In Still-Angry Bosnia, Democracy Shows Its Face

Last weekend's elections may help reverse ethnic cleansing, but old hatreds, power plays continue.

Voting in Bosnia's municipal elections proceeded smoothly over the weekend, with turnout believed to have been fairly heavy, and nearly 90 percent of the voters thought to have registered to vote in their prewar municipalities.

The voting, which involved 2.5 million citizens, was seen as an important step toward the establishment of a democratic, multiethnic state as set forth in the 1995 peace accords.

Results are expected to help reverse wartime ethnic cleansing - at least on paper. Control of local governments in a number of municipalities is expected to revert to candidates from ethnic groups "cleansed" from those areas during the war.

Installing officials in areas from which they were cleansed will be difficult. Travel across ethnic lines in the Muslim-Croat Federation can be dangerous, and travel into the Bosnian Serb republic, or Republika Srpska, has been nearly impossible.

Senior officials of the agency sponsoring the elections, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), held negotiations with leaders of the main Serb, Croat, and Muslim political parties to prevent or reverse announced boycotts.

There were some disturbances and irregularities in hotly contested communities, most involving local Bosnian Croat authorities who tried to delay or prevent voting in their municipalities to prevent possible turnover to another ethnic group.

But the electoral process will probably remain overshadowed by the political struggle in Republika Srpska. Last week, NATO peacekeepers helped prevent Serb strongman and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic's allies and supporters from staging a coup against rival President Biljana Plavsic in Banja Luka. Momcilio Krajisnik, a Serb leader, and other members of the Karadzic camp found themselves trapped in their hotel by Plavsic supporters who pelted his motorcade with rocks and eggs when it finally left under NATO escort.

In Pale Saturday the broken eggs had been washed off Mr. Krajisnik's sleek German-built sedans, which waited outside a Spartan municipal building where he had earlier cast his ballot.

Krajisnik emerged looking confident. "We are going to overcome this crisis," he told the Monitor and a Slovenian television crew before getting into his vehicle. "This is an artificial crisis created by the international community ... to destroy the right of the Serbs to have their own country and to create instead a monolithic, unitary state.

"We would have overcome this crisis much more quickly if it weren't for disloyal forces like President Plavsic who are trying to destroy Republika Srpska," he said. "But we will triumph."

Most residents of Pale, Mr. Karadzic's stronghold, wouldn't speak to reporters about the crisis. Those who did denounced Mrs. Plavsic.

"Don't mention Plavsic here," said Vaskrsije Kusmud, a former soldier. "I would rather be ruled by [Muslim leader] Alija [Izetbegovic] than by her. She betrayed everything we Serbs have fought for in this war."

With the elections an apparent success, attention has focused on concessions the OSCE appears to have made. During Saturday voting, for example, OSCE Ambassador Robert Frowick overruled an OSCE ruling that had prevented two Serb candidates from running as punishment for serious campaign violations by Krajisnik's Serb Radical Party.

Hrair Balian, director of the International Crisis Group in Sarajevo, decried that decision. "It sends the message to the parties that punitive rulings against them can be reversed if they threaten not to cooperate with elections," he said.

Mr. Frowick said Sunday night that he had authorized the move in order "to see that the ship stayed afloat."

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