- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 30, 2001

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia Bosnia's Serbian entity has lower wages and higher unemployment than the rest of the country.
Its leaders are constantly harangued by the international community for having not arrested a single war crimes suspect. Even local Serbs have become doubtful that their government can do much for them.
So when Slobodan Milosevic was indicted last month on genocide charges in connection with the 1992-95 war in Bosnia, it was a blow the Republika Srpska (R.S.) didn't need. The reaction from here in the capital was swift.
"Whether Milosevic defends himself or not, the R.S. government must overturn this accusation in his name and in the interests of Republika Srpska," said Sinisa Djordjevic, the prime minister's adviser to the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. "Defending the charges is important, because Muslims and Croats still insist that the R.S. was created on genocide and ethnic cleansing, and is thus politically illegitimate."
Republika Srpska authorities were already facing an impatient international community, which has ramped up its criticism that the government in Banja Luka is corrupt, incompetent and bent on creating a monoethnic state.
International officials charge that the government has done nothing to arrest the two most-wanted suspects in Bosnia Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Privatization has gone slowly and favors those with political connections. In the national parliament at Sarajevo, politicians from the Serbian entity routinely block legislation that would give the central government more power. Croats and Muslims who want to return, officials say, are discouraged from doing so in a manner organized by the government.
Six years after the war in Bosnia ended, the country is still governed by the United Nations, but the internationa body is trying to devolve its power to the central government and the two other entities: the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska. But non-Serbs have long called for a more unified Bosnia. Their arguments have gained strength in recent months as criticism of the Republika Srpska has reached a fever pitch.
Leading the charge has been U.N. High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch. He met senior government officials last month in Banja Luka.
"If the politics of isolation continue to be pursued, the R.S. will remain a deserted island that cannot survive," he told Sarajevo television station Studio 99 this month. "If reforms are not implemented, there will be no Republika Srpska," he said. "Therefore, I will be watching very carefully the developments there."
The think tank International Crisis Group also had harsh words for the Republika Srpska in a recent report. "The logical solution would be the dissolution of Republika Srpska due to its manifest unreformability and its incompatibility with the basic democratic development of the Bosnian state. However, such a radical step is currently neither feasible nor even desirable. The way ahead is to demand much, much more of the R.S."
The root of the problem, international officials and analysts say, is the nationalist Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), founded by Mr. Karadzic. In the last elections, the SDS won handily, but international officials engineered a government ruled instead by their choice, Mladen Ivanic, and including many SDS members in nominally nonparty "expert" roles.
Although Mr. Ivanic is favored by the internationals and makes statements they like to hear, he is thought to be too weak to fend off the SDS elements in his government.
SDS members have consolidated control of many bureaucratic and municipal administrations in the Republika Srpska and can obstruct policies they don't approve of, international officials say.
In addition, their invisible role in the government gives them considerable leeway. "The SDS stands up in parliament and criticizes the government like they're not part of it. They're trying to have it both ways," said one international official here.
The government's most high-profile "failure" is that Mr. Karadzic and Mr. Mladic continue to live freely, if hidden, in Bosnia. Although Mr. Ivanic this month called on all war-crimes suspects in the country to surrender, local journalists continue to report that they are being protected by R.S. army units.
Both men remain popular in the Republika Srpska. Books about them are on most of Banja Luka's bookstands, and opinion polls show only 5 percent of residents think they should be arrested.
Mr. Mladic and Mr. Karadzic "are important, they're symbols of war crimes, and the R.S. is in a very bad situation because they're still free. We can't solve any other important problems because the international community is constantly talking about them," said Branko Peric, a political journalist in Banja Luka.
Many governments, including that of the United States, refuse to deal with the SDS at all. Yet, despite international opprobrium, and despite a recent poll that showed that 83 percent of people in the Republika Srpska consider the entity's failing economy a bigger priority than protecting Serbian national interests, the party continues to be powerful, and most observers expect it to win the elections next year.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide