Vote for (more) changes
While the Yugoslav elections are big news and a subject of considerable café chatter in Bosnia-Hercegovina (BiH), campaigning for the November general elections has already begun. Open a weekly magazine in the Muslim-Croat Federation (FBiH) and flyers flutter out, admonishing you to "vote against corruption."
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is once again organizing and financing these elections, the third since the 1995 signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, and their billboards with the same slogan are popping up all over Sarajevo. The OSCE's slogan for the municipal elections in April was "vote for changes." And that is what happened, with the multi-ethnic Social Democratic Party (SDP) taking control of most of Sarajevo at the local level and gaining seats on municipal councils throughout the country.
It probably did not take an OSCE media campaign to induce BiH voters to choose new leaders, however. BiH shares Serbia's problem in that the same self-serving leaders have been in power for several years. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević has been in power for 13 years and has shown that he is willing to start wars to stay there. In BiH, the same three nationalist parties have been in power since the 1990 elections. They've also shown that they are not above violence that serves their ends. They also share a similarity with Milošević in that they tell their constituents that voting for them is the only way to protect themselves.
For example, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Croat nationalist party) often complains at their press conferences that BiH Croats are getting shortchanged and that if the HDZ does not look out for them, no one will. The Party of Democratic Action (SDA, Muslim nationalist party) plastered Islam-green posters all over Sarajevo in April that said, "Ten of the most difficult years together." The Serb Democratic Party (SDS) follows the same arguments, that a vote for them is a vote for the interests of the Serb people.
It's continually the "us against them" mentality. But the reality is that those leaders are looking out for only themselves. And the voters are finally starting to realize that. Like Milošević, these BiH politicians drive sleek new cars, have fabulously expensive houses and find lucrative jobs for their family and friends. At the same time, it's not uncommon to see elderly people digging in the garbage for their dinner. As one Sarajevan put it, "They see that their leaders have everything they want, and they wait months for their salaries to buy some bread or milk."
Bosnians' economic problems would sound familiar to FRY (Former Yugoslavia) citizens. Salaries that arrive months late (if at all). High unemployment. Pensions that are the equivalent of pocket change. The thousands-strong crowds in Belgrade every night are protesting against their economic situation as well as against their president-cum-dictator who will not step down. After all, if it had not been for Milošević's war-mongering, the UN would not have placed economic sanctions on Serbia.
Protests are not uncommon throughout BiH either. A different factory is on strike it seems every week, and in warm months highways are blocked by people demonstrating against everything from late pensions to strange people living in their pre-war houses. And the nationalist politicians do nothing.
Questions are still many
So, the elections. Yugoslavs voted for opposition candidate Vojislav Koštunica on 24 September. While many in BiH and elsewhere have their doubts about him (Koštunica is also a nationalist, for example), he could hardly be worse than Milošević. BiH voters already began voting out their own nationalists in April. That trend will probably continue in the general elections on 11 November.
Some complain that the opposition SDP is merely a vestige of Communism, but like Yugoslavia, it could not be worse than keeping the status quo. And the SDP is the only major party where being a Croat, a Serb, a Muslim or an "other" does not matter. Anyone can be a member. Party leaders are mixed as well. In Sarajevo, for example, Novi Grad Municipality head Damir Hadžić is Muslim, Novo Sarajevo Municipality head Željko Komšić is Croat, and Centar Municipality head (and party vice-president) Ljubiša Marković is Serb.
Working together regardless of your background is of utmost importance after the 1992 to 1995 war, when your ethnicity could have meant your life. Now it means the difference between whether BiH will remain basically an international protectorate or become a functioning European state. As far as transforming BiH's wrecked economy and addressing the huge refugee problem, the SDP will have their work cut out for them if they win in November, just as Koštunica will if he takes office as Yugoslav president.
Reports of FRY election fraud and Milošević's election commission claiming that neither candidate won 50 percent of the vote put a question mark above the entire Yugoslav elections. International monitoring bodies, such as the OSCE, were not present after the polls closed. But even cases where the OSCE runs the election the system can be seriously flawed. An International Crisis Group report from October 1999 stated that "in spite of a USD 39 million election budget (in BiH), hundreds of polling stations opened late on polling day in September 1998, due to massive errors in the OSCE-produced voters' lists." In the same report the ICG said that implementing election results is also "problematic" and that the international community rarely takes action to solve the problems.
Only hopes are certain
When Bosnians vote for new BiH House of Representatives, entity assemblies, RS president, vice-
Both Bosnia-Hercegovina and Yugoslavia could be very different places a few years from now. It would have been unthinkable two or three years ago that Croatia would become a member of NATO's Partnership for Peace and be cooperating with The Hague in arresting war crimes suspects. This year's elections in both BiH and FRY have shown that both countries are also ready for changes. A lot depends on whether their new leaders are ready to make them.
Beth Kampschror, 2 October 2000
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