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Bosnian Nationalists Thrive

Opinion polls suggest Bosnian nationalist parties will triumph once more in forthcoming general elections
By IWPR

Upcoming general elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, BiH, are unlikely to change the political landscape, despite the international community's financial backing for opposition non-nationalist parties.


A recent poll by the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, showed that while the popularity of nationalist parties had declined significantly since the first post-Dayton elections, they still had enough supporters to hold on to power.


The only source of optimism was the position of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, which commands the support of a third of registered voters in the Bosnian Federation. In local elections last April, the majority of the Bosniak population voted for the transnational SDP - which also has significant support among Croat voters.


In addition, there are signs that the social democratic government in Croatia is influencing the Bosnian political scene, although the nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, still has the support of the majority of Croat voters.


The UNDP research shows that voters in Republika Srpska remain solidly behind the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS. The party should, according to this research, win 32 per cent of the vote, 2 per cent more than two of its most serious opponents - the Party of Democratic Progress and the Party of Independent Social Democrats - combined.


The international community is openly supporting non-nationalist parties, and has threatened further cuts in funding if it is not happy with the result. "Further aid to BiH is directly dependent on the results of November elections," said the head of the European Commission delegation, Hans Jorg Kretschmer. He has offered the city of Mostar generous financial help if the multinational coalition "The list for Mostar" wins the elections.


"We are nearing an end in many ways," said High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch. "What we are talking about is that the international community might eventually move out of Bosnia. Many parts have already moved out intellectually and politically because they consider Bosnian politicians simply so irresponsible they cannot go on helping."


Petritsch's gloom was mirrored by Pieter Stek of the World Bank. The failure by the Bosnian and Republika Srpska authorities to institute legal and pension reforms demanded by the international community had placed in jeopardy some $435 million in aid from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union.


"The reputation of Bosnia with donors is not what it should be," Stek said. "One sees clear signs of impatience."


The Independent Media Commission has withdrawn broadcasting permits from two national TV channels, Erotel, Croatian TV, which was under the editorial control of the HDZ, and Bosniak TV, which is very close to the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, SDA.


The election campaign, which officially started on September 27, reflects the general economic crisis in BiH and the downturn in international donations.


Most parties will have relatively modest election campaigns this year. A popular strategy will be "going for a cup of coffee" with people, a tactic that worked well in the election that brought in President Stipe Mesic in Croatia.


The SDS is going to run a traditional election campaign, with rallies in the towns and villages of Republika Srpska and a central rally in Banja Luka.


The HDZ, on the eve of elections, is launching a new weekly magazine "BH Today" which will be financed by the radical wing of the Catholic Church and strictly controlled by the HDZ.


However, the HDZ is facing pre-electoral embarrassments as the federal police supported by Stabilisation Force troops have arrested several people closely affiliated with the top HDZ officials.


In addition, police in Croatia detained General Ivan Andabak, closely associated with Mladen Naletilic Tuta, who is accused of war crimes by The Hague.


Andabak is the main suspect in the murder of Jozo Leutar, the Bosnian Federation's deputy minister of interior affairs, who was killed in a car bombing in March 1999. At the time of the Leutar murder, Croat member of the Bosnian presidency Ante Jelavic launched a media campaign in which, without any proof, he accused the Bosniak side in the Federation interior ministry of organizing the killing.


A UN investigation indicates that Leutar, a Bosnian Croat, was murdered by Croat nationals. This could not have come at a worse time for Jelavic and the HDZ whose election campaign plays up the vulnerability of the Croat minority.


Edina Becirevic and Adnan Buturovic are IWPR contributors


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