bosnia report
New Series No:32-34 December - July 2003
Parastate in a fallback position
by Ivan Lovrenovic

Political upheavals in Republika Srpska: a chronicle of dramatic events which once again wrongly heralded the possible dissolution of that para-state. The'severe' reprimand of the entity's military leaders by the current president of Republika Srpska (RS) Dragan Čavić represents nothing but a tactical step. In return for public recognition of something that does not cost him much, he gets what he cares about most: the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and the political leaders of RS cleared of guilt, and their power preserved in full.




Following the forced resignation of Mirko Š arović the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who had been elected to that post in September last year as a reliable SDS cadre, his party colleague Dragan Čavić called an extraordinary session of the RS national assembly and made a dramatic speech. In this speech, characterized by bitterness and an absence of the usual nationalist-Orthodox sentimentality, he accused the highest officers of the Army of RS en masse of doing exactly as they please, being answerable to nobody, and not thinking of the consequences for the entity. The most striking ideological novelty was Čavić's sarcastic comment that those people only came to work in the ‘Republic’, whilst at weekends they hurried back to Belgrade, where they own flats and houses and have permanent residence. The climax of the whole speech was Čavić's 'revelation' to the 'astounded' members of the national assembly that those people until February 2002 were even receiving their salaries from Belgrade!

High Representative not bothered

This was no doubt part of the 'special parallel relations' between RS and FRY - now Serbia & Montenegro - made possible by the Dayton Agreement and ceremoniously established during Wolfgang Petritsch's mandate as a sign of 'normalization of the situation in the region'. For the moment it does not seem to bother Paddy Ashdown in any way, and certainly not enough to ask for an audit or an intervention like the one OHR undertook in the Bank of Herzegovina during the unmasking of Jelavić's similar military-financial nest of evil.

The new language of the Serb leader, the resignation that Ashdown extorted from Š arović, the dissolution of the RS Supreme Defence Council, the announcement of the creation of some unspecific body to command the Bosnian armed forces on an all-national level, and so on - all this could at first sight suggest serious changes in the political behaviour as well as in the status of Republika Srpska. Some media in Zagreb have even alluded - and not for the first time - to a definitive dissolution of Republika Srpska! The truth is that we are dealing with an old pattern traditionally used by both sides - the Serb politicians and the international administration alike - whenever the dissolution of RS is raised as a possibility.

Survival instinct

By making his speech to the assembly and proposing such steps as were eventually adopted, Dragan Čavić merely demonstrated a strong Darwinian instinct and political savvy, greatly sharpened by the perpetual mind games played since Radovan Karadžić's forced withdrawal from political life in 1995 (see Richard Holbrooke’s memoirs). His ruse got big, invaluable support from Paddy Ashdown when, after the last elections, he legitimized the SDS as a party of 'reformist' tendencies and potential.

The strength of that Darwinian instinct and the murky depth of that ruse can be correctly assessed only when one realizes in what a desperate situation and under what terrifying pressure SDS politicians briefly found themselves after the discovery of the ‘Orao’ scandal, the unmasking of the illegal transactions of RŚs ‘Elektroprivreda’, the making public of the espionage details following SFOR's raid on the RS Army HQ, the bloody debacle of the Serbian political-criminal mafia, and the unveiled indications that Banja Luka was also involved in Đinđić's assassination whilst the military chief of Republika Srpska has been protecting Radovan Karadžić all this time.

Tactical retreat

In this light, Čavić's action does not represent anything other than a tactical retreat to one of the 'fall-back positions' which Republika Srpska has been allowed to use endlessly in its relations with the international community. In return for public recognition of something that is known by all and sundry ('treacherous' behaviour of 'weekend' officers), and could thus be traded at a suitable moment, Čavić got what he cares about most: the SDS and the political leaders of RS cleared of guilt, and their power preserved in full.

Even with the army things look much better politically than they did at first sight, when Ashdown abolished the RS Supreme Defence Council and some constitutional provisions concerning command of the army. That is to say, over the last months it seemed that the international community considered the 'Orao' scandal a strong card to be played at a given moment so as to establish a single state ministry of defence. The latter is always mentioned as the most important condition for the entry of Bosnia-Herzegovina into NATO's Partnership for Peace. Politicians from Republika Srpska declare their support for, but fight with all their strength against, such a joint ministry. Now it has become clear, however, that it is not going to happen: Ashdown has explicitly stated that no such possibility is to be found in the Dayton agreement.

Even unequivocal statements from authorities such as the prosecutor of the ICTY that the RS Army is actually protecting Radovan Karadžić did not push Ashdown to take firm measures. Further financing of the Serb army, once the Belgrade source has dried up (if it ever does) and after the illegal financing from the net profits of RS's energy company has been revealed, will certainly be the biggest headache for Čavić, Š arović, Kalinić, Ivanić and others from the Serb national establishment. No one takes tax-payers, the so-called people, seriously into account anyway.

Bargain with Ashdown

Even the resignation of Mirko Š arović itself has been capitalized on for political profit. It appears that Paddy Ashdown has accepted a kind of bargain: after Š arović agreed to resign at the last moment before the deadline, the High Representative announced that this was an honourable and wise act and that he wouldn't place any further sanctions on him. That grey adherent to SDS national policy, who in wartime Sarajevo’s district of Grbavica full of the darkest crime used to act as Karadžić's first municipal official, will be able to show up tomorrow in a new political role, undoubtedly with the halo of an important national worker.

When the enormity of Š arović's political and criminal responsibility is compared to cases of dismissal to date, where Ashdown and his predecessors punished people in a draconian manner by banning them from public life forever (Prof. Nikola Grabovac, Munir Alibabić, Edhem Bičakčić, nineteen members of Sarajevo’s special forces, etc.), the question of the criteria for dismissal, their equality and fairness, cannot be avoided.

In the past eight years since the Dayton agreement, there have been numerous cases of similar interventions by the international community in the character of Republika Srpska and in the personal composition of its rulers. Already in 1997 Clinton's secretary of state Madeleine Albright initiated a ministerial meeting in Sintra, which decided to reformulate Dayton in favour of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a 'state with two multi-ethnic entities'. Neither that, nor Petritsch's famous constitutional amendments in spring last year ('all peoples as constituent on the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a whole') managed to shake up Republika Srpska as a state with both normative and practical ethno-national domination and discrimination.

Even less successful were personnel alterations and changes: Momčilo Krajišnik (today in The Hague), Chetnik vojvoda [commander] Nikola Poplašen, Biljana Plavšić (today on her way to an unknown European prison).

Replacing like with like

In this series will logically fit, which means without any real upheaval, the current change of the Serb member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The very announcement of the new SDS candidate to replace Š arović speaks for itself. It is Borisav Paravac, a colourful figure with a strong nationalistic discourse, from the front rank of the SDS's bloody war and 'democratic' post-war history, a man who ruled the roost in Doboj during the war as a party executive within the 'crisis staff' and the municipality. His strongly developed propensity for material goods is nowadays publicly confirmed and documented by the testimony of the independent deputy to the Doboj city council Momir Dejanović. A cynical popular saying is perfectly applicable to candidates of SDS, here paraphrased: the High Representative could not relieve them of their duties as quickly as they could multiply.

But should it happen by any chance that another candidate even from the opposition, authentically represented in the national assembly by Dodik's Party of Independent Social-democrats, were to be elected to replace Š arović, nothing would change. The system is set up purely and simply in such a way as to preclude changes, even if these were subjectively wanted by some of the protagonists. On no other level has this been so clearly stated and sealed by the Dayton agreement as on the level of Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the definition of that body, in the way its members are elected, in the description of their competence - a rigidly exclusive ethno-national constraint has been inscribed. So even if a Bosniak or a Croat member theoretically could behave somewhat more 'softly', due to the different constitutional nature of the Federation of B&H from which they both necessarily come, the Serb member even if he wanted simply could not, because the nature and structure of Republika Srpska prevent him from doing so.

It is indeed the Dayton definition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Republika Srpska that preclude the Serb member of Presidency from being anything other than a consistent champion and representative of the political philosophy of ethnic exclusiveness upon which that quasi-state is conceived, and of the plunder and genocide ('ethnic cleansing') which were the means of its military and political attainment.

This article has been translated from Feral Tribune (Split), 12 April 2003


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