Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Bosnian Serbs Warn of Backlash Over Ashdown Sackings

Fears grow that dismissals may have the opposite effect from one intended.
By Gordana Katana

Bosnian Serb co-operation with the Hague war crimes tribunal may be delayed, rather than accelerated, by the round of punitive measures announced by the High Representative, say politicians and experts from Republika Srpska, RS.


Paddy Ashdown dismissed Dragan Kalinic, speaker of the RS parliament, and leader of the main party, the Serb Democratic Party, SDS, along with Zoran Djeric, the RS interior minister, on June 30.


He removed another 59 officials from their posts, mainly SDS members, in the biggest-ever political purge the RS has seen since it was recognised as a Bosnian entity in 1995.


Of that number, 12 were permanently barred from political activity, while the rest will be allowed to resume public life once the wanted former RS president, Radovan Karadzic, has surrendered or been arrested.


The sackings are Ashdown’s penalty imposed on the RS for failing to arrest or hand over a single indicted war criminal, which resulted in NATO refusing to admit Bosnia-Herzegovina, BiH, into its Partnership for Peace, PfP, programme at the recent Istanbul summit.


“The SDS has been given a decisive opportunity to break with the past,” said Julian Braithwaite, Ashdowns director of communications, explaining the strategy behind the sackings.


“As we take these measures, we hope Karazdic himself will see he is sacrificing his people for his own freedom,” he added. “Both the RS and the state of Bosnia are being hostage by Karadzic.”


The High Representative himself said Kalinic had been dismissed after an investigation into the financial dealings of the SDS showed the party had continued to finance indicted war criminals, including Karadzic.


“Kalinic was in charge of securing adequate financial control within the party to prevent fraud, embezzlement and criminal actions," Ashdown said.


“It was his responsibility to make sure the party founded by Radovan Karadzic does not continue to finance him, as the evidence indicates, including a letter by Karadzic himself that he enjoys the financial support of the SDS.”


As for Djeric, Ashdown explained he was not dismissed “for direct involvement with Hague fugitives, but because of his ministerial responsibility that they were not caught”.


However, analysts and politicians in the RS said they doubted the purge would have a positive effect on the snails pace of cooperation between the RS and the Hague, with some suggesting the measures might even worsen relations.


Tanja Topic, a political analyst in Banja Luka for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, said experience to date showed sanctions achieved little.


“The dismissals undertaken by the High Representative, however great, will not change peoples’ views on the need for full cooperation with the Hague tribunal," she suggested.


"Bearing in mind also the fact that this decision has shaken up all the institutions in the RS, the question now is who will arrest the Hague fugitives?"


A straw poll on the streets of Banja Luka showed many ordinary people were more opposed than ever to cooperation with the tribunal after hearing of the dismissals.


Marko, a clerk, said the news left him feeling "embittered, as it is yet more proof that we Serbs are always the guilty ones".


Pera Gajic, a pensioner, said, "This is where co-operation with foreigners has taken us. The softer we are, the more they trample on us!"


Both the ruling SDS and opposition parties in the RS closed ranks over the sackings, condemning Ashdown’s decision as an attack on the very existence of the RS, which will not expedite the changes the international community wants to see.


In a public address on June 30, following the release of the news, RS president Dragan Cavic, also an SDS member, accused Ashdown of engineering a crisis.


"All these dismissals have directly endangered the institutions of the RS and caused the most serious institutional crisis," he said.


"The people who devised this draconian punishment should know they will not achieve stability and prosperity.”


Praising the RS for improving its cooperation, he said the Serb entity had "in the past two years intensified activities in meeting international obligations, especially by opening up chapters of the past and institutionally working to improve cooperation with the Hague tribunal".


Cavic last week delivered an unprecedented public address in which he called on fellow Serbs to recognise the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, in July 1995. It was the first time a leading RS official had ever admitted Serb atrocities in the 1992-95 war.


The RS opposition, normally a fierce critic of the SDS, has lent strong support to the government over the sackings.


Milorad Dodik, head of the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SMSD, the main opposition party, said, “The opposition will in every way try to protect the institutions of the RS and will not allow further destabilisation.”


The sacked politicians themselves were defiant over their past conduct in office.


“It is inconceivable in political and legal practice for someone to demand that a political party arrest war criminals," Kalinic said.


"People are impotent before the fact that Radovan Karadzic is probably being guarded by God and the angels, and that is the only truth," the former SDS leader added.


The sackings have caused substantial problems for RS prime minister Dragan Mikerevic, who has lost two government ministers, namely Djeric and Economy and Power Minister Milan Bogicevic.


After the announcement by the High Representative, all the deputies of the SDS and its ally in government, the Democratic Progress Party, PDP, walked out of the RS assembly, leaving it without a quorum to continue business.


Mikerevic said the sackings threatened to take the RS in the wrong political direction. "They may take the RS backwards, that is the sanctions may result in a halt to the process of reforms," he said on June 30.


Topic said improved cooperation with the Hague tribunal and the arrest of war criminals was even less likely to follow in the coming months, as the entity braced for October local elections.


"The RS authorities tried through the report of the commission for Srebrenica… to win an amnesty from the High Representative, yet Bosnia was still not invited to join the PfP,” she said.


“That did not succeed. Now, prior to elections, no one will want to lose the preference of the Serbian electorate."


Gordana Katana reports for VOA in Banja Luka.