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Pre-election Mischief in Bosnia

Recent violence in Bosnia may be part of an orchestrated campaign to increase ethnic tension and mistrust in advance of general elections
By Janez Kovac

Seven people were injured, 14 detained, three houses burned down and another 50 damaged, when Muslim returnees were attacked by Bosnian Serbs in the northeastern town of Janja last week. The violence was sparked by the planned evictions of Bosnian Serbs - in many cases displaced people themselves - from Muslim houses.


The Muslims were attacked with sticks, stones and hand-grenades. Some fled or locked themselves in their houses. Others responded in kind. The violence lasted for three days, forcing the local authorities to proclaim a state of emergency and request assistance from the Bosnian Serb leadership.


Only when the Bosnian media reported that a NATO-led peace force would take control of the town if the situation didn't calm down within 24 hours, did the violence subside. NATO officials later denied issuing any such warning.


Bosnia's top international mediator, Wolfgang Petritsch, condemned the violence. "Those who participated in the demonstrations and attacks have not only turned against (Muslim) returnees,


but against law and order and civilised, democratic behavior" he said in statement issued by the Office of the Higher Representative, OHR.


Some believe the Janja violence - which followed a similarepisode in Maglaj two weeks ago - was no isolated incident. Sejfudin Tokic, a vice-president of the opposition Social Democratic Party, SDP, has stated publically that an orchestrated campaign is underway to increase ethnic tension and mistrust in advance of general elections scheduled for November.


This way, Tokic believes, the Bosnian Serb, SDS, Croat, HDZ, and Muslim, SDA, nationalist parties hope to improve their performance at the polls. Many local and western analysts share his view.


The ruling nationalist parties saw their votes dwindle in elections in 1996, 1997 and 1998. Support fell again in a local ballot held in April.


After its municipal poll defeat in April, the SDA appears particularly vulnerable. With their backs against the wall, the nationalists may resort to extreme measures to stay in power.


Anxiety over the elections may account for a recent tightening of control over the media. After years of supporting the SDA, the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz has recently adopted a more independent position, critical of the Muslim ruling party. As a result, the paper has lost the financial and other benefits it previously enjoyed, and was brought to the brink of closure by the tax authorities.


Similarly, popular anchorman and chief editor on Bosnian television, BHTV, Senad Hadzifejzovic, was removed from his post last week. Hadzifejzovic has long been close to SDA leader and Muslim member of the Bosnian tripartite presidency, Alija Izetbegovic. He claims to have been ousted by journalists installed at BHTV by federal premier and SDA deputy leader, Edhem Bicakcic, who is thought to harbour ambitions of replacing the ageing Izetbegovic.


The SDA's media offensive has not stopped independent magazines Slobodna Bosna and Dani from revealing new scandals which implicate Bicakcic and other senior SDA members in corruption and crime. Last Thursday Wolfgang Petritsch removed tax office director, Ramiz Dzaferovic, from his post. He had previously been exposed as corrupt in a series of


articles in the two magazines.


"As Director of the Federation Tax Administration, Mr Dzaferovic, through acts of personal misconduct, impeded the economic reform effort," said OHR in its statement. " Mr Dzaferovic also failed to apply the rules and regulations governing the Federation Tax Administration in a fair, systematic and transparent manner."


Maybe the new director of the tax office will hesitate before allowing it to be used to harass


unco-operative newspapers. Like all public officials dismissed by OHR, Dzaferovic faces the additional punishment of being barred from running for public office or holding public office.


The following day, Petritsch summarily dismissed the Board of Governors of the main Bosnian Serb television station, RTRS, and appointed a new one. "This decision is a direct result of the continued failure of the Republika Srpska Government and the RS National Assembly to adopt new legislation for RTRS, in order to bring it in line with international standards for public


Broadcasting," he said.


Petritsch's actions may be seen as part of a clean sweep in advance of the elections. Everyone, from nationalist and opposition parties, to the media - state-run and independent - and the international community is already gearing up for the November polls.


Indeed, the elections could be crucial for Bosnia. If nationalist parties maintain their current


share of power, or increase it, the international community and donors may decide that B-H is a hopeless case and abandon the country to its own grim nationalist fate.


Janez Kovac is a regular IWPR contributor


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