Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

To the Detriment of Its Citizens, Bosnia's Politicians Continue to Play Nationalist Cards

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

To the Detriment of Its Citizens, Bosnia's Politicians Continue to Play Nationalist Cards

Article excerpt

IN EARLY October, rumors circulated around Bosnia that the international community's supervisor, or High Representative, in Bosnia was going to remove Milorad Dodik. This rumor surfaced amid a spike in the waves of tension that had begun during the run-up to Oct. 5, 2008 nationwide municipal elections.

Dodik, who is prime minister of the Serb-controlled Republika Srpska (one of Bosnia's two "entities," along with the Croat- and Muslim-controlled Federation), went into those elections as Bosnia-Herzegovina's most powerful politician, and came out even stronger. Although his own seat was not contested, Dodik's party, the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), was involved in dozens of municipal elections throughout the Republika Srpska (RS). Winning handily in a majority of races, its victories constituted a vote of confidence among Bosnian Serbs in the policies of Dodik and SNSD.

The nationalist card which Dodik plays keeps his fellow Serbs lined up behind him-and encourages a similar nationalist demagoguery among the leaders of the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats. By no means is he the only politician responsible for Bosnia's ethnic polarization. Indeed, Dodik would not be able to operate so successfully without the de facto collaboration of his "best enemy" (as Bosnian commentators like to call him), Haris Silajdzic. In recent months, Silajdzic has constantly furnished provocative statements that the nationalist Serbs can use as ammunition in their rhetorical war.

The conflict between Bosnia's nationalist leaders escalated after Silajdzic, the Bosniak member of the country's three-part presidency, gave a speech before the United Nations late in September. There, he called on the U.N. to "reverse the recognition of the Republika Srpska," which he described as a "genocidal creation."

This speech, and a similar one Silajdzic subsequently gave before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, caused an outcry from Dodik and his spokesmen. Always quick to respond to any perceived call to abolish the Republika Srpska, Dodik's followers voiced their oft-repeated threat to call a referendum, to be held in the RS only, on the question of secession from Bosnia-Herzegovina.

This back-and-forth verbal warfare was of great use to the nationalist parties during the election campaign. It worked to reinforce the voters' perception that they could only identify as members of one ethnicity or another, rather than as citizens with common interests. As such, they could vote only for the candidates who said that they held their constituents' "national interests" at heart-even though what the definition of a "national interest" is, and why it always takes precedence over the needs of all citizens for stability and economic recovery, have never been clarified.

Post-Election Rhetoric

The rhetoric continued even after the election results were tallied. It was at this point that the rumors of Dodik's impending removal-and possibly that of Silajdzic as well-surfaced. Dodik then announced that if he were removed by the U.N.'s Office of the High Representative (OHR), he would call the Republika Srpska parliament into session outside of the RS government building. He outlined a scenario wherein the RS parliament would "suspend all laws of Bosnia-Herzegovina," and he would then create a "non-governmental organization," which would lead the RS to independence. "If someone wants to play," Dodik warned, "let them play."

In the background of this entire drama hangs the question of Bosnia's eventual admission to the European Union. …

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