Bosnian Serb Leadership Crisis

Bosnian Serb hard-liners, apparently backed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, are attempting to oust Republika Srpska's moderate government.

Bosnian Serb Leadership Crisis

Bosnian Serb hard-liners, apparently backed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, are attempting to oust Republika Srpska's moderate government.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

The Office of the High Representative (OHR) has condemned as illegal and unconstitutional a move by Bosnian Serb Vice-President Mirko Sarovic to take over the leadership of Republika Srpska.


Sarovic, declaring his aim to break the political statement in the Serb entity of Bosnia, announced on Wednesday, January 26, his intention to assume the vacant presidency.


"This move is a regrettable attack on the legal institutions of Republika Srpska, with the clear and obvious aim of destabilising the entity and undermining the Dayton accords," said OHR spokesman James Ferguson.


"Mr Sarovic will be held accountable for this. Any actions he may take in an attempt to exercise those presidential powers would be illegitimate."


Republika Srpska has been without a head of state since Bosnia's former top western diplomat Carlos Westendorp dismissed President Nikola Poplasen last March for his hard-line attitudes and opposition to the peace process.


Sarovic refused an offer by Westendorp to appoint him president, under the terms and conditions of the international community.


The situation suited international organisations in Bosnia, as there was nobody to replace or seriously challenge the western favourite among the Bosnian Serbs - moderate Prime Minister Milorad Dodik.


According to the Republika Srpska constitution, only the president has the right to name the prime minister.


In the past couple of years, Dodik has won international support by openly clashing not only with Bosnian Serb hard-liners, such as Sarovic and Poplasen, but also with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.


On several occasions, Milosevic even tried to help or organise Bosnian Serb extremists in their fight against Dodik, who has been seriously undermining the Belgrade leader's authority among Serbs in the region.


Milosevic met Bosnian Serb hard-liners, led by Poplasen, last week in Belgrade in order to find a way to replace the prime minister, Dodik claims.


Sarovic's announcement, made less than a week after the alleged meeting in Belgrade, appears to have given credence to Dodik's claim.


Western officials say Sarovic's move should be viewed in the context of the ongoing power struggle between Milosevic and the Serbian opposition, which now seems to be spilling over into Bosnia. Dodik openly supports the Serbian opposition.


A meeting this week between Dodik, other leaders of the ruling Sloga coalition and the pretender to the old Yugoslav royal throne, Aleksandar Karadzordjevic, declared the need for the unification of all Serbian opposition parties against Milosevic.


"We all must work to remove the regime in Belgrade once and for all," Republika Srpska television quoted Karadzordevic as saying.


As expected Sarovic's move has the support of the hard-line Serbian Democratic Party and Radical Party in Republika Srpska.


But there was a surprisingly muted reaction from almost all other parties, including members of the Sloga coalition, who either kept quiet or mildly criticised Sarovic for destabilising the situation in Republika Srpska.


Sarovic has angered many in Republika Srpska, but this anger appears to have been tempered by frustration with the OHR's continued interference in the entity's internal politics.


Janez Kovac is a regular contributor to IWPR from Sarajevo.


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