Bosnia: SDS in Trouble

The Serbian Democratic Party, founded by war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, faces expulsion from the Republika Srpska government

Bosnia: SDS in Trouble

The Serbian Democratic Party, founded by war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, faces expulsion from the Republika Srpska government

Wednesday, 21 November, 2001

Mladen Ivanic, prime minister of the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska, RS, is poised to reshuffle his government, in an attempt to rid it of the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party, SDS.

The move comes after nine months of SDS blocking any reform which the moderate prime minister Ivanic, with the support of international community, has tried to push through.

The removal of the SDS from government would shove the party up a dead end. It has continued to resist Ivanic's reform programme and the international community has indicated the party will be banned if they persist. Hopes that it would reform itself from within have meanwhile come to naught - radical nationalists continue to dominate.

The present impasse in government is a direct result of the compromise thrashed out after the general elections in November 2000. The SDS, which was founded by The Hague war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, won the elections, but the international community insisted the more moderate Ivanic, leader of the Party for Democratic Progress, PDP, get the job of prime minister. Another stipulation was that no member of SDS may hold any ministerial position. However, they were deployed in all governmental bodies, and have been instrumental in decision making.

Although the SDS bowed to international pressure, their deployment in governmental bodies led to their immediate obstruction of the prime minister's economic reforms and moves towards selling off public utilities, according to Ivanic's associates. As a result, Damir Miljevic, Ivanic's advisor on privatisation, resigned in the summer. Rajko Latinovic, minister for agriculture and a senior PDP official, followed suit in October.

Meanwhile, the increasingly impoverished populace are demanding speedy economic improvements.

Sidelining the SDS is not, however, an attractive option for Ivanic. The party, which won the last elections, is sure to resist. Added to that, the premier will be obliged to rely on the backing of as many as 11 opposition parties in parliament if his legislative programme is to pass. Securing the consent of so many disparate groups is more complex than garnering the support of one party, which explains why his move didn't come earlier.

Ivanic does not have an alternative. Poverty has reached such a level that mass street protests are expected by December, in which as many as 500,000 hungry people may take part.

The international community's stance is crystal clear - so long as the SDS retains a chokehold on power no financial aid for the Bosnian Serb entity will be forthcoming.

On November 14, Ivanic announced that he would table the proposed reshuffle before the national parliament session scheduled for November 28. The reshuffle is almost certain to include a "purge" of SDS members. Ivanic is also expected to reduce the number of ministries from 22 to 15.

On November 5, the United Nations High Representative to Bosnia, Wolfgang Petritsch, said he would back the premier and ban the SDS if they opposed the changes.

Petritsch met senior SDS officials in Banja Luka on November 5 and read them the riot act. The high representative told RS president Mirko Sarovic, RS parliamentary speaker Dragan Cavic and SDS leader Dragan Kalinic, "Until a legal state comes to life in the Republic of Srpska, until the return of refugees is secured, until true cooperation with Bosnian institutions is established, neither the international community nor foreign investors will approve any financial aid to RS".

Admittedly refugees have begun to return, but not in the numbers expected by the international community. This is partly due to the obstructive actions of radical SDS personnel in municipal government structures.

At a national level, the SDS has consistently sought to block laws of vital importance to the functioning of the country. The law on cooperation with The Hague tribunal, which enables the extradition of war crimes suspects, was resisted for years. The legislation was eventually passed in early October 2001, but only after two further postponements in parliament in August and September.

Now the law is in place one might expect the justice ministry to request that the police arrest suspects. But so far nothing appears to be happening. It is thought SDS personnel within the ministry and police are hindering the process.

"If the politics of isolation continue to be pursued, the RS will remain a deserted island that cannot survive, that cannot hold out, and, as such, cannot become a partner in Europe," Petritsch told his audience in Banja Luka.

Poverty has reached a critical point in the Bosnian Serb entity. A wave of social unrest began in mid-October with a strike by health department workers. Pensioners have since taken to the streets, defence ministry workers have threatened to strike and the families of the fallen and the missing have staged protests.

Eighteen thousand teachers have announced a protest for December 17. Even the police are threatening demonstrations unless their salary arrears are paid and they are given a wage increase.

Ivanic has two options. He can go before parliament proposing a new government made up of representatives from all the parliamentary parties or he can recommend a government of experts. He is expected to go for the all-party option as this is favoured by the opposition parties, all of whom have consistently backed the high representative's criticism of SDS.

The SDS will inevitably feel the impact. Relinquishing influential political office is not easy. Some experts believe it heralds the demise of the SDS. It appears the party has boxed itself into a corner with no obvious way out.

It's extremely unlikely the hard-pressed people of RS will heed any call from the SDS to take to streets in their support. The SDS's only other hope - internal reform - looks unpromising given the continued influence of the party's radical wing based in eastern Bosnia. They appear to be stuck in the wartime politics of 1992.

Gordana Katana is a Banja Luka correspondent for the Sarajevo daily Oslobodjenje.

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