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

Milosevic's Bosnia Factor

Former rivals, Milosevic and dismissed Bosnian Serb leader Poplasen are forging a new alliance to try to refresh their standing among the Serbs.
By Branko Peric
Under increasing pressure in Serbia, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is attempting to build alliances and mobilise nationalists in neighbouring Republika Srpska.



To this end, he has in the past month held talks with Republika Srpska's dismissed president, Nikola Poplasen, as well as with Momcilo Krajisnik and Dragan Kalinic, who are associates of indicted Bosnian Serb war-time leader Radovan Karadzic.



Milosevic met up with Poplasen - who had been dismissed in March as Republika Srpska's president by former High Representative Carlos Westendorp - during the Sarajevo Stability Pact summit at the end of last month. The two Serb presidents were not invited to the conference which was attended by some 40 heads of state and all other regional leaders.



Poplasen, the leader of Vojislav Seselj's Radical Party in Republika Srpska, was once a critic of the Yugoslav president, whom he accused of betraying Serb interests for signing the Dayton Peace Agreement ending the Bosnian war. Now, however, circumstances have forced the two men back together.



In the wake of his defeat in Kosovo, Milosevic is seeking to use the Bosnian Serb example to demonstrate that the arrival of NATO troops in Kosovo is part of a broad international conspiracy against the Serb people. Moreover, Poplasen's dismissal should serve as an example to Serbs in Serbia of a leader whose "legitimate power has been destroyed".



Today, despite his dismissal, Poplasen retains his presidential cabinet, but receives only a handful of visitors. By meeting with Milosevic, he has tried to demonstrate that he is still a force to be reckoned with, irrespective of the international community.



In response to the Milosevic-Poplasen meeting, the Independent Social Democrats of Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik asked the government to cut funding to Poplasen's cabinet.



Despite this, however, it seems that both Milosevic and Poplasen could profit from their manoeuvring. Indeed, many Bosnian political analysts feel that the nationalists are becoming more popular.



According to a recent poll carried out by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, more than half of the population in both entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina regard ethnic identity as the main criteria for voting. More than 30 per cent of those polled say that they voted only for the parties that represented their national interests best. Only one-third said that they placed ethnic identity second in terms of importance when voting.



Republika Srpska's nationalist parties have sought to present the co-operative politics of Prime Minister Dodik and the opening up of Republika Srpska as a betrayal of national interests and moves towards the reunification of Bosnia under the dominance of Sarajevo.



To make their case, they point to the "loss" of the town of Brcko; the fact that Srpska Kostajnica is now part of Croatia following agreement between that country and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on borders; and economic indices that show that imports to Republika Srpska from Croatia and the Federation is several times higher than exports.



Branko Peric is editor of the Alternative Information Network in Banja Luka.