Home > 1997-1999 from the Balkans, Serbia, Yougoslavia > Nationalists Are Victorious in Bosnian Vote

Nationalists Are Victorious in Bosnian Vote

September 25, 1998

by Guy Dinmore
Special to The Washington Post

Long-awaited results of Bosnia’s elections, expected Friday, will confirm gains made by nationalists at the expense of Western-backed candidates, but diplomats say the international community has no intention of abandoning its long-term aim of ethnic reintegration.

There is growing concern, however, that the threat of NATO intervention in the conflict in neighboring Serbia’s Kosovo province could have a politically damaging effect on the Serb-controlled half of Bosnia and put Western officials and aid workers there at risk.

Serbia today defied a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Kosovo by pressing on with its offensive against remnants of the ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army about 10 miles northwest of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, warned U.S. citizens this week not to undertake unnecessary travel in the Serb-ruled half of Bosnia, an advisory apparently prompted by the victory of ultranationalists there in the Sept. 12-13 elections. But diplomats said it also reflected concern about a possible backlash over Kosovo, regarded by Serbs throughout the region as their ancestral homeland.

NATO defense ministers meeting in Portugal today heightened expectations of military intervention in Kosovo should Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic ignore the U.N, resolution adopted Wednesday. But diplomats in the Belgrade — capital of Yugoslavia and its dominant republic, Serbia — do not believe NATO will act before late October, and only then if there is still danger of a high death toll among the estimated 250,000 ethnic Albanians who have been made refugees by the Kosovo conflict.

In Sarajevo, the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which organized the Bosnian elections, announced that results, delayed by technical problems, would be made public Friday. The delay has given the international community more time to rethink its political strategy. Western officials, while acknowledging their hopes for an easing of ethnic rivalry had been dealt a serious blow by the election results, say they are confident they can isolate ultranationalist Nikola Poplasen when he assumes the presidency of the Serb half of Bosnia and push the peace process forward.

Poplasen, leader of the ultranationalist Radical party, defeated Biljana Plavsic, the Western-backed incumbent, diplomats said. But they said Poplasen’s hard-line alliance would not have enough seats in the Bosnian Serb assembly to form a government against the combined votes of Plavsic’s moderate coalition and a bloc of Muslim legislators.

Diplomats said they also were encouraged that moderate Socialist Zivko Radisic was expected to defeat Momcilo Krajisnik, the hard-line Serb representative on Bosnia’s joint three-member presidency.

In the Muslim-Croat federation — the other half of Bosnia created under the 1995 Dayton peace accord — a moderate Croat, Kresimir Zubak, was expected to lose to Croat nationalist Ante Jelavic — who is backed by neighboring Croatia — for the Croat seat on the collective presidency. Muslim President Alija Izetbegovic, head of the hard-line Party of Democratic Action, won comfortably, although more moderate opposition parties made gains at the local level, diplomats said.

Robert S. Gelbard, the senior U.S. envoy to the Balkans, said $100 million in U.S. aid pledged to the Bosnian Serbs this year was dependent on the degree to which they commit themselves to the peace process. “To do that, there have to be policies and programs in place that reflect democracy and an approach for further development of a market economy,” he said.

Poplasen, whose party advocates the permanent division of Bosnia, has begun to moderate his language since the election and says he is ready to cooperate with the international community. Diplomats point out that he will not have control of the media or most of the Interior Ministry, which is loyal to Dodik’s government. Should he blatantly obstruct the peace process, he could be removed from office by Carlos Westendorp, the West’s high representative to Bosnia.

“No matter if he is a nationalist or not, the Dayton treaty is a legal document that has to be complied with,” said Duncan Bullivant, a spokesman for Westendorp.

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