January 16, 1995 Vreme News Digest Agency No 172

Serbian Pilgrims

Our Man In Pale

by Filip Svarm & Dragan Dimovic

Many Serbian opposition politicians have visited Pale in the last year, but few have gained any political kudos. All things apart, Bosnian Serbs seem to have the greatest faith in Slobodan Milosevic

On January 10 the Bosnian Serbs celebrated their state's feast day, and its third anniversary. The Serbian "Oslobodjenje" (Bosnian Serb daily) marked the occasion with a special Christmas number. The 700 gm heavy and 224-pages-long paper does not contain a single interview with a politician east of the Drina River.

It is understandable why there was no space for ranking members of the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), but the absence of nationally aware opposition parties and their leaders such as the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), the Democratic Party (DS) and the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), is unusual. All the more so, as they gave practically absolute support to the Bosnian Serb leadership's rejection of the Contact Group plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina in August, and later visited Pale (Bosnian Serb political center) and Banja Luka, and generally travelled to the Bosnian Serb Republic to show their solidarity.

These visits were certainly to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's advantage: with the blockade of domestic state media, all chances of influencing the Serbian public are looked on favorably. It is quite another thing as to what degree Karadzic's guests profited from the visits. The SRS is traditionally unyielding on the issue of all-Serb unification, and well represented in the republican and federal assemblies. By supporting Karadzic they have fulfilled the expectations of their voters and followers. Unlike other opposition parties in Serbia, the SRS is well organized in the Bosnian Serb Republic, and has great interests there. However, SRS leader Vojislav Seselj's imprisonment has prevented the Radicals from repeating their 1993 spectacle during the rejection of the Vance-Owen peace plan. Now that they are, so to speak, leaderless, the Radicals are preoccupied with their problems, so that they haven't succeeded in capitalizing on their support of the Bosnian Serbs (which is mostly verbal and without much effect).

Matters stand differently with the DS. Many believe that this party's closeness to the Bosnian Serbs is the result of political marketing assessments - that this is the right approach and that it will find a favorable response among the public. As far as the public is concerned, it all started with DS leader Zoran Djindjic's visit to Pale during the night of the "Sarajevo ultimatum", with skiing by arc lights and roast ox. But, compared to the SRS, even though the DS condemned Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's decision to introduce sanctions against the Bosnian Serb Republic, they tried to be as constructive as possible, and at the disposal of both sides. Former Russian Premier Yegor Gaidar's visit to Pale, organized by the DS, belongs to this line of reasoning and was probably envisioned as an attempt at finding a new mediator who would breath some life into the international community's moribund diplomatic activities linked to Pale.

On the other hand, the DSS's support of Karadzic is more ideological and less pragmatic, even though it looked for a time as if DSS leader Vojislav Kostunica, with the help of the Serbian Orthodox Church and on grounds of solidarity with the Bosnian Serbs, would become the leader of the national opposition in Serbia. His insistence that the urging of a "democratic Serbian state did not imply that all Serbs should live in one state without members of other nationalities", and his constant criticism of Milosevic, but without Seselj's exclusiveness, have made him appropriate for the role. The DSS officially accepts claims by the Pale leadership that elections there are not possible for the duration of war. Speaking of the Bosnian Serb Assembly, Kostunica has said that it is "a thousand times more democratic than those working under peacetime conditions in Belgrade", and that most of the methods used "are in keeping with the goal" and that their "policy is democratically legitimate".

The success of the DS and the DSS at local elections have been ascribed in large measure to their friendliness with the Bosnian Serbs, but it is not expected that they will gain much more.

Visits to Pale by the above mentioned politicians have disturbed the local political public. Pensioner and Vice-Speaker of the Yugoslav Assembly Chamber of Republics Radmilo Bogdanovic could not refrain from saying during the promotion of a SPS candidate for the place of Vracar deputy, that who knows what would have happened with the Serbs in Borovo Selo if they hadn't been equipped on time. It is well known who armed the Serbs in Croatia and B-H. Similar statements have been made on many occasions by ranking SPS members.

To what extent the Socialists have no intention of letting matters out of their hands was seen during their promotion of the Bosnian Serb Socialist Party, or rather, their attempts at building it up into a relevant political party. Within this context, the setting up of a special group of seven independent deputies, within the, until then, practically one-party Bosnian Serb Assembly, is considered a sign of success. According to assessments, the Pale leadership which official Belgrade has long tried to erode and divide in various ways, will meet with a united opposition. Karadzic's and Bosnian Serb Assembly Speaker Momcilo Krajisnik's comments (carried by the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA) concerning the "Club of 7" deputy group, speak of former communists and reformists, and announce greater discipline in the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). This means that the "Club of 7" future activities are being taken very seriously.

Apart from having served him for media exposure, to what measure does Karadzic really need the Serbian national opposition leaders?

It has been noticed that regardless of how much he underlines cordial relations with Seselj, Karadzic has in fact curtailed SRS activities in B-H territory under his control. The Bosnian Serb Assembly demanded that the Serbian authorities free Seselj, but the visit of a SRS delegation headed by party vice-president Tomislav Nikolic to the front around Bihac has been conducted without the expected pomp and generosity and has been peppered with procedural problems. Karadzic does not need a strong party which is similar to his, one, which counting careerism and similar human weaknesses, could, at a certain moment bring into question his authority, and this is why he will do his best to limit it.

When speaking of some greater reliance by the Bosnian Serbs on the DS and the DSS, it seems that it is not easy to find a common language. There is no reason to suppose that Djindjic will play a significant role as mediator. On the international plane he would find it difficult to ensure an important and spectacular visit such as that of former US President Jimmy Carter and so increase his influence and importance, while on the domestic plane, the SPS doesn't trust him. It is just not in the nature of the SPS to allow anyone any real influence.

On the other hand, the DSS can be of even less use to Karadzic. The DSS is not a particularly strong political force in Serbia, and Kostunica is far from being able to unite the opposition in Serbia according to the wishes of the Bosnian Serb leadership. The DSS can't boast of significant political connections and positions abroad. On the other hand, none enjoy better relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church than the Bosnian Serb state organs. Kostunica's telegram of greeting to Pale on the occasion of January 10, states that the "battle conducted today by the Serbian people in the Bosnian Serb Republic is the most important part of our joint efforts..." is barely more than a political courtesy and the eventual underscoring of daily political points.

Generally speaking, the whole of the Serbian opposition is too weak and disunited for Milosevic to be concerned, and it doesn't look as if there will be any changes in the near future. Karadzic must be aware of this. This is why, except in the case of clearly defined pressures on the SPS, he doesn't need them. The one thing he has never thought of, is allowing them to work actively in his state - they are good as long as they undermine Milosevic's authority. If Serbian-Serb compromises and reconciliations do take place, it will be with those with whom they are well acquainted and whose interests are clearly defined. In "Oslobodjenje's" Christmas issue Karadzic, who tends to present his state as one with the least number of conflicts in the world, said: "During the past few days there have been some contacts with President Slobodan Milosevic which we have made objective and official, in order that they might not be unofficial."