We are disturbed by the fact that the number of marriages between Serbs and Muslims has increased... because mixed marriages lead to an exchange of genes between ethnic groups, and thus to a degeneration of Serb nationhood.
- Biljana Plavšić, quoted in Sarajevo's Oslobodjenje, May 1994
"It isn't easy being green," Kermit the Frog has crooned to generations of North American children. In light of the "attempted arrest" or "attempted kidnapping" of Biljana Plavšić in Banja Luka this week - what you call it depends on whose press you read - I wonder whether subsequent generations of Serbian children will be reared on a new turbofolk ballad by Cvetlana "Ceca" Veličković, wife of the late Arkan, perhaps entitled "It isn't easy being Biljana"?
In 1992, the former Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at the University of Sarajevo was a charter member of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). An uncompromising hardliner and believer that Bosnian Muslims were "genetically deformed Serbs," she was sufficiently reviled by her enemies that she often had to snag a lift to the ubiquitous ceasefire negotiations in a Canadian armoured personnel carrier, under the protection of Canadian Gen Lewis MacKenzie.
The kind of men we need
While she never really discarded her hard-line beliefs - as late as 1996 she was quoted as having said, "When I saw what [Arkan] had done in Bijeljina, I at once imagined all his actions being like that. I said, 'Here we have a Serb hero. He's a real Serb; that's the kind of men we need'" - Plavšić underwent a political "conversion" of sorts long before Dayton and was trumpeted as a Bosnian Serb leader "with whom the West can work."
It was a change of political stripes that earned her the enmity of her former hard-line colleagues and resulted in more than one death threat.
After an internal power struggle, and with Western backing, Plavšić succeeded indicted war criminal Radovan Karadžić as President of the Republika Srpska in 1996 - and promptly alienated many of her Western supporters when she told UN Secretary General Kofi Annan the next year that ICTY indictments had "lost their effect" at the end of the war in Bosnia. Her erstwhile colleagues were a little more pleased - until British Special Air Service (SAS) troops launched SFOR's "Operation Tango" on 10 July 1997.
In Op Tango, SAS troops managed to capture indicted war criminal Milan Kovačević in Prijedor and killed another who resisted arrest. Karadžić and other Serbs in Pale decided the arrest and death were Plavšić's fault - clearly, they said, she was betraying her Serb brethren to NATO - and so condemned her in the press and ousted her from the SDS.
Undaunted, the resilient Plavšić helped form her own party, only to do so poorly in this spring's Bosnian municipal elections that she and six other senior party officials were asked to resign.
And now? Someone wants to spirit her out of Banja Luka; that much is clear.
According to reports in Serbian and BiH media, somewhere between four and six armed, unidentified, uniformed men tried to gain entrance to her apartment building this past Wednesday. Alighting from either "green vehicles" or "a jeep with dark windows and diplomatic license plates," the men were turned back by RS police after saying that they were going to "visit a friend" in the building.
Some hours later, Plavšić was spirited out of her building with a heavy RS police escort. A NATO spokesman in Banja Luka denied that SFOR had tried to arrest Plavšić, adding a few days later that some armed troops had in fact been outside her residence because NATO officers were meeting with Bosnian Serb politician Mladen Ivanić, whose office is in the same building.
Plavšić has demanded that NATO apologize for sending "men armed to the teeth" into her residence. SFOR has said an apology was extended, but Plavšić is telling anyone who will listen that she still has yet to receive one.
Darling of the West
Now, according to a press report from Montenegro, the former "Iron Lady" of Bosnia and erstwhile darling of Western leaders praised by the likes of Madeleine Albright is cozying up to the Serbian right wing, condemning the West for its policy on Bosnia and its "secret indictments" of "Serbian heroes."
She has good reason to do so - and they cast light on both NATO's new, unofficial policy on cooperation with ICTY and the current political situation in Serbia and Bosnia.
Some months ago, ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte declared that the tribunal needed to explore "creative ways" of bringing to justice alleged war criminals who were "beyond the reach of SFOR." Her announcement followed a policy shift within NATO, in which the world's strongest military alliance decided it was time to "get tough" with wanted war criminals and support the UN and ICTY without putting special forces troops at risk additional risk.
The result has been a wave of kidnappings by former Serbian paramilitary and Special Forces members.
Allegedly using intelligence furnished them by the UN and NATO, these mercenary bands have delivered SFOR at least two wanted war criminals, including former Bosnian Serb torture camp commander Dragan Nikolić. According to some reports, Nikolić was quietly living in a town
His kidnappers, said to be former Serbian paramilitary brigade members, allegedly received DEM 30,000 for their trouble - roughly DEM 385 for each of the 80 charges to which Nikolić pled not guilty in his first appearance at The Hague on 28 April.
Stevan Todorović, another alleged Bosnian Serb war criminal, is said to have been handed over to French SFOR troops in return for a DEM 20,000 bounty.
Throughout Serbia and the Republika Srpska, observers say, numerous Serbs are living in daily fear of being kidnapped and handed over to NATO for a free flight to the Hague Tribunal - powerful motivation for Plavšić to cozy-up to RS officials in return for additional police protection.
At press time, "more than a dozen" RS police were said to be on 24-hour watch around Plavšić's neighborhood and in front of her now fortified building.
But Plavšić has even more deadly reason to cozy-up to her former hard-line allies: Slobodan Milošević has, in the past month, made it abundantly clear that he is not through with the Republika Srpska.
Turning up the heat
Facing increasing unrest at home, Milošević has declared an unofficial war on domestic opposition while characteristically trying to raise tensions outside Serbia proper to divert attention from the opposition.
Milošević's adventures in helping to destabilize Kosovo through the use of Ministry of the Interior (MUP) special police forces in Kosovska Mitrovica are now well known, as are his efforts to keep tensions high in Montenegro, where just this week a top security advisor to Montenegrin President Milo Đukanović was assassinated. According to Montenegrin media, Milošević is said to have ordered the hit and, whether he in fact did or not, the Serbian strongman's military apparatus has taken more than enough steps in recent months to raise tensions to never before seen heights.
In the Republika Srpska, Milošević has a more than high-profile target in Milorad Dodik, moderate Prime Minister of the RS. Dodik recently won the rump-Yugoslav leader's wrath by opposing Spasoje Tusevljak's nomination to chair Bosnia's central government. While Tusevljak is allegedly unconnected to any party, his nomination was supported by the SDS, which Milošević once controlled like a lap dog, and Dodik has alleged that Tusevljak has strong ties to Belgrade, having spent the Bosnian war there as the director of a regime-affiliated economics institute.
Whether the allegations are true or not, Dodik's defiance of Belgrade has not stopped there: he has welcomed members of the Serbian opposition to the RS, including the student resistance Otpor, for whom he facilitated a meting with US envoy Robert Frowick. The Belgrade regime has also fingered him as having helped NATO troops arrest Nikolić, and was enraged by his recent visit to The Hague, where he discussed increased cooperation between the RS and the ICTY.
Increasingly, analysts say, Dodik and anyone who echoes his statements are "marked" by Belgrade, and Biljana Plavšić said during the recent municipal elections that political opponents who claimed she was not sufficiently "hard line" were "people who act according to the orders of Belgrade."
Dodik has taken the threat of violence seriously by beefing up his personal security detail. Perhaps, in light of this week's events, the former Iron Lady of Bosnia is doing the same in the only manner she knows how - by changing her political stripes yet again.
Certainly, it cannot be easy being Biljana Plavšić.
Patrick FitzPatrick, 29 May 2000
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