AIM: start

WED, 09 JAN 2002 09:17:24 GMT

Enduring and Surviving: Republika Srpska Between 2001 & 2002

On the eve of a year in which, according to current trends, there will be plenty of everything except money and easy living, the main question is do we have anything to look forward to at all. Maybe we should go back to looking forward to the year 2001, when we cannot do that with 1990, a year from which neither locals nor the foreigners have learned anything.

AIM Banja Luka, December 20, 2001

Only 2002 -- another year with two zeros, as RS Premier Mladen Ivanic put it in a talk show on Belgrade's Pink TV, joking that it reminded him of "a certain place" -- could mourn the demise of 2001. Ivanic's first year in office has failed to reconcile voters and the foreigners after Milorad Dodik spent three years as premier, and his cabinet eventually became a puppet that kept gaining support of the latter at the expense of the former. Dragan Kalinic's Serb Democratic Party was in charge of voters, and this party is likely to enjoy majority support in 2002, as well as another ten years after its political demise. Ivanic was in charge of the foreigners, and was probably the only politician in Republika Srpska whom most voters did not perceive as a traitor and foreigners as a hardcore nationalist.

Republika Srpska's most important post-war project -- creating a cabinet supported both by voters and the foreigners, however, was not a success. True, it did not stand much of a chance either, because the foreigners weren't ready to take for granted the Serb Democrats' claims that they had reformed. This is why at the end of the year Wolfgang Petritsch took it upon himself to reform them either by consent or by force, showing that the foreigners not only did not trust them, but that they did not trust their signatures either, or the paper in which Kalinic, Mirko Sarovic and Dragan Cavic accepted everything they demanded of them.

What is also true is that the Serb Democrats did nothing to make the foreigners feel more guilty at the end of the year. The horrible May riots in downtown Banjaluka during a failed (first) attempt to mark the beginning of the reconstruction of the Ferhadija Mosque, when one Muslim was killed, worked in favor of all those who are against Republika Srpska's survival, and even more of those who in November 2000 tried to convince Petritsch to disband Kalinic's party.

Under this ongoing pressure, Ivanic reduced the strategy of RS's survival to two principles: cooperation with the Hague tribunal and budget stability. Or to make it more clear, the former principle stood for enduring and the latter for surviving. No one was interested in serious political reforms that would consolidate the economy or provide for even basically successful privatization; the foreigners kept waiting for Ivanic's semi-recognized cabinet to fall, and Ivanic kept quiet about political reforms because as soon as anybody mentioned them, one-third of his coalition partner's officials would begin to see themselves as company managers, the other third as defendants in The Hague, and the last third in early retirement.

The biggest chance for political reform in RS in 2001 could have come from the virus of democracy that a year before, albeit chaotically, gained the upper hand in Serbia. There has never been a better incentive from the neighborhood in that direction. Sarovic's and Ivanic's government had a chance to take the bitter pill of cooperation with the tribunal and reviewing the past (which they for some unknown reason consider lethal) together with Serbia, finally aware that it is not possible or sensible to be greater Serbs than Serbs from Serbia proper. True, it was not easy, but it is clear that the moment was missed for good, and no better chance for siding with Belgrade in this matter will ever come, particularly not in 2002. Instead, the Serb Democrat representatives in the government, Kalinic and Sarovic, in 2001 tried to side with the patriotic image of Vojislav Kostunica, whose position was then still intact. And the result was that while they did not help themselves, they did Kostunica such a disservice that whenever he meets with foreign diplomats, especially from the U.S., the meeting ends with demands that he stop supporting nationalists in RS.

They fared more or less the same when in Sept. 11 and in the ensuing global campaign against terrorism they saw their chance. After ten years of mistakes, the politicians in power in Banjaluka did not think twice before returning to their global mission of the past and attempts to explain to foreign diplomats that they have been fighting Islamic fundamentalism for a whole decade. The latter, of course, instead of apologizing for all the evils and bombs that befell Republika Srpska and make them the champions of the international battle against terrorism, asked them when they would hand over Karadzic and Mladic.

The changes in Serbia and the global anti-terrorism campaign have not only failed to strengthen RS but have also shown that the government in the Serb entity -- except for insisting on the implementation of the weakened Dayton agreement and trying with passionate patriotism to fend off criticism from their counterparts in the Muslim-Croat Federation, quite aware of all RS's weaknesses and hoping that the day of its political demise is nearing -- have no other serious strategy for ensuring its survival. This is why demands that all war crimes indictees be extradited, that the RS constitution be changed and that Bosniaks be represented in the government in accordance with the 1991 census, will make the year 2002 very different from the year 2001. Whereas the latter boiled down to enduring and surviving, the former could well boil down only to enduring because nothing remains to survive on.

The problems will persist because in 2001, apart from their mantra about Dayton, Serb politicians lacked any other political ideas, and in 2002 the same will be the case with the foreigners. If elections, as theory claims, are the supreme expression of democratic will, why should a cabinet be formed according to a census? In conditions when there are not multiethnic parties in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a cabinet can be made multiethnic only in two ways. The first is to do it in the 1990 fashion -- to divide it among nationalists, and make up for the discrepancy between election results and the pre-war ethnic makeup by appointing, for example, Naser Oric as the Serb Democratic Party candidate for RS interior minister, or Momcilo Mandic as the Party of Democratic Action candidate for interior minister of the Muslim-Croat entity. If you find this impossible, consult Ejup Ganic, the 1990 staunch Yugoslav. Thus a new, grotesque alliance of nationalist parties would be made, the same one that was in the game when the whole thing started.

The other way is international arbitration which would bypass elections and appoint Zdravko Grebo as RS president and Miodrag Zivanovic as president of the Muslim-Croat entity. In other words, unable to implement the principle of multiethnicity from above, the foreigners would attempt to do it from below. And when they realize that the Serb Democratic Party is incapable of running in elections with 30 percent of their ticket consisting of Bosniaks, and that the Party of Democratic Action would not have any more Serbs as its candidates, it will be yet another of their many mistakes which as it is customary -- the natives will be the only ones to suffer from.

The Hague tribunal will be another issue that will mark 2002. In this regard next year will be the most dynamic, because the fate of Karadzic and Mladic will finally be resolved, and, regardless of what happens to the two of them, they will continue to further undermine the stability of Republika Srpska. As far as the economy is concerned, if RS avoids all-out bankruptcy, it should not come as a surprise if in a year's time the Nobel Prize for Economics goes to Radovan Karadzic whose 1997 economic program consisted of only three words: "Endure, endure, endure."

On the eve of a year in which, according to current trends, there will be plenty of everything except money and easy living, the main question is do we have anything to look forward to at all. Maybe we should go back to looking forward to the year 2001, when we cannot do that with 1990, a year from which neither locals nor the foreigners have learned anything.

Zeljko Cvijanovic