Protecting an ethnically cleansed RS
by Gordana Katana, Banja Luka
An outbreak of intimidation against non-Serbs in Republika Srpska (RS) is being blamed on a divisive run-up to general elections planned for October. Incidents were recorded in Banja Luka, Trebinje and in several other small towns in the east of RS throughout July. They involved shots being fired at a rebuilt mosque; hostile graffiti insulting Bosniaks appearing on the walls of a sports stadium and a primary school; and attacks on the house of a famous Bosniak poet, Nasiha Kapidžić.
The trouble peaked on 24 July in Konjević Polje near Srebrenica, with a stand-off between Bosniak returnees and Bosnian Serb police. According to both sides involved, the incident was ethnic-related; but while the Bosnian Serb police claim that the Bosniaks started insulting them first, the Bosniaks maintain they were being taunted by the police.
Local analysts blame Bosnian Serb politicians for whipping up ethnic intolerance in the run-up to the October poll, and for playing on national differences to win votes. Public-opinion polls in RS point to the almost certain victory of the more moderate Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) over the more nationalist Serb Democratic Party (SDS). But analysts say both are resorting to playing the ethnic card in order to secure votes from RS's largely nationalist electorate.
Despite the ten years that have passed since the end of the 1992-5 war, and the millions of euros and dollars invested in attempts to return refugees to their homes, the two entities that make up Bosnia-Herzegovina remain as ethnically polarised as ever. While the Federation is home to most Bosniaks and Croats in the country, the overwhelming majority of inhabitants in RS are Serbs. This leads to tension, especially in summer, when many Bosniaks and Croats living outside RS or outside Bosnia-Herzegovina come back to RS to visit their former homes.
This summer, these temporary returns have also coincided with an election campaign. ‘Politicians are opting for the tried and tested course of instigating national intolerance in order to improve their chances in the elections,’ Srđan Puhalo, a social psychologist, told Balkan Insight. Puhalo said politicians resorted to this approach in the absence of offering any other more mundane solutions to the problems posed by a generally poor economic situation. ‘Once again they are going for national homogenisation. The only question is which party will be most successful at this,’ said Puhalo.
Zvonko Tarle, of the Croatian Cultural Centre, in Banja Luka, said some nationalist politicians were still trying their utmost to stop the return of refugees to RS. ‘The politicians have been preaching national intolerance for a decade since the war,’ he said. ‘These provocations, which are neither prevented nor condemned by the local officials, serve to secure the status quo and prevent any positive developments in the field of ethnic coexistence.’
Political analysts say the situation has been worsened by the return to the political stage of a group of hard-line nationalists who were earlier excluded from politics. In their capacity as High Representatives, Paddy Ashdown and his predecessors used the extensive powers granted them by the international community to force numerous Bosnian Serb hardliners from office. The most often cited reason was alleged activities against the 1995 Dayton peace settlement and instigation of confessional and national hatred. At the end of 2005, however, Ashdown ended the ban on a number of such politicians, some of whom are now re-entering politics and taking part in the upcoming election campaign.
One striking returnee to the political stage is Predrag Lazarević, former leader of the Serb Party for Republika Srpska (SSRS). In 2000, international community representatives banned his party from the municipal elections after SSRS refused to remove from office its leader, who was accused of violating election rules and instigating ethnic hatred. Lazarević returned to the political stage this year as a member of the Radical Party of Republika Srpska (SRS), using the opportunity to air his hard-core opposition to the concept of a multi-ethnic state, which he has described as ‘an empty word, a story for children’. He openly opposes the existence of united Bosnia-Herzegovina, proposing a ‘Scandinavian-ized’ Balkans in which ‘there will be one state for each nation’. Bosnia-Herzegovina is home to three nations, Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats. Lazarević advocates a division of territory along ethnic lines, involving ‘nations living next to each other, because living with each other has inevitably resulted in bloodshed at regular intervals’.
Puhalo said Lazarević's political ratings were always high on the right of the Serbian political spectrum and had gone higher since he joined the Radicals. Analysts like Puhalo say such divisive political options are attractive to young people in RS. ‘It is a generation that sprang up during the war and developed when nationalism was at its peak,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, they can easily switch from words to actions,’ he added, referring to the recent incidents against non-Serbs.
Youth the key
Aleksandar Trifunović, director of the Buka media project in RS, fears that nationalism among the younger generation in Bosnia-Herzegovina will be hard to combat. He hopes that it will not go any further than written or verbal provocations directed against other ethnic communities. ‘The young generation is the key obstacle to the revival of coexistence in Bosnia-Herzegovina,’ Trifunović told Balkan Insight.
A straw poll taken by Balkan Insight on the streets of Banja Luka suggests Trifunović's pessimistic description of the youth scene is based on reality. Mirjana Avdalović, a student at the philosophy faculty in Banja Luka, said what she called ‘mixing of the nations’ ought never to have been allowed after the war. If Bosnia -Herzegovina had to be a single state, each nation ought to have been given a territory of its own within it, she went on. ‘We cannot live together and we should not have allowed Bosniaks and Croats to come back to Republika Srpska and build mosques... It is only causing frustrations among Serbs,’ she concluded. Stanimir Nježić, a technician, agreed. ‘Every nation should live separately, which is why Republika Srpska should break away from Bosnia-Herzegovina,’ he said.
Gordana Katana is a regular contributor to Balkan Insight based in Banja Luka. Balkan Insight is BIRN's online publication. http://www.birn.eu.com/insight_45_2_eng.php This report is reprinted from Balkan Insight, no. 45, 28 July 2006.