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On Hold In RS

Whatever the outcome, the repercussions from the NATO bombing will be huge for Republika Srpska--where pragmatic politicians are trying to keep their options open.
By IWPR

Republika Srspka lacks a president, is unsure whether it has a prime minister and government, and its population feels as much under attack from NATO's bombs as Serbia itself. In effect, life is on hold until the war next door comes to a conclusion.


The NATO bombing campaign has dominated the news and distracted attention from Republika Srpska's internal political squabbling and the failure to form a government in the seven months since the September 1998 elections.


The air strikes followed soon after the March dismissal of the President of Republika Srpska, Nikola Poplasen, by High Representative Carlos Westendorp and the final arbitration award on Brcko which effectively took territory in that strategic town away from Republika Srpska.


While ordinary Serbs in Republika Srpska have responded with similar defiance to the Serbs of Serbia proper, the political elite, especially those politicians who have been built up and promoted by the West, has been more cautious.


Having themselves been on the receiving end of NATO bombs in 1995, Serbs in Republika Srpska naturally sympathise with the plight of their ethnic kin across the border. Indeed, most feel as if Republika Srpska is itself again under attack.


The threat of the bombing campaign to Serb national interests everywhere has generated an outpouring of national anger which has manifested itself in a series of protest meetings and minor incidents. As a result, international agencies and diplomatic missions have reduced their presence in Republika Srpska to a minimum.


In addition, in a manner reminiscent of 1991, patriotic associations for the defence of Serbdom have sprung up all over Republika Srpska. These are usually headed by former members of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), the party which used to be dominated by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, and accuse their peers of betraying Serb national interests.


While the restructured SDS has been comparatively restrained, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), now headed by Mirko Blagojevic, has attempted to make political capital out of the current situation.


In effect, the bombing campaign has been welcomed both by Blagojevic and Vojislav Seselj, his political master in Belgrade. It appears to vindicate their position, namely that there is a global conspiracy against the Serbs.


Interestingly, Poplasen, the Serb Radical leader who was elected president of Republika Srpska in September, has been marginalised for allegedly being too soft.


Leaders of the many Serb political parties meet up on a regular basis to discuss the on-going bombing campaign. While they have issued joint declarations formally condemning the bombing and expressing solidarity with the Serbs of Yugoslavia, the more pragmatic among them are keeping their options open, waiting to see how the situation evolves and who--whether Slobodan Milosevic or NATO--emerges victorious, before definitively committing themselves.


Meantime, the March dismissal of Poplasen as president of Republika Srpska has failed to break the political deadlock and, despite sustained international pressure, parliament is yet to agree a prime minister.


Milorad Dodik, the West's preferred candidate for prime minister, attempted to broker a deal with the international community and the SDS and SRS by which Poplasen would be reinstated as president and the SDS and SRS given key ministries. However, the SDS and SRS rejected the offer.


Dodik remains prime minister by default in the absence of a new government. But his star has been falling since the beginning of the bombing campaign. He is perceived as being excessively mercenary and pro-Western. And Mladen Ivanic, another moderate candidate, has also failed to obtain sufficient support to form a government as a result of overt Western support.


Zivko Radisic, Serb member and president of the three-member Bosnian Presidency, continuously changes his position. Having officially suspended participation in the Presidency, Radisic, nevertheless, visits Sarajevo. As the bombing campaign appears to be cementing Milosevic's hold on power in Serbia, Radisic is also eager to improve relations with Belgrade.


While the politicians bicker, living conditions for the majority of the population deteriorate. Inflation is taking off and companies whose business is dependent on Yugoslavia, i.e. the majority, have lost their markets.


Serbs in Republika Srpska are also worried about possible repercussions of the war against Yugoslavia for Bosnia. Defeat for Serbia, they fear, may lead to revision of the Dayton Peace Agreement and force them into a closer relationship with the (Muslim-Croat) Federation on unfavourable terms.


Igor Gajic is a journalist with Reporter in Banja Luka.


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