, 30 OCT 2001 10:14:45 GMT

The departure of Alija Izetbegovic

"Woe after Woe..."

AIM Sarajevo, October 17, 2001

After more than ten years, Alija Izetbegovic is no more the president of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Izetbegovic resolved the dilemma whether to run as a candidate or not after consulting his party base, i.e. those he holds in confidence, by deciding to step down and not to run for the position anymore. At the third party congress held in Sarajevo on October 13, he was replaced by Sulejman Tihic, a high-positioned party official in past years and MP in the Assembly of Republika Srpska (RS).

This does not go to say that Izetbegovic has backed out of playing an active part in SDA politics altogether - he has been named honorary president and chairman of the party's Political Council. The said body, as cited in the party statute, is to be made of eminent public figures from all walks of life - cultural workers, experts, businessmen - but the exact names, as many claim, are known only to Izetbegovic, perhaps not even to himself as of yet. "The idea behind the forming of the council was to make the most of Izetbegovic's personal charisma for the purpose of maintaining the unity of the party. The role of the council is purely advisory and its decisions will not be binding", ran the explanation of the newly appointed SDA president in his first interview to the press on resuming the post.

Although speculation on Izetbegovic's withdrawal from the party abounded in the media and the general public ("since he is due to appear before the Hague investigators and investigative judges"), at a press conference held prior to the congress Izetbegovic himself declared that, in his view, there was no basis for instituting proceedings against him and that, even if things took an unexpected turn, "Alija Izetbegovic is not going to defend Alija Izetbegovic before the Tribunal, but the right of an invaded country to defend itself". His party colleagues claim no one in SDA is even contemplating the possibility of an indictment carrying Izetbegovic's name, but still point out that their party sees the Hague Tribunal as an institution of utmost importance when it comes to disclosing the truth about the recent war in B&H, making it perfectly clear that SDA will meet any requests set forth by The Hague.

Izetbegovic's stepping down from power has provoked diverse reactions among his party comrades. "What you have to bear in mind is that SDA is the most powerful political party in B&H, meaning that it can no more be led by a single individual but, rather, by a whole team", is the comment of former B&H ambassador to Croatia, Hasan Muratovic. Former B&H deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and, briefly, B&H ambassador to UN Husein Zivalj was all regrets: SDA is never again to be blessed with a leader of such stature...

The reactions of the remaining major B&H parties were equally intriguing. "As for Alija Izetbegovic's decision to step down from the topmost post in SDA, that is an issue which has been the source of much discussion and speculation in the public for years back. Neither his age nor his present circumstances seem to favor him at the moment, thus his stepping down from power is the thing for him to do" said the Secretary General of the Party for B&H, Safet Halilovic. Rasim Kadic, leader of the Liberal Party, was somewhat more straightforward: "Izetbegovic's decision to remit was a good, wise and somewhat belated step". Stjepan Kljuic, head of the B&H Republican Party restrained himself from comment, while the president of the Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), Milorad Dodik - a media star due to his recent calls on Izetbegovic to account for his alleged meetings with Osama bin Laden and photo sessions with the planetary terrorist number one - merely said that he found Izetbegovic's decision to be "good news", adding that "from now on, Izetbegovic will be expected to account for each and every of his public appearances to the Hague Tribunal". Ivo Lozancic from the New Croatian Initiative (NHI) believes this will prove beneficial to SDA since it needs to refresh its cadres, adding that he himself was convinced that the SDA membership would exert pressure on Izetbegovic to once again run for the highest party position. Igor Crndak of the Party of Democratic Progres (PDP) says he considers "this to be a good thing and that Izetbegovic's departure is final. This is but another example of a departure of a politician active on the political scene during the war and we trust it to be an indicator that we are on the right path which will prove beneficial for all B&H citizens". SDS (Serb Democratic Party) Mirko Banjac believes Izetbegovic's decision "was logical not only because of all that has happened in USA, but in regard to events in B&H as well. I believe SDA is trying to salvage what may be salvaged and that the true reasons behind Izetbegovic's withdrawal are yet to come to light".

As for the general public, the reactions are as mixed as was to be expected. From those who have long blamed Izetbegovic for each and every possible thing (down to the last hole on a derelict road) who now sense relief and even joy: " The time for him to stay put and rock his grandchildren was long overdue", "Must be there is nothing else left for his braves to rob", "Since he is probably packing his suitcases for a trip to The Hague, guess it is more convenient he does not go there as party president"... To those who are genuinely distressed: "If not for him, there would be no Bosnia and no Bosniaks today, not a single Bosniak would have survived the war", "Only thanks to him can Bosniaks today walk with their heads high up", "What was the man to do, he was forced to retire with all the woes descending upon him - what with The Hague, the mujahedin and his advanced age and fragile health...". Ending with those dead certain that, even in days to come, not a single SDA decision will ever be reached without Izetbegovic's blessing.

What analysts have been asking themselves since the October Congress of the party is: where, in fact, is SDA heading? Are the recent changes to be interpreted as the consolidation of a party which has suffered a severe electoral defeat or are they, quite to the contrary, a telltale sign of its inability to do so? One thing is certain: the very structure of the top executive party levels has been significantly broadened and made much more complex: president, vice-president, four vice-chairmen, 17 members of the party presidency, a political council, a central committee... At the same time, on the eve of the third party congress, a number of high-profile party members decided not to go through with their candidacies: Halid Genjac, Nedzad Brankovic, Amor Masovic, Hasan Muratovic, Midhat Haracic, Hilmo Neimarlija, Sefkija Cekic... Some are perceived by the public as moderate and worldly politicians. Some, like Hasan Muratovic, enjoy an altogether different reputation... All chose not to publicly expound on reasons behind the decisions took, for the most part offering curt comments referring to the issue in question as "a purely party matter" . Still, a few of their party comrades - as, for instance, the newly elected SDA president Tihic and one of the four vice-chairmen, Mirsad Keba - stated that, in fact, a certain portion of the membership disagreed with the manner in which the third party congress had been organized, while some were opposed to the proposed changes. Both pointed out that a number of those who have chosen to withdraw from the electoral race are still being counted on as reliable SDA cadre, possibly to be appointed to some future party bodies or as party candidates in elections to come. In an interview to the Sarajevo journal Avaz, Sulejman Tihic said that among those backing out of from the party electoral race "a number of those unwilling to take on the challenge" were to be found". What we are dealing with here are individuals who have estranged themselves from the mainstream of SDA policy and will thus be asked to leave the party. The likes of them have trouble realizing that the era of national romanticism and the struggle for realizing our national interests and the recognition of our religious rights have, to a large extent, long since been accomplished."

"After defending the country from the aggression and the reconstruction period, SDA is now in its third phase. We are adapting to the challenges of changed times and moving towards the center of the political stage... The emphasis is on the public and civic orientation", Mr. Kebo has told AIM, adding that the October congress has defined SDA as a party in which from now on all will depend on team work of "modern, competent and expert teams rather than individuals dictating the course of action".

A number of well known and sonorous names from the preceding era are nowhere to be found among the newly elected top party officials - with the exception of Edhem Bicakcic, ex Prime Minister of the B&H Federation and eternal candidate for the position of successor to Izetbegovic, for the past year often mentioned in connection with a number of irregularities in the redistribution of budgetary funds, whom Izetbegovic himself defended by stating that "if something has been side-tracked in the wrong direction at all, it certainly did not end in his pockets". Some analysts are prone to conclude that Izetbegovic has once again made a wise managerial move: "He has always acted as though SDA was his private firm - dismissing or removing those who could pose a threat to his sacrosanct authority or endanger the policy of the party created by him. He always chose close friends, utterly devoted, confidential men..." He has done it this time too, but in a quiet and round-about manner. Among those presently occupying top party positions there is not a single individual likely to assert himself as the new leader, no "rising star" to be found. This, according to a Sarajevo analyst familiar with the inner workings of the party, leaves Izetbegovic ample room to influence the decision making process from the shadows, with the help of his Political Council.

Two days after the SDA congress it is difficult to say whether the newly elected leadership of the party is made up of mere puppets and mediocre cadre which will perpetuate Izetbegovic's rule even after Izetbegovic's withdrawal or if, perhaps, there is a certain someone among them who might assume the leadership and guide the party to a new political victory or - final doom. General elections in B&H are due in a year's time. The new party personnel will thus have enough time to demonstrate what it is capable of. As it happened, while this text was being written, they were confronted with their first challenge: while no one in the general public gave second thought to the SDA congress a mere day after its conclusion, at a meeting with the old, now honorary president of the party and the acting one, High Commissioner to B&H Wolfgang Petritsch noted that he personally had relieved of public duty the newly elected vice-president of the party Edhem Bicakcic and that "his appointment to such a high position" was a cause of concern to him.

RUBINA CENGIC

(AIM Sarajevo)