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

Tomorrow's Man in Banja Luka

A new political party has been founded in Banja Luka and its name does not begin with the prefix "Serb", nor does it contain the words "Republika Srpska".
By Janez Kovac

Mladen Ivanic is no stranger to politics. He was a member of Bosnia's last communist presidency and stood as an independent for election to the Bosnian presidency in 1996. But since the collapse of communism and the dominance of nationalist politics he has refused to affiliate himself with any single party. Until now.


In the absence of any party which reflects his own moderate thinking, Ivanic, a 41-year-old economics professor at Banja Luka University, has formed his own, the Party for Democratic Progress (PDP, or Partija Demokratskog Progresa). In contrast to the names of most political parties registered in Republika Srpska, the PDP contains neither the prefix "Serb", nor the words "Republika Srpska".


In an interview with IWPR's Balkan Crisis Reports, Ivanic, a thick-set man who speaks fluent English, said his decision was prompted by the worsening political and financial crisis in Republika Srpska, as well as by the lack of new political visions and democratic concepts among existing parties. "This country needs new leaders," he said.


At present, there are three main political groupings in Republika Srpska: Serb hard-liners, Serb moderates, and parties representing the interests of displaced Bosniaks and Croats elected by absentee ballot. While no group is able to co-operate with any of the others, none of them has a majority in the parliament.


Political deadlock has created constant instability and tension in the Serb-held part of Bosnia over the past year. Moreover, the crisis in government has been compounded by the loss of Republika Srpska's main trade and business partner, Yugoslavia, in the wake of the war in Kosovo.


As a result, the economic growth which was recorded at the beginning of 1998 has been reversed. Unemployment is rising. At the same time, political instability has frightened off foreign investors. Although an economist, Ivanic says that Republika Srpska's political problems are more dangerous than its economic ones, and much harder to solve.


Over the past two years, Ivanic has twice been nominated for the post of the Bosnian Serb prime minister. But he failed to win the necessary support, as a result of the divide between hard-line and moderate Serb parties. On the first occasion, he was proposed by moderates and rejected by hard-liners. On the second, he was nominated by the hard-liners and rebuffed by the moderates.


International officials familiar with the situation in Bosnia consider Ivanic a technocrat who might one day become a force within Republika Srpska and even appeal across ethnic lines.


In Bosnia's first post-war ballot in September 1996, Ivanic stood against Momcilo Krajisnik, leader of the then-unchallenged ruling Serb nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) to be the Serb member of the Bosnian presidency. Despite being an independent candidate and having a modest campaign with minimal media attention, Ivanic won some 300,000 votes, many from Bosniak and Croat refugees.


The Sloga coalition, which entered Republika Srpska's political scene in 1997, was seen by many in the international community as a moderate alternative to the SDS and a possible tool to help remove the party of leading war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic from office. However, many Western analysts and diplomats came to believe that Sloga only offers a milder version of nationalism. Indeed, many hard-line careerists simply left the SDS and joined Sloga, in order to keep the same positions.


"Most of the Sloga coalition simply took over the SDS political programme. Just look at their statutes," said a leader of a smaller opposition party in Banja Luka. "It's a pity that Ivanic didn't establish his party sooner."


Many of the smaller opposition parties are eager to back Ivanic and hope that he can draw support from voters who are frustrated by the political deadlock.


"Right now, we have alternative leaders but we don't have alternative ideas," said Ivanic. "I consider our party a third alternative. We want less ideology and more economy."


Ivanic said he sees the PDP as a Bosnian and not merely a Bosnian Serb party, and he welcomes all ethnic groups into it. That said, given the prevailing situation in Bosnia, he expects to pick up most support among Serbs.


The PDP faces its first test in the local elections of April 2000, which it plans to contest on its own. Once results are known, Ivanic says that the PDP will consider forming coalitions and sharing power with other opposition parties.


Ivanic stresses that he will never share power nor co-operate with any of the Bosnian Serb, Croat or Bosniak national parties that led Bosnia into the war. "There can be no compromise with people who became symbols of war," Ivanic said. "We don't want to be a new name for the old ideas."


So soon after the war, Ivanic and other smaller opposition leaders do not believe that their "new democratic alternative" will win nation-wide support soon. Ivanic says he will be focusing on attracting young members.


"The PDP is more a party for tomorrow rather than for today," he said.


Janez Kovac is a journalist in Sarajevo.


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