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

Izetbegovic Could Revive Nationalist Cause

Nationalists across Bosnia are hoping Alija Izetbegovic's retirement from the tripartite presidency will bolster their cause.
By Zeljko Cvijanovic

Nationalist politics in Bosnia, dealt a blow by the poor showing of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, may be bolstered by the forthcoming retirement of Alija Izetbegovic from the Bosnian presidency.


The republic's nationalists hope that Izetbegovic, long a proponent of separate Serb, Croat and Muslim parties, will devote himself to restoring the flagging fortunes of his party ahead of general elections in November. Izetbegovic plans to step down from the presidency on October 12. He does not intend, however, to relinquish his leadership of the SDA.


Municipal elections in April saw the SDA lose out badly to the moderate Social Democratic Party, SDP, whose leader, Zlatko Lagumdzija, described the results as a "swan song for nationalistic parties".


Although nationalist parties held on in Republika Srpska, RS, and in Croat-dominated areas, moderate parties made some headway in these regions too.


Political leaders in RS expect Izetbegovic to use his still considerable political clout to select an heir and ensure his successor's victory in the upcoming poll. There are two front-runners to succeed Izetbegovic - the former minister of foreign affairs, Haris Silajdzic or the federal prime minister, Edhem Bicackic.


RS leaders fear the concept of nationalist-based politics in the Bosniak part of the country may die with the ailing Izetbegovic.


Co-operation between the various nationalist blocks in Bosnia is nothing new. Recently, in the face of considerable opposition from the international community, nationalist politicians from RS, the SDA and Bosnian Croat HDZ united to push through the election of unknown Serb economy professor Spasoje Tusevljak to the Bosnian Council of Ministers.


As far back as 1990, Serb, Croat and Bosniak nationalists co-operated closely to bring down the Communist government. In the elections for the Bosnian presidency, Izetbegovic, Radovan Karadzic and Stjepan Kljujic called on their supporters to vote for nationalist candidates from other ethnic groups rather than moderates.


At the height of the war, there is evidence prominent Bosnian Serb leader, Momcilo Krajisnik, met Izetbegovic in Sarajevo. Krajisnik used to say that that he would regret the departure of his Bosniak counterpart from the political scene because he considered him "an essential enemy". In 1996, Izetbegovic, for his part, opposed the international community when Krajisnik's candidacy to the tripartite presidency was suspended.


The international community is constantly pushing for an end to nationalist-based politics in Bosnia. The perpetuation of such ideas poses a constant threat to the long-term unity of the country.


Lagumdzija favours the concept of multi-ethnic government in Bosnia. His party's success in the municipal elections suggests he may yet pull off a victory against Izetbegovic's nominee for the Bosniak seat on the tripartite presidency. Such a setback for the SDA would be a perceived as a setback by all nationalist politicians in Bosnia.


The November general elections will determine whether in the next four years Bosnia remains divided between Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs or whether the international community and Lagumdzija's vision of a unified, multi-ethnic government can prevail.


Zeljko Cvijanovic is an independent journalist from Republika Srpska.


More IWPR's Global Voices