Elections in 2000: Enemies instead of a Political Programme

The attempt at redesigning the SDA electoral strategy; opposition as political opponents; Chetniks and Ustashas as enemies; self-disqualification of Alija Izetbegovic as integrating factor of B&H.


SUN, 19 MAR 2000

SARAJEVO, March 10, 2000 - Pre-election campaign for local elections started in a much more interesting way than was expected. Compared to other national parties, the Bosniac SDA is in the most delicate position.

Public opinion surveys have shown that the SDA local authorities are shaking in Tuzla, but also in Sarajevo, Zenica and some other smaller communes in the Tuzla region. The loss of power in Sarajevo was the sign of general crisis of the SDA movement on the eve of the autumn parliamentary elections. It is in this context that we should analyse their two pre-election gatherings. Both were held within ten days in Sarajevo - in the communes of Novi Grad and Centar - at which the party leader Alija Izetbegovic was the main speaker. Although messages from party conventions in Novi Grad and Centar were contradictory, the analysis shows that the main problem of the Bosniac party is finding a strategy for neutralising the growing popularity of the Social-Democratic Party and its leader Zlatko Lagumdzija.

The first gathering was characterised by strong words which had a counter-effect; the other represented an try to "get out of trouble". The first gathering had an adverse effect on the SDA electorate; the second provoked a dispute and heightened inter-ethnic tensions. It is interesting that Ejup Ganic, the SDA Vice-President, discredited himself at both gatherings. Ganic launched a story about the defenders (it could be concluded that such are only the fighters and himself)and "cellarers" (meaning the opposition which according to him spent the war hiding in cellars). And instead of stopping at that, on March 3, Ganic repeated his stupidity about the "cellarers" which also angered the SDA voters as it was uttered by a man who, during the war, did not care much for visiting the fighters on the front lines and in the country, but rather the world metropolises "spreading the truth about B&H".

For his repeated faux pas Ganic became a target of the party daily "Dnevni Avaz" (Daily Gazette) on its front page. That meant that the signal came from the party top brass and that Ganic had fallen out of favour with the SDA leadership, despite his official title of Vice-President. This was also a sign that this official does not carry much political weight and is unimportant for the coming elections. But, criticism didn't mean that he had been eliminated. With some caution, Ganic was informed that his influence primarily depended on that how much of his own charisma would Izetbegovic transfer onto him. But, in all this pre-electoral story, Ganic is playing just a second fiddle.

The main question is what strategy will SDA use to oppose SDP. The formula about glorious past and all the SDA's credits (used at the first gathering in late February in the Sarajevo commune of Novi Grad), starting with the defence of B&H, recognition it won for the Bosniac people to the schools and roads it had built, turned to be counterproductive. Especially as members of SDP were labelled as main enemies that should be attacked by all means. The second gathering of March 3, could be formulated as a correction of strategy and an attempt at improving the SDA's public image.

In his speech, Izetbegovic insisted on the democratic values, the opposition (i.e. SDP) was no longer the enemy, but a "political opponent", while "Ustashas and Chetniks" were the main enemies. "These are the people who, during hard and critical days, raised their hand against an innocent people, against the state of B&H and, primarily, against all that it stands for, and consequently, against the border services, unctioning of state institutions, a single passport, a single currency", was Alija Izetbegovic's message.

This provoked strong reactions of the Republic of Srpska, but with a three-day delay, which points to a specific political background and certain internal reasons. On the one hand, with his speech Izetbegovic has closed the Serbian ranks, and on the other gave reason to the RS deputies for obstructing the work of state Parliament. In the centre of media attention is the demand for Izetbegovic's removal from the leading position in the Presidency, which will amount to nothing, as well as the opinion of Robert Barr, chief of OSCE Mission and of Wolfgang Petrisch, High Representative, that Izetbegovic used a "rabble-rousing" language, which is the same as if he had been shown a yellow card. Izetbegovic refused to correct his stand one bit: "I pleaded for reconciliation and forgiveness. It seems that that is not enough and that you want us to forget. If that is the case, then you ask too much".

Although in the centre of media attention, the incident with Izetbegovic will be forgotten until some other reason for quarrel springs up. But, it points to several things which are important for the destiny of B&H: what negative effects a carelessly uttered word can have even if true; that the relation towards the past is still not defined, and especially the notions of fascism and anti-fascism; that there are three truths about the past, present and future of B&H; it also points to the character of the electoral campaign, the political climate and the relation towards Bosnia and Herzegovina. During his ten-year term of office in the state Presidency, Izetbegovic never visited Banja Luka or any other place in the Republic of Srpska. Sessions of the Presidency or of the Military Council in Lukavica do not count as these were trips which the international community forced him to make. No one there has ever invited Izetbegovic and as for himself, he didn't want to impose. One of the reasons for his restrained behaviour is that the charges for war crimes against him have never been dropped and the faked Izetbegovic's trial held in Banja Luka. That happened during the SDS rule, but the general climate has not changed since then.

In the minds of the Serbs, Izetbegovic is enemy No.1 and that stereotype is being constantly maintained. After his speech about Chetniks and Ustashas, Izetbegovic has disqualified himself as an integrating factor of B&H. Such a rhetoric does not become the function of the President as, according to Izetbegovic's explanation, Chetniks are all those who oppose, for example, the establishment of border services.

In this way he has offended the majority of Serbs the consequence of this being that they no longer consider him the President. In this way the President of the Presidency has reduced himself to exclusively the Bosniac President. With his statement about Chetniks and Ustashas, the negative charge became even stronger, but one might say, not because of the high-sounding words, but rather for electoral needs.

Also, it cannot be said that the Partisan tradition is dominant in the Republic of Srpska. When Nikola Poplasen had his photo taken in a Chetnik uniform the local public did not protest; after entering Srebrenica in July 1995, General Ratko Mladic's message that he "had liberated this town from the Turks and is presenting it to the Serbian people" did not cause noticeable anti-fascists' reactions despite its Chetnik overtones; nor did the SDS calls for the reconciliation between Chetniks and Partisans, nor the formation of Chetnik units in Herzegovina (Nevesinje) already in 1991, etc. The aspired national homogenisation of all ethnic groups, led to the rewriting of history which, in turn, led to the acceptance of fascist achievements.

Did not HDZ rehabilitate Milo Budak or Ludvig Pavlovic and named several streets all over Herzegovina after the two of them. In some cases, the Ustasha past became a recommendation for one's military and political promotion. True, Bosniacs did not express such a strong inclination toward rehabilitating persons with fascist past. There are two possible explanations for this: first, in tragic times of the World War II Bosniacs did not have their authentic political organisation, and second, under present condition the interest for an integral Bosnia and Herzegovina is predominant. However, although this interest is clear, the current SDA policy frequently provokes incidents. Izetbegovic would have been much more authentic in his focusing on Chetniks and Ustashas as enemies, had there not been attempts in Tesanj at romanticising the role of Ademaga Mesic, Ante Pavelic's Deputy. Or attempts of the SDA spokesman to picture the SS colonel from Tuzla, founder of the 13th SS Handjar Division in 1943, as a defender of Bosniac from Chetniks' butchery. These examples show how important is a principled attitude, especially in the nationally divided B&H.

National divisions are especially manifest in relations with the Hague Tribunal. Condemnation of the sentence pronounced to General Tihomil Blaskic, activated the collective Croatian defensive reflex, but also closed HDZ ranks for the coming elections. The committed crimes are of secondary importance and the Croatian public has been led to believe that the people are to be blamed and not the convicted.

Had some ten thousand people gathered to express their condemnation of the crime committed in Ahmici, as have gathered on March 8 in Kiseljak to protest against the Tribunal and the United States, there would have been no war, let alone any crimes. Messages from Mostar and Kiseljak rallies about the withdrawal of Croatian personnel from joint bodies and demands for the re-establishment of the third entity show the extent of these manipulations.

Questions who is for and who against the Dayton B&H, who is more and who is less guilty have become meaningless for the fate of this country. It has become clear long ago that the national policies feed each other and objectively deepen the divisions, which indicates that the pre-election campaign has started. Bosniacs are still declaratively, and most of them truly, for the reintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But the problem are politics and leaders. Izetbegovic may have the best intentions, but his each word of criticism addressed to one side or the other, leads to the homogenisation of either Serbs or Croats.

This is best seen in the destruction of the joint bodies: the B&H Parliamentary Assembly has become a quarrelling ground, Council of Ministers formally doesn't exist, and the state Presidency is just a sum of three opposed national interests. Objectively speaking, Alija Izetbegovic cannot be the President of all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina and, as it is definitely clear now, neither can SDA be the reintegrating factor of B&H.

But, the main problem is that none of the three national ruling parties have a credible political programme. SDA can no longer attract votes on account of the fear of war while NATO is in Bosnia; the story about homogenisation as a formula for survival is a matter of the past; there is no justification for economic disaster and corruption and voters demand bread and work. Returnees want to go home, but know that SDA cannot take them over the entity line or to the territory of Herzeg-Bosnia. SAD badly needs enemies since the try with the SDP has failed. But these are only spectres from the past war. Serbian nationalist have focused on Alija as their main enemy and Croats on the Hague Tribunal. And all that time Lagumdzija is walking through Western Mostar while SDP is spreading through Bosnia.

Original article