ICG Bosnia Project, 23 May, 1996
In recent weeks the High Representative's Office and IFOR have been openly supporting the then Prime Minister, Rajko Kasagic, in Banja Luka as an alternative centre of power to President Karadzic in Pale. On 12 April, Karadzic publicly overruled Kasagic's acceptance to attend the Brussels Pledging Conference as part of the State of Bosnia & Herzegovina delegation, despite strong pressure from the international community for him to go. On 1 May, IFOR moved one of its three divisional headquarters to Banja Luka with the consent of Kasagic but against the wishes of Karadzic. For a week from 5 May Carl Bildt was in Banja Luka giving public support to Kasagic and criticising Karadzic for blocking development aid to Republika Srpska (RS). On 13 May, Kasagic threatened or actually made a cabinet reshuffle, asking several ministers to step down for giving insufficient support to the implementation of the Dayton Peace Accords.
On 14 May, the World Bank representative dangled a carrot of US$1.4 bn in economic aid in Pale, provided the RS authorities signed a subsidiary agreement with the State of Bosnia and Herzegovina (which Kasagic, but not Karadzic, seemed prepared to do). Karadzic responded to all this the next day by dismissing Kasagic for threatening the vital interests of the RS. The High Representative declared on 16 May that he regarded Karadzic's action as an illegal putsch and that he would continue to deal with Kasagic. Kasagic himself put up a spirited defence of his way as "the guarantee of the survival of the Serb people"; whereas Karadzic's way would lead towards the same destiny as the Republic of Serb Krajina" (i e extinction). Despite statements of support for Kasagic from Yugoslav President Milosevic and a range of Western leaders, including the Secretary-General of Nato, Karadzic outflanked Kasagic by summoning on 18 May a session of the Serbian Assembly in Pale. Of the 56 representatives present, 55 voted to oust Kasagic. None of his 28 or so supporters from the Banja Luka area and the North West turned up. This may have been a tactical move to discredit the vote. It is not yet clear whether there was indeed a legally constituted majority for the ouster. At any rate, he was replaced by Mr Gojko Klickovic - a sociologist in his 40s he was the former deputy Minister of Health and the hardliner responsible for organising the exodus of the Serbs from Sarajevo. At the same time, Karadzic announced that he was withdrawing from many of his public tasks and handing over responsibility for contact with the international community to Vice-President Biljana Plavsic - in her late 50s, a former professor of biology and another hardliner.
The outlook is not very bright but not entirely without hope. On the face of it, Karadzic's withdrawal looks like an empty gesture as he had no contact with the international community before. However, Carl Bildt's effort is aimed at marginalising him by insisting that Karadzic should play no part in public life - no interviews and no television or other public appearances. It remains unclear whether Karadzic is going to yield or whether he will fight back, though there are increasing signs that he will not go quietly. There is talk that he might seek confirmation of his authority by calling a referendum. Ms Plavsic has now denied that Karadzic had withdrawn; and in a remarkable piece of backtracking Kasagic, presumably under pressure from Karadzic to maintain unity, has just issued a statement playing down differences with Karadzic and denying that anyone was preparing a coup against the latter.
Bildt has continued to conduct lengthy discussions both with President Milosevic in Belgrade and with Momcilo Krajisnik, Speaker of the Bosnian Serb Assembly in Pale (where he was also joined on 22 May by General Walker, Commander of IFOR's land forces), apparently in an attempt to negotiate agreement to Karadzic's departure from the political scene. However, after some initial optimism, people close to Bildt are increasingly cautious about the prospects. US Bosnia Coordinator Kornblum is expected here shortly, presumably bent on the same mission.
Meanwhile, in Banja Luka, ICG now has an operational office and can make more of a contribution to the international effort there to encourage moderate opinion. ICG's success in procuring funding for the survival of an independent newspaper there should enhance our standing.