THE STRUGGLE FOR POWER IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
July 11, 1996
The report is based on interviews in Republika Srpska with the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM), the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), representatives of the Socialists, Liberals, Independent Social Democrats, Radical Party of Nikola Pasic, the League of Communists�Movement for Yugoslavia and the Serb Intellectual Forum, editors of Novi Prelom and Nezavisne Novine, a journalist from the Alternativna Informativna Mreza as well as a former member of UJDI (Udruzenje Jugoslovena za Demokratsku Inicijativu). In addition, we attended the Socialist Party of Republika Srpska Congress.
The nucleus of power currently lies within a small clique of around fifteen key figures based in Pale, a small resort-town in the hills above Sarajevo. Members include the usual suspects from the days of the war, Radovan Karadzic, Momcilo Krajsnik, Bilijana Plavsic and Nikola Koljevic. The clique has established a hierarchy of command inherited from the communist era and based on the model still operating in Serbia proper. In this way, the Pale clique is able to control all aspects of society, in particular the media, the economy, the police and even much of the distribution of humanitarian aid. Radovan Karadzic, while president, is not necessarily the most influential figure in Republika Srpska. Indeed, many consider Momcilo Krajsnik to be the real power broker. It is the clique as a whole, however, that poses the greatest threat to the Dayton Peace Agreement, since it is not in the interest of any of its members to reintegrate Bosnia-Hercegovina in any way. They all compromised themselves beyond reprieve during the war and have staked their futures on a separate Serb state carved out of Bosnia-Hercegovina.
Rajko Kasagic, although a member of the Srpska Demokratska Stranka (SDS) and briefly prime minister, never belonged to the ruling clique. He was effectively little more than a bit-part player to be used when convenient and then purged when he dared to step out of line.
As commander-in-chief of the army of Republika Srpska, Ratko Mladic was a key decision-maker during the war. However, since the Dayton Agreement came into force, the army has largely been demobilised and it no longer plays as great a role in the life of Republika Srpska. Moreover, Mladic does not belong to the Pale clique. Indeed, he has at times been highly critical of some of them, in particular of Krajsnik, whom he has accused of war profiteering.
In political terms Mladic is nowhere near as influential as Karadzic. However, he is indicted as a possible war criminal and the man widely viewed as responsible for the Srebrenica massacres. As a result, his extradition to The Hague to stand trial is a matter of principle. There have been persistent rumours that he has recently suffered a stroke but is now back in circulation.
Banja Luka is the natural capital of Republika Srpska. It is an attractive city which was clearly prosperous before the war and is more than twice as large as any other town in Republika Srpska. According to the 1991 census, it was Bosnia-Hercegovina's second largest city with a population of 195,139 of whom 54.8% were Serbs, 14.9% Croats, 14.6% Muslims, 12% Yugoslavs and 3.7% others. The non-Serb population was "cleansed" in two great waves, in 1992 at the beginning of the war and in 1995 after Croatia's offensive against the Krajina. The indigenous Serb population has been swelled by Serb refugees from federation territory as well as from Croatia, many of whom arrived in 1995 in the wake of the Croat-Muslim offensive.
Historically, Banja Luka was tied culturally and economically to Zagreb, more than to Belgrade, Pale or even Sarajevo. The existing transport infrastructure links Banja Luka with Zagreb and the economy traditionally complemented that of Croatia. Moreover, during last year's Croat-Muslim offensive Banja Luka came within a week of falling, and was only spared the same fate as the Croatian Krajina by the Dayton Peace Agreement.
Given the distance between Banja Luka and Republika Srpska's existing capital Pale (a village by Sarajevo), the very different long-term economic interests of the two places and their differing experiences during the war, it is hardly surprising that Banja Luka should now be developing into a centre of opposition to Pale.
This is not the first Banja Luka-Pale power struggle. During the war in September 1993 soldiers in the 16th motorised brigade of the Bosnian Serb army revolted and took control of Banja Luka. The mutineers were objecting to their living and fighting conditions and the activities of war profiteers. However, the revolt ran out of steam after General Ratko Mladic intervened, promised some improvement in conditions and persuaded the mutineers to rejoin the fold.
The power struggle between Rajko Kasagic and Radovan Karadzic reflects both the Banja Luka/Pale divide and that between pragmatists and dogmatists within the SDS. Kasagic, a lawyer and businessman, became prime minister of Republika Srpska last autumn. Before then he had only held positions within the city government of Banja Luka. At the time, Kasagic was already viewed as Milosevic's man appointed to present a new and acceptable face of Republika Srpska to international mediators and to co-operate with the international community in implementing of the Dayton Agreement.
Unlike Karadzic and the ruling clique in Pale, Kasagic has not been compromised during the war. Moreover, his personal future is not tied inextricably to the independent Bosnian Serb state as designed in Pale. That said, Kasagic does not espouse the reintegration of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Instead, he is a pragmatist who would like to make the most of the hand and in particular the financial package which the international community is offering.
While high representative Carl Bildt looked to Kasagic as a moderate alternative to Pale, Kasagic's personal influence has been exaggerated. In Banja Luka itself he was relatively unknown until very recently and is generally considered to be politically naive. Moreover, he played his hand badly and a week after his dismissal made a humble and public apology to Karadzic.
There are two potential political alternatives within Republika Srpska. On the one hand, there is the pragmatic wing of the SDS from where Kasagic came. On the other hand, there are the opposition parties which are currently preparing for elections.
The most charismatic and potentially influential of the pragmatic wing of the SDS is Predrag Radic, the mayor of Banja Luka. Despite his surname (which is Croat), Radic is a Serb nationalist and during his time as mayor all mosques in Banja Luka were systematically destroyed and virtually all Croats and Muslims expelled. That said, by SDS standards Radic remains relatively uncompromised. The destruction of mosques and expulsions of Muslims and Croats were largely the work of arbitrary crisis headquarters (krizni stabovi) which were set up outside the control of the mayor. Moreover, Radic is said to have made several attempts to protect Muslims and Croats and, if nothing else, to improve the conditions of their departure. Anything more would probably have resulted in his own downfall and even death.
Above all Radic possesses charisma and charismatic personalities can generate a following in Republika Srpska. Moreover, as mayor of Banja Luka, Radic has the interests of Banja Luka at heart and is genuinely popular within the city. As a result, he is looking to open Banja Luka up to foreign investment as well as to Croatia, the city's traditional and natural market. His position is very similar to that of Kasagic, but he commands more support and is generally considered to be more politically astute.
Pale is well aware of the potential threat from Radic and there have already been attempts to oust him from office. However, though persona non grata with the Pale clique he remains mayor. Given the rift between Radic and Pale, it is rumoured in Banja Luka that Radic will either form his own party to fight the forthcoming elections or he will attach himself to a coalition of left-wing parties which is likely to be the greatest threat to the SDS.
In Republika Srpska there are now some 30 political parties giving an impression of political pluralism. However, despite the number of parties, the range of party programmes is limited. With the exception of the Social Liberals and possibly the Independent Social Democrats, all other parties have some kind of nationalist platform and support the concept of an independent Serb state within Bosnia-Hercegovina. That said, only the most nationalistic of the opposition parties, those linked to war-lords Arkan and Seselj, are as compromised as the ruling Pale clique.
The anti-SDS opposition is divided into right and left wing parties. The right wing are extreme nationalists and includes parties such as the Serb Orthodox Concord, the Peoples Party of Republika Srpska, Serb Radical Party and the Serb Union Party. All are critical of the SDS for failing to win the war but would ultimately back Karadzic and the SDS rather than upset the nationalist apple cart. As a result, only a left-wing opposition breakthrough at the polls would actually improve the political atmosphere in Republika Srpska.
An emerging left-wing coalition was evident at the Socialist Party Congress of 1 June. It is likely to consist of several smaller parties including the United Left Wing, the Communist League - Movement for Yugoslavia and even the monarchist Radical Party "Nikola Pasic", as well as the Social Liberal Party, the Independent Social Democrats and the Socialist Party of Republika Srpska.(SPRS).
Of the above parties Miodrag Zivanovic's Social Liberals is the one which outsiders as well as Bosniak and Croat refugees hoping to return to Republika Srpska would most wish to see win at the polls. At great personal danger Zivanovic, a philosophy professor, has been consistently opposed to the war and now overtly preaches reintegration with the federation.
Zivanovic's party has been publishing a newspaper called Novi Prelom erratically for the past year and has recently set up a media centre to boost alternative cultural and political expression in Banja Luka. However, though brave and engaging people, their anti-war stance wins few votes in Republika Srpska and consequently they appear doomed to appeal only to a small, intellectual elite.
Miroslav Dodik's Independent Social Democrats stand a greater chance of attracting support at an election. Dodik is a businessman from Laktasi, a wealthy village about 20 km from Banja Luka. Before the war he ran a variety of businesses, including a department store, and employed more than 150 people. Now, however, after four years of war his business empire is in ruins and the department store is closed.
Dodik was elected to the Bosnian parliament as a member of the Savez Reformistickih Snaga, the party founded by Yugoslavia's last prime minister Ante Markovic. After the outbreak of war he joined the Pale assembly and turned the remnants of Markovic's party in Republika Srpska into a 12-MP opposition bloc. While not 100 per cent opposed to the war from the outset, Dodik consistently advocated and lobbied for acceptance of all internationally-mediated peace plans.
In December last year Dodik put up seed money for an opposition newspaper Nezavisne Novine (The Independent). The paper has been coming out every two weeks and is now trying to go weekly. Unlike Novi Prelom, Nezavisne Novine aims for a wide readership which it hopes to achieve by uncovering and reporting scandals (such as the prison record for fraud of Gojko Klickovic, Kasagic's replacement as prime minister) and also by popular features (such as a comprehensive horoscope and an erotic story in every issue).
Dodik has retained links with the federation via friends and former colleagues in Markovic's party, now renamed the Unija Bosansko-Hercegovackih Social-Demokrata (UBSD). However, he is too astute a politician overtly to espouse large-scale reintegration or even the return of refugees and displaced persons. Within a coalition of left-wing parties, Dodik could well achieve some electoral success and should in the longer-term become a prominent player.
The Socialist Party of Republika Srpska is clearly the party with the greatest chance of unseating the SDS. Founded in June 1993 by Dragutin Ilic, a doctor, it claims that it is not nationalistic. However, in the past three years the SPRS has forged close links with the Serbian authorities in Belgrade and it is clear that this party is Slobodan Milosevic's preferred option. Moreover, it is rumoured that the SPRS has received 7 million DM from Belgrade to fight the election. Judging by the party congress and the slick advertising campaign (there are already posters of a rising sun with the slogan "The sun always rises in the East" throughout Banja Luka), the rumours may well be true.
At the SPRS congress Ilic was replaced as president by his former vice-president, Rakasic, who is a figure of some standing in the Banja Luka business community and used to head one of the city's largest companies. Most observers see this move as an attempt to give the party more backbone in the run-up to the election.
The left-wing opposition's chances of achieving a breakthrough are helped by the voting rules. Much to the SDS's chagrin Bosnians will be expected to vote where they were living in 1991. If they wish to vote elsewhere in the country they will have to do it in person. As a result, it is very possible that large numbers of Croats and Muslims will be voting in Republika Srpska. Moreover, since it is unlikely that any Muslim or Croat candidates will be standing in the election (because of the requirement to collect a sufficient number of signatures to become a candidate), this absentee vote should go to the most moderate programme on offer.
Another factor working to the advantage of the left-wing opposition is the Serb refugee community currently living in Yugoslavia. This group is likely to come under extreme pressure from the Serbian authorities�both via the media and probably more directly - to cast its votes against the Karadzic regime. While heavy-handed pressure to sway voters' minds should never be condoned, it must be expected and in this instance the consequences could be beneficial.
Otherwise, the complete failure of the SDS to offer any alternative to war plays into the left-wing opposition's hands. A vote for the opposition is clearly a vote for the Dayton Peace Agreement and an end to the fighting. Soldiers in particular feel that they have wasted the past four years and fear that with the SDS in power Dayton is but a cease-fire and it is but a matter of time before a resumption of hostilities. As a result, some, usually those with skills and the possibility of a better future elsewhere, are already voting with their feet and leaving Republika Srpska.
Election campaigns are expensive everywhere in the world. In this respect, Bosnia-Hercegovina is no exception. However, with the exception of the SPRS, the opposition currently lacks the financial basis to mount an effective challenge to the SDS and will have difficulty getting its message across to the electorate.
Poverty is compounded by lack of access to the media. The media in Republika Srpska is tightly controlled and serves exclusively as a tool bolstering support for the existing leadership. This position is unlikely to get better and, as the Pale clique comes under pressure in the run-up to elections, it may deteriorate further with the opposition accused of being "traitors of the Serb people". Salaries of journalists in state television have recently been boosted from 70 DM to 200 DM a month. In addition, Pale has begun satellite broadcasts of hard-line propaganda aimed at the Serb community abroad.
Since the Pale clique has so much at stake it will probably attempt to manipulate the elections in any way it can. This is likely to involve intimidation of opposition agitators and the electorate in general. Opposition parties are, for example, finding it especially difficult to operate in the east of Republika Srpska.
The Pale clique can count on the security apparatus it has been carefully constructing in recent months as well as the vested interests of many small fry. Anyone who has compromised himself during the war and/or acquired the assets of expelled Muslims and Croats has a stake in the new state which he will be loathe to give up.
In time economic realities may prevail. The economy of Republika Srpska is in a perilous state, partly because of the lack of investment in its natural resources. The question arises however whether development aid should be made conditional on political performance. It makes dubious sense to reward the present Bosnian Serb leadership; whereas withholding aid can teach them a lesson. It cannot be said however that this carrot and stick approach is working: indeed some would argue that it is having the opposite effect of making the leadership more intransigent and the people more victimised. Clearly the line has to be held as far as not rewarding the present leadership but there may be scope for investment in the private sector at the local level where it might help in driving wedges under the Pale regime. The Banja Luka area looks traditionally towards the North and West not East towards Pale and private enterprise would, if allowed by Pale and encouraged by the international community, focus naturally on developing economic ties with Croatia.
After nearly four years of war and isolation as well as the best part of a decade of a sustained Serb nationalist propaganda campaign, most ordinary Serbs in Republika Srpska have lost touch with reality. Serbs are the guardians of Christendom, they believe, and have merely been defending themselves and European civilisation from Islamic fundamentalism. Moreover, they simply cannot understand why the international community appears bent on creating a Muslim state in Europe. Serbs have fought the good fight with dignity yet the international community is now conspiring to bring about their final defeat.
While the popular Serb analysis of the conflict in Bosnia-Hercegovina is selective and skewed, the conspiracy theorists have plenty of ammunition. They draw particular attention to the fall of the Serb Republic of Krajina in Croatia and the fate of the Sarajevo Serbs.
The international community, the conspiracy theorists believe, aided Croatia's offensive last year and stood by as Croatia's Serbs fled their homes. Nato then bombed Bosnian Serb positions and triggered the loss of a great swathe of Bosnian Serb-held territory in last year's Croat-Muslim offensive. Moreover, they believe that the Serbs of the Sarajevo suburbs handed to the federation by the Dayton Agreement were forced to abandon their homes. They consider The Hague War Crimes Tribunal to be biased and aimed at criminalising Serbs, and that the re-arming of Bosnia's Muslims - part of the Dayton Agreement�indicates that Republika Srpska is slated to disappear in the same way as the Serb Republic of Krajina in Croatia.
The paranoid mind-set of so many in Republika Srpska must be overcome. However, to a great extent, the basis of the Pale clique's hold on power is this paranoia which it deliberately cultivates via the media. As long as the situation in Bosnia-Hercegovina remains tense and Croat and Muslim nationalists appear to be boosting their control in Croatia and the federation, the Pale clique appears to offer Serbs the best sanctuary. It is only once Karadzic and company are out of power that the climate of paranoia which they have created can be tackled effectively.
Slobodan Milosevic is only thinking about his own position in Serbia. He is not looking out for the interests of Serbs in Bosnia-Hercegovina and he is certainly not looking out for the interests of the international community in Bosnia-Hercegovina. He should not be viewed as a potential saviour. That said, he can clearly be useful where his interests and those of the international community coincide.
It appears that Milosevic's present tactics are those he has consistently pursued during the past decade�he is talking (via intermediaries so that he can always deny responsibility) with very many people to work out what is the best option for himself.
Clearly Milosevic is backing the SPRS financially. Moreover, it would be in his interest to see that party, or a left-wing coalition dominated by that party, win in the forthcoming elections. Otherwise, of the other opposition leaders Miroslav Dodik is widely believed to be in regular contact with Milosevic, though he denies this. Since Kasagic's dismissal, it appears likely that Milosevic has also been sounding out Radic as a possible alternative since he is the man who would generate the largest following in Banja Luka. Radic, however, is playing his cards very close to his chest.
Since Milosevic is under international pressure to hand over Karadzic and Mladic, he is obviously also in contact with several members of the Pale clique. According to local rumours, Milosevic's preferred option in Pale is Nikola Koljevic, the Shakespearean scholar, who could use his perfect English to present a more acceptable face of Serb nationalism.
In recent months many "spontaneous" rallies in support of Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic have been held throughout Republika Srpska. The degree of spontaneity is, of course, minimal. It is easy to "rent a mob" in Republika Srpska and Karadzic will continue to do this as long as he maintains his hold on power, whether formally or merely behind the scenes. The television, too, is backing him and Ratko Mladic to the hilt with phone-ins such as Sto Vi Kazete? (What Do You Have to Say?) swamped by messages of support for Republika Srpska's embattled leadership.
The Pale clique is clearly using every means at its disposal to paint the International War Crimes Tribunal as a partisan body and designed for no other purpose than to criminalise Serbs. If Karadzic and/or Mladic were somehow captured, the Pale clique is forever implying or threatening via the media that the consequences would be disastrous. Serbs are warriors who do not sacrifice their leaders and will fight against all odds if necessary. It is the same sort of rhetoric which was used throughout the war to dissuade the international community from intervention.
Interestingly, much of the opposition within Republika Srpska is also opposed to the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. This is for two reasons. Firstly, even the opposition believes that the War Crimes Tribunal is partial and only concerned with prosecuting Serbs. While they agree that Karadzic is a war criminal, they insist that if he is to be tried then so should both Alija Izetbegovic and Franjo Tudjman. Moreover, they believe that he should first be tried by Serbs within Republika Srpska and only then handed over to The Hague. Secondly, the opposition argues that arresting Karadzic would only turn him into a martyr - a status which he does not merit - and could therefore prove counter-productive to the opposition in the forthcoming elections.
Most of the opposition doubts whether Milosevic is prepared to hand Karadzic over, given his own position in Republika Srpska. They also doubt whether Karadzic would ever hand himself over. The dissenting voice among senior opposition figures is Miroslav Dodik. He, his party the Independent Social Democrats and his newspaper Nezavisne Novine argue that the implicit threats of violence from Pale if Karadzic were to be arrested are just hot air. They believe that as soon as Karadzic is removed from the scene he will no longer be able to manipulate the masses and his star will wane rapidly. However, they consider it a mistake that Karadzic was not removed earlier since the election is now just three months away. The closer his arrest is to polling day the more likely that the rest of the Pale clique will reap electoral benefit.
IFOR are of the view that factions in the Bosnian Serb military would undertake terrorist actions in the event of the arrest of Karadzic or Mladic. Moreover, they fear a protracted guerrilla war and the collapse of the Dayton Agreement if they move against either man.
The debate over the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic mirrors that over intervention against the Bosnian Serbs during the war. In both cases the Pale clique has used threats and bravado to persuade the international community to back off. And in general the international community has acquiesced. However, on the very few occasions when the international community called Pale's bluff and took resolute action against the Bosnian Serbs, such as last year's Nato bombings, the results have been spectacular and led to diplomatic breakthroughs.
It is difficult to see how Pale might use violence, apart from hostage-taking and minor acts of terrorism, against IFOR or the international community in Republika Srpska in the event of Radovan Karadzic's arrest. The Bosnian Serb armed forces have largely been demobilised and last year's Nato bombing is fresh in minds. While hostage-taking is clearly a possibility, it is not in the interests of the rest of the Pale leadership to further exacerbate the situation, since they still have a lot to lose. The ultimate trump card which the international community wields over Republika Srpska is the fate of Brcko. The fate of this divided Serb/Croat-Muslim town joining north-western and south-eastern Republika Srpska is to be decided by international arbitration. Without Brcko Republika Srpska is effectively sunk.
Pale will not all of a sudden stop co-operating with the international community in the implementation of the Dayton Agreement in the event of Karadzic's arrest, because Pale has not been co-operating with the international community to date. Expulsions of non-Serbs are continuing and there is, for example, no freedom of movement between the two entities so that whenever refugees attempt to return home to Republika Srpska "spontaneous" gatherings of Serbs keep them out.
The only way that Pale would definitely be able to scupper international plans for Bosnia-Hercegovina is by refusing to organise the September elections. While the Organisation of Security and Co-operation is overseeing the elections, local electoral commissions are responsible for organising polling. The withdrawal of their labour (as originally in east Mostar) would make it impossible to hold elections. That said, the electoral commissions in Bosniak-controlled federation territory may withdraw their labour if Karadzic is not arrested before elections as a matter of principle.
While in an ideal world Karadzic would either give himself up to the War Crimes Tribunal or Milosevic would hand him over, this is not likely to happen. The softly softly approach has already been tried and it has failed. Moreover, just because many Serbs in Republika Srpska are opposed to Karadzic's arrest and claim that it will only serve to further alienate Serbs from the international community, is not sufficient reason to leave him at liberty. Serbs will remain alienated as long as the current Bosnian Serb leadership is in power, since it is not in the Pale authorities' interest to have it any other way.
If Karadzic were to step down and be replaced by, say, Biljana Plavsic, remarkably little would actually change. The rest of the Pale clique would remain in power and continue to dominate life in Republika Srpska controlling all aspects of society. At the same time, Karadzic could remain an influential player behind the scenes.
All of the current leadership of Republika Srpska are as compromised as Karadzic and must be considered as a whole. They will not feel under any pressure to behave in a more compromising way until they see that the international community is serious about removing the likes of Karadzic.
The negative long-term consequences of leaving Karadzic in power clearly outweigh the short-term risks of going out and arresting him. As a result, the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic must be a priority and must be carried out as soon as possible. The more clinical the operation, the less chance that either man will be turned into a martyr.
Since Karadzic does not rule Republika Srpska on his own and many of his associates are equally obstructive to Dayton, his arrest alone is not sufficient in itself. The entire Pale clique must be ousted for the Dayton Agreement to have any chance of succeeding. One way to undermine Pale is to ignore it. Visiting statesmen must steer clear of meetings with the Pale clique since these invariably become propaganda coups. Instead, if they are determined to visit Republika Srpska, they should call exclusively on existing opposition leaders such as Dodik or potential opponents of Pale such as Radic.
No investment should go to Republika Srpska ministries or officials as long as the existing leadership remains in power. Any such investment will merely bolster the position of the Pale clique, though there may be some scope for investment in private enterprise.
The elections are the means to oust the Pale clique. Victory for the opposition will only be possible if conditions are something close to "free and fair". Therefore between now and polling day it is critical to focus on conditions. These would be enhanced by the following measures:
The international community must make it clear to ordinary Serbs living in Republika Srpska that they run the risk of sharing the same fate as the Krajina Serbs if they refuse to implement the Dayton Agreement. The Krajina Serbs consistently blocked reintegration with Croatia and the return of refugees and displaced persons until Croatia lost patience and took the territory last year by force. Had the Krajina Serbs complied with the various agreements which their political leaders had signed, the international community might have been willing to come to their aid.
The Bosnian Serbs should understand that the choice before them is between peaceful reintegration within Bosnia or isolation, perpetual economic hardship and, eventually, the risk of being over-run by a bolstered Bosnian army.
Many Krajina Serbs are keen to return to their former homes in Croatia. Since they are currently blocking the return of Croats and Muslims to Republika Srpska and may become an increasingly difficult grouping to deal with, it is important to help them return and get them out of the equation.
Since Banja Luka has traditionally been tied into Zagreb's economy, opening borders with Croatia should, in time, bring Banja Luka into Croatia's orbit and further loosen links with Pale.