Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Victories for multiethnic candidates in Bosnian elections 1997

Victories for multiethnic candidates in Bosnian elections 1997

By Michael Karadjis


TUZLA -- The recent municipal elections throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina reveal a polarisation between the three ethnic-based parties on the one hand, and multi-ethnic or anti-nationalist forces on the other.
The victories of parties opposed to the ruling nationalists in important cities such as Tuzla and Banja Luka were achieved despite enormous pressure by the ruling parties -- the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Muslim-based Party of Democratic Action (SDA).
In the case of the first two, this pressure included “murdering returnees [refugees returning to vote in their original towns] and planting explosive devices in party premises of rivals or homes of returnees”, according to the Alternative Information Network.
Of particular significance was the victory of the United List '97 (57.4%) in the industrial city of Tuzla in the Muslim-Croatian Federation, which was the key centre of multi-ethnic Bosnian resistance by all three communities against the Serb nationalist drive throughout the three-year war.
In particular, the trade union federation of Tuzla played an important role in keeping Serb and Croat workers united with the Muslim majority of the city, and anti-nationalist forces, led by Mayor Selim Beslagic, have always had control of the city council.
This reaffirmation came despite considerable pressure and intimidation from the SDA, which declared it a strategic aim to take control of Tuzla, and threatened that Tuzla would not receive aid from the federal budget if it did not win.
“The victory of Beslagic and of Tuzla may be the beginning of the new direction of resistance to nationalist homogenisation. The message of Tuzla is the victory of human values against all the nationalist barbarism”, according to Leonida Hatziprodromidis, a writer who has spent much time in Bosnia.
The attempt by the HDZ to boycott the elections was due to its fear of the votes of Muslim and Serb returnees it had ethnically cleansed from its fief in western Hercegovina.
The western guarantors of the Dayton peace agreement (which split Bosnia in two in 1995) foiled this attempt by doing a deal allowing elections not to take place in one area of HDZ-controlled Mostar where Muslim returnees would have made a difference to the votes. A similar deal was done with the SDS in the Brko region, where tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats had been “cleansed” during the war.
Nevertheless, large numbers of Serbs who were cleansed by the HDZ and the Croatian army in late 1995 from Drvar and Grahovo in western Bosnia registered to vote and gave victory to the Coalition for Return. In particular, it was a victory of the wing of this movement led by Marceta, which stood on an anti-nationalist program, counterposed to the Serb revanchism of some other forces.
The same situation occurred throughout the north-west section of “Republika Srpska” controlled by the SDS. An opposition coalition centred on the Socialist Party won a decisive victory in Banja Luka, the largest city, and Sipovo, Mrkonjic Grad, Celinac and Gradiska.
While originally set up by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Serb Socialist Party, in practice the Bosnian version has adopted a more left-wing position, confronted as it is by the right-wing SDS in power. The SP has supported moves to properly integrate Republika Srpska into Bosnian institutions, and the right to return of refugees.
The allied Social Democrats also won in Laktasi and Srbac.
These victories in Republika Srpska have been interpreted as a victory for Biliana Plavsic, the RS president, who was expelled from the SDS for opposing the massive state corruption of the ruling clique around indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic.
This is despite the fact that her own Serb nationalist politics have always been at least as fanatical as those of Karadzic. However, due to the economic impoverishment brought about by the activities of the Karadzic clique, she has recently moved to support for some superficial aspects of Dayton, regarding all-Bosnian institutions, while insisting that her entity remain a Serb state.
The opposition victory in fact had little to do with Plavsic. The opposition in Banja Luka first manifested itself in 1995, and in last year's all-Bosnian elections for the presidency and the House of Representatives, the anti-SDS opposition took around 35% of the vote. Therefore, they have increased their vote only slightly: the combined vote of the SDS and its allied ultraright Serb Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj this time was 59%.
Certainly, there was a huge reduction in the SDS vote, from 55 to 37.5%, partly as a result of Plavsic's revelations about the criminal activities of the Karadzic clique. However, her reliance on US imperialism in strengthening her position through control over police stations and media was designed to undercut the anti-nationalist opposition on the left, and its effect was to produce a nationalistic reaction.
This explains the massive increase in votes for the SRS, from 7% to 21.5%. The correlation is close, and SRS candidates won in many areas where the SDS candidates were associated with organised crime.
Nevertheless, the overall results -- which also include the victory of a string of other anti-nationalist independents in many regions, and victories by the United List '97 in some Sarajevo municipalities -- are signs of a clear shift away from nationalist politics by a considerable section of the people.
The fact that the Bosnian working class, the most ethnically mixed section of society, has maintained this political character to a large degree is evidenced by the anti-nationalist victories in major working-class centres such as Tuzla and Banja Luka.
On the other hand, that several hundred thousand refugees voted for candidates in their home towns is only a partial success, given that the official number of refugees and displaced persons is over 2.5 million. Moreover, most of them, especially those whose homes were originally in Republika Srpska, are unable to return to the areas where they voted.

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