Bosnia’s foreign elections – Unwise and dangerous

By Jan Oberg

September 10, 1997

TFF PressInfo 25 originally published here.
“Symbolic or shallow democracy will be the only outcome when foreigners impose elections under extremely adverse circumstances as is the case in Dayton-Bosnia. They could even be dangerous in their consequences because some local results are likely to be implemented by force. One increasingly wonders whether the international community is in Bosnia for the sake of the people living there or to uphold an illusory image of itself as effective post-Cold War conflict-“managers” – says TFF’s director, Jan Oberg who has followed the situation since February 1992 as head of the foundation’s conflict-mitigation team to all parts of former Yugoslavia.

– “The leading Croatian party, the Bosnian branch of President Tudjman’s HDZ in Zagreb, has suggested to its members and voters to boycott the elections. It argues that the conditions for fair and free elections are not in place and complain that international election officials favour Muslims over Croats in disputes about voter registration. And it accuses OSCE of “gerrymandering” in Mostar.

– This emphasises what international media’s non-attention hides but any serious observer knows, namely that the Federation between Muslims and Croats established in March 1994 still belongs to the world of fiction.

– The present situation in Republika Srpska, RS, fulfils all conditions for a coup, outbreak of serious violence or a civil war. I am pretty sure,” predicts Jan Oberg, “that it will fall apart. Indeed, that could well be part of an unwritten longterm “gentlemen’s agreement”. Be this as it may, the power-struggling Serbs offer once again international media and the international authorities in Bosnia a reason to blame Pale for the stalling, crisis-ridden Dayton process. And quite predictably, they now also boycott the elections. So, four days before the elections two of the three largest parties are out, free not to respect election results later.

– The present situation is also caused by the Western governments which did absolutely nothing to support civil society, dissidents, non-nationalists, NGOs and independent media anywhere in ex-Yugoslavia between 1990 and end of 1995. It dealt exclusively with the top political, military and economic echelonsin all republics, those responsible for the catastrophe. Dayton is a deal with them, not with the citizens. Western governments were conspicuously lukewarm when PEOPLE demonstrated for democracy and against election fraud in Serbia.

– You simply cannot impose democracy, it must also be built from below. Democracy as a goal requires democratic means. Non-nationalist parties and truly free media have still not developed to wield any real power in any republic. The international community, the US in particular, should recognise that it shares the responsibility for this deplorable situation and stop its slightly conceited and continual blaming and threatening of the local parties.

– NATO/SFOR and OSCE are now in the business of implementing censorship. Serb radio stations are closed down by force, not because they are nationalist or party-controlled but because they air “anti-Dayton propaganda”. As a matter of principle this is a very unwise step. It is hardly compatible with the promotion of free media, and I doubt that any NATO/SFOR government would accept that foreigners closed down media in their country. If the international community had implemented an early and effective strategy for supporting civil society and democratic forces, there would be little reason today to fear that the citizens of Bosnia would buy such propaganda,” Jan Oberg points out.

– “It must be remembered that the Bosnian Serbs had no influence on the Dayton Agreement and can not be obliged to show moral commitment to it. Furthermore, throughout the most powerful Western media Dr. Karadzic, who is indicted but neither proved guilty nor convicted, is cast in the image of the world’s most hated person, the No 1 war criminal since 1945. As a legitimately elected politician he was isolated by the international community and effectively prevented from speaking or defending himself. This is done in contravention of the statute of the Hague War Crimes Tribunal which states in para 21.3 that “the accused shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to the provisions of the present Statute.” So why act surprised when he and his followers show that they are cross with the international community?

– “This coming weekend’s elections are likely again be free and fraud,” Jan Oberg believes and warns that a worse threat is looming in consequence of the elections:

– “There is a high risk that elections will go from the ballot to the bullet. Some municipalities in RS are likely to get large minority or majority Muslim and/or Croat votes and, likewise, municipalities in the Federation will get large Serb minority or majority votes. This is so because of the unfortunate idea that those who were driven away shall also vote and thereby hopefully re-create a multiethnic Bosnia — a principle deliberately not applied by the international community to the elections in Croatia.

– After the elections we will see in at least some of these places that those who voted are not there and are not coming and that newly elected politicians are not there and don’t dare to go there. The next step could well be that winning parties will insist on the result and escort their elected delegates to “the other side” by their own police. Hardliners on both sides will know how to take countermeasures and violent events spread, eventually beyond control. So, the implementation of the election results will depend on who runs what police or secret service and where.

Are NATO/SFOR/OSCE really ready to escort such newly elected members of local assemblies — and get even deeper down into the quagmire? And will they simultaneously keep on trying to convince the rest of the world that they will pull out next year when everything will be fine?”

 

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