Serb Moderation Comes at a Price

Republika Srpska backs new Bosnian government in the hope of acquiring Western financial aid

Serb Moderation Comes at a Price

Republika Srpska backs new Bosnian government in the hope of acquiring Western financial aid

Lured by Western promises of desperately needed financial aid, Republika Srpska, RS, has backed the Bosnia's recently formed progressive coalition government.

The Bosnian Serb reaction starkly contrasts with that of hard line Croat nationalist leader Ante Jelavic, who last week declared his intention to separate areas inhabited by his community from the Federation.

But, it seems, Bosnian Serb leaders are cynically appeasing the West in the hope of acquiring financial aid. For in private, the RS authorities support Jelavic's stand against the Alliance for Change state government, or Council of Ministers, which espouses the idea of a unified Bosnia. Hard line Croats and Serbs are both adamantly opposed to this.

Significantly, RS has signaled that its support for the 10-party Alliance for Change coalition is conditional on the entity's continued self-rule.

The majority of RS parties support Jelavic's demand for "provisional autonomy" for Croats. However, they have refrained from actually expressing this publicly, aware that the international community has criticized such views as "nationalist and separatist".

One senior Bosnian Serb official told IWPR that Banja Luka backed Jelavic's latest position, but was opposed to the creation of a third, Croatian entity within BiH.

"Jelavic is today at the forefront in the fight against a unified Bosnia and we respect that," the official said. " However, we are concerned that the creation of a Croat entity will be against RS's interests."

Bosnian Serbs fear ethnic partition would split the country equally between Serbs, Muslims and Croats. RS currently makes up 49 per cent of Bosnia.

RS had originally backed former Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, member Martin Raguz to head the state government, but withdrew their support after the intervention of UN High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch and US ambassador Thomas Miller.

RS then swung its support behind moderate Bozidar Matic even though the latter has advocated the dismantling of RS and the Federation, in the Sarajevo magazine Dani.

"The PDP (Party of Democratic Prosperity) supports the Alliance for Change," said Zoran Djeric, vice president of the party of RS prime minister Mladen Ivanic, "but that does not mean that it will support all its future moves and proposed candidates."

One candidate for the Council of Ministers that met with Ivanic's disapproval was former RS premier Milorad Dodik.

In a bid to retain some political clout since his party's defeat in the November elections, Dodik and his Social Democrats have backed the Alliance for Change.

At the same time, Dodik is threatening to renew ties with the nationalist Serb Democratic Party, SDS, in an apparent attempt to oust Ivanic from office. Dodik is known to be furious with Ivanic for not including him in his new government.

Bosnian Serb liberals consider the mix of nationalist and moderate elements in the state government unworkable.

Miodrag Zivanovic, a prominent Banja Luka moderate, said it was "incredible that the Alliance is simultaneously comprised both of democratic and nationalist parties."

That Haris Silajdzic and Zlatko Lagumdzija could sit side by side showed that the Alliance was merely "a struggle for power deprived of moral attributes," he said.

Meanwhile, this week, the Bosnian Serbs reminded the international community that while they support the state government, their real political allegiances lie with Belgrade.

On March 5, RS signed a Special Parallel Relationship Agreement with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, strengthening ties between the two.

UN High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, who was involved in finalising the details of the agreement, and the Russian ambassador witnessed the signing, but no other international officials were present.

"The absence of international officials shows they have reservations regarding this agreement," admitted Ivanic.

But the feeling in diplomatic circles is that although they have no strict objections to the treaty, it would be inappropriate to display open support at the present time, as they believe Croatian resistance and passive Serb opposition is posing the greatest threat to their vision of a unified Bosnia since the 1995 signing of the Dayton accord.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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