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Bosnia Poll Sparks International Row

Western officials row over the outcome of Bosnia's third post-war election
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

International officials are accusing each other of responsibility for nationalist success in the Bosnia's recent general election.


Diplomats in Sarajevo have expressed shock at the results of the ballot, particularly the victory of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, in Republika Srpska, RS.


While Western-supported moderate parties gained around 40 per cent of the vote in Bosnia overall, they did not do as well as some experts had predicted.


"We are disappointed and mystified that people want a better life and financial support from the West, and yet they are not prepared to vote for the parties which could have made it happen," said Norbert Schwaiger, a spokesman for the Council of Europe.


And now international officials are blaming each other for the failure of progressive parties to defeat the nationalists at the polls.


Richard Holbrooke, American ambassador to the UN and one of the architects of the Dayton Peace Agreement, accused the High Representative in Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, of responsibility for the defeat of the US protege in RS, Milorad Dodik. On the eve of the election, Petritsch rejected Holbrooke's call for the SDS to be banned.


"It is clear that High Representative Petritsch made a poor judgment when he rejected our demand to forbid the work of SDS," said Holbrooke, who announced that Washington would continue to try to foil the activities of the party, despite its electoral victory.


"There are some decent and honest people in the SDS who should continue their political activity in some other party," he said during the meeting in Dayton, marking the fifth anniversary of the peace agreement.


In response, Petritsch asked why the Dayton agreement had not barred the three nationalist parties at the outset, and criticised Western leaders' for not doing enough to help advance democracy in Bosnia.


Robert Barry, the head of OSCE mission in Sarajevo, the organiser of the general election, was also subjected to heavy criticism.


Barry - who might be replaced soon, according to well informed diplomatic circles in Sarajevo - was blamed for failing to implement legislation which could have prevented voters from voting solely for candidates among their own ethnic groups.


Mutual accusations aside, it seems the international community seriously miscalculated in Bosnia.


It is obvious that they were wrong to believe that the democratic changes in Croatia and Serbia would bring about the fall of nationalists in Bosnia.


Likewise, the strategy for reforming the political scene here appears to have been ill-conceived.


As a result, after more than five billion dollars invested in Bosnia, there are just a handful of independent media and the non-governmental sector, which played an important part in bringing the changes in Croatia and Serbia, is almost non-existent.


"Instead of a serious analysis and an acknowledgement of our mistakes," a Western diplomat in Sarajevo told IWPR, "Washington is applying pressure on its allies to take radical measures in Bosnia."


The State Department, said the IWPR source, is attempting to persuade its Western allies to cancel the Bosnian elections and call for another ballot next spring. By then new legislation might strengthen the position of a hoped for progressive, reform-minded central federal administration.


Meanwhile, the international community appears to have set conditions for the SDS to govern in Republika Srpska. An IWPR diplomatic source said they had not been finalised but would include stipulations that the party publicly renounces Radovan Karadzic, its war leader, and commit itself to extraditing him to The Hague.


The SDS will also be required to remove all personnel that were even remotely involved in war crimes and express public support for the return of the Bosniak and Croat refugees.


Western officials are also debating whether to ask Mirko Sarovic, deputy president of SDS and the winner of the presidential elections in RS, for a public apology to Bosniaks and Croats for the war crimes committed by Serbs against their people.


Commenting on the most important question, Karadzic's extradition to the Hague, Sarovic insisted the former party leader has no more influence within the SDS.


And he warned that extradition of the war crimes suspects in RS would prompt many of them to flee to Serbia, which could undermine Yugoslav president, Vojislav Kostunica.


While the international community's hopes that reformists would triumph in Republika Srpska were misplaced, a coalition of Bosnia's progressive parties may yet be able to form a federal government.


But this all depends on whether Mladen Ivanic's Party for Democratic Prosperity would be prepared to govern together with Haris Silajdzic's party which is calling for the abolition of Bosnia's entities.


And since Ivanic is expected to go into coalition with the SDS in RS, it is very unlikely that he would be prepared to work alongside SDS opponents at federal level.


What's clear is that the formation of an RS and federal government will not be easy - creating even more problems for Bosnia's weary international officials.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor


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