Breaking The Mould

Buoyed by the promise of a Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe and the prospect of new electoral laws, Bosnia's Social Democratic Party is expanding into Republika Srpska and hopes to appeal to Serb voters.

Breaking The Mould

Buoyed by the promise of a Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe and the prospect of new electoral laws, Bosnia's Social Democratic Party is expanding into Republika Srpska and hopes to appeal to Serb voters.

Wednesday, 16 November, 2005

Bosnia's Social Democrats, the country's principal non-nationalist political party, have launched a recruitment drive in Republika Srpska in an attempt to break the mould of Bosnian politics.


In the wake of Sarajevo's Stability Pact summit, Zlatko Lagumdzija, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), visited three towns in Republika Srpska - Bosanska Gradiska, Banja Luka and Srebrenica - and set up new municipal party offices in each.


Despite an avowedly non-nationalist platform, the SDP, which is the successor to Bosnia's League of Communists, has failed to attract much support from Serb and Croat voters in elections since the end of the war. Instead, it has largely relied on the votes of Bosniaks in urban areas and, in Republika Srpska and Croat-controlled territory, the Bosniak refugee community.


However, the party feels that now, on the back of the Stability Pact for south-eastern Europe and with the prospect of new electoral laws, it has a unique opportunity to make its mark throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moreover, a week before the Sarajevo summit, the SDP won promises of financial support from Europe's other socialist parties at a conference of European Social Democrats in Vienna.


"Social Democrats are in power in 13 European Union countries and are the driving force behind the Stability Pact," says Lagumdzija. "They have taken on responsibility for strengthening social democracy throughout the region."


According to Lagumdzija, Western Social Democrats are offering similar support to Ivica Racan, the SDP leader in neighbouring Croatia, and are seeking suitable partners among the Serbian opposition.


The SDP now has party representatives in Banja Luka, Bosanska Gradiska, Sipovo, Modrica, Prijedor, Bosanski Novi, Bosanska Krupa, Doboj and Srebrenica in Republika Srpska and are planning to open an office in Trebinje. The aim is to have representative offices and candidates in every municipality in the country by the next elections, currently scheduled for May 2000.


While the bulk of its party members in Republika Srpska are still Bosniaks, the SDP is hoping that, as it opens new offices, Serbs will increasingly join. Here Srebrenica, scene in July 1995 of the Bosnian war's worst atrocity, is seen as a test case.


Although the municipality has a reputation as a bastion of hard-line Serb nationalism, several Serbs have already joined the SDP. The president of the party's municipal committee is a Bosniak, Hakija Meholjic, but his deputy is a young Serb, Miljenko Andric, who spend the entire war in the town.


"There is no economy in Srebrenica, living conditions are poor and there is no future," says Lagumdzija. "As a result, young Serbs have decided to become active in politics and, despite the risks, join the SDP because it offers them the only way out."


During his recent visit to Srebrenica, Lagumdzija met up with a group of widows of Serb soldiers, to discuss their grievances. "The indifference of the Republika Srpska authorities to their problems has brought these women to the SDP," says Lagumdzija. "The people of Bosnia are slowly realizing that there will be no more war or division and that the nationalist parties belong to the past."


It is reported that Milorad Dodik, the Prime Minister of Republika Srpska and leader of the Independent Social-Democratic Party, is not best pleased by the SDP's campaign. That said, Dodik also attended the European Social-Democratic conference in Vienna and SDP sources say that the two parties hope to form a coalition to fight the next elections.


Both parties might be helped by changes to the electoral system, currently under discussion, which seek to oblige politicians to appeal to all ethnic groups in order to win office.


Edina Becirevic is a journalist with Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna.


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