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

New Bosnian Serb Government Underwhelms

Little sign that SDS-led government is ready to please international community by arresting war crimes suspects.
By Gordana Katana

The appointment of nationalist Pero Bukejlovic as prime minister of Bosnia’s Serb entity looks unlikely to help resolve the ongoing political crisis over the international community’s demands for reforms and the arrest of war crimes suspects – which prompted his predecessor, moderate Dragan Mikerevic, to resign.


Analysts say a new government led by the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, will be even less willing than the old one to cooperate with the institutional reforms – particularly on policing and defence – which the Office of the High Representative, OHR, has been pushing so as to put Bosnia and Herzegovina in better shape for eventual accession to the NATO and the European Union.


Republika Srpska, RS, has until April to deliver on two key international demands: handing over top war crimes suspects and embracing security-sector reforms.


RS president Dragan Cavic appointed Bukejlovic, a former industry minister who like him belongs to the SDS, as premier on January 10, after three weeks of talks among Bosnian Serb party leaders failed to come up with a solution to the power vacuum.


Mikerevic resigned on December 17, the day after High Representative Lord Paddy Ashdown ordered the dismissal of nine police commissioners and local government chiefs in RS and announced that the entity would have to cede control of police and defence to Bosnian state level.


Ashdown clearly felt it was time for further sanctions because Bosnia’s application to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace Programme, PfP, was rejected for the second time at the organisation’s summit in Brussels on December 8.


The explanation given for Bosnia’s failure to gain admission to PfP was the same as the one given at the last NATO summit, held in Istanbul on June 28 – the Serb entity’s lack of cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal. The two top suspects – former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his commander-in-chief General Ratko Mladic – remain at large, and both are believed to spend some of their time in RS.


Previous actions by Ashdown – principally the sacking in July of 58 SDS officials including party leader Dragan Kalinic - did not produce the desired improvement in cooperation with the tribunal.


The decision to make the entity’s separate police and defence forces accountable to the Bosnian state is intended to create centralised institutions which would cope more efficiently with this problem.


The OHR’s December announcements were the last straw for Mikerevic, who like politicians across the spectrum in RS, opposes the centralisation of Bosnian institutions and the creation of a stronger state. Unlike their counterparts in the Federation, Bosnian Serb politicians want to maintain the devolved powers granted to each entity by the 1995 Dayton agreement, which set out the constitutional arrangements now in force.


As he stepped down, Mikerevic said the High Representative’s decision was an attempt to effect constitutional changes that he was "reluctant to implement".


Mikerevic was a member of SDS's coalition partner, the Party of Democratic Progress, PDP.


In a sign of the across-the-board hostility to the erosion of the RS’s powers, Bosnian Serb politicians responded to the prime minister’s resignation by signing a joint “agreement on coordinated political action” on December 22.


The agreement’s centrepiece is a strong denunciation of any changes to the constitutions of the RS and the Bosnian state without the consensus approval of all three constituent nations – Serbs, Muslims and Croats.


The parties also stated that they would all offer their support in the formation of a new government. But the SDS and the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats, SNSD, were unable to agree on the composition of a new cabinet, and how long it should stay in office.


That forced President Cavic’s hand, and he named fellow SDS member Bukejlovic as prime minister - subject to approval by the RS assembly - and tasked him with forming a government.


Judging by statements made by the SDS and the PDP and minor parties such as the Democratic Patriotic Party, the Pensioners' Party and the Serbian Radical Party, Bukejlovic should be able to secure the majority in parliament he needs to form a government. President Cavic said on January 11 that the outcome was likely to be a minority government in which the SDS plays a dominant role.


Bukejlovic’s nomination had immediately come under attack both because of his party’s failure to live down its wartime connections, and because critics point to his term as industry minister in 2000-02, which coincided with a major slump in production.


Cavic repudiated such claims, saying, "We in the SDS have not murdered or robbed anyone, and in the past four years we have proved we are ready and able to implement reforms. We angrily reject all allegations that the SDS and its prime minister-designate are not capable of running the government or eligible to do so.”


Still, the prospect of the SDS leading on policy matters is hardly likely to delight the international community. Nor is the new government expected to reinvigorate work on meeting the terms set by the international community.


This week Lord Ashdown set April as the new deadline by which suspects indicted by the tribunal - above all Karadzic and Mladic - must be arrested, and warned that failure to do so would result in another round of sanctions. NATO’s next summit is also due in early April.


There is much scepticism that SDS politicians will rise to this challenge, or that they will be able to build fruitful relationships with the western governments now pressing for progress.


The United States government, unlike its European Union counterparts, has clearly stated that it does not wish to work with the SDS at all, and in December banned any member of the party from entering the US.


Nebojsa Radmanovic, deputy leader of the SNSD, which opposes the idea of an SDS-run cabinet, told IWPR that a party that enjoys “no credibility whatsoever” among the international community could hardly be expected to take the action demanded of it.


"A government burdened by the past legacy that is associated with the SDS, and by people who are banned from entering the US, will not be capable of coping with the obligations that this cabinet is expected to fulfil," he said.


Leaders of other parties opposed to an SDS-dominated administration agreed. Socialist Party leader Petar Djokic said that it would be "the kiss of death for any party joining SDS in the new government”.


The consequence, said Marko Pavic, who leads the Democratic National Alliance, DNS, another party opposed to plans for an SDS cabinet, will be that RS ploughs on with a policy direction that has already been tried - and failed.


"The policy which has been pursued so far - and has suffered several crushing defeats - has been given a new lease of life through Pero Bukejlovic," he said.


Tanja Topic, a political analyst with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Bosnia office, is sceptical that a Bukejlovic-run cabinet will be able to achieve much, even if there were any flexibility on the demands to arrest key suspects.


"Even if the High Representative retracts his demand that the RS institutions should apprehend Karadzic and Mladic within a specific deadline, there will be many other obligations which this government is not capable of implementing," she said.


Gordana Katana is a regular IWPR correspondent based in Banja Luka