Riots during second mosque ceremony
About 2200 Republika Srpska (RS) police, a water cannon and tear gas kept hundreds of Bosnian Serb demonstrators away from a cornerstone ceremony marking the reconstruction of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka on Monday. The last time the cornerstone ceremony was attempted (7 May), police stood by while rioters hurled stones and set busses on fire. This time, the protesters were kept back, but 13 police were injured and nearly 100 people were arrested.
International community functionaries from the Office of the High Representative (OHR), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and SFOR Multi-National Division Northwest were quoted in Oslobođenje as saying they were satisfied with the way the police had secured Monday's ceremony. Banja Luka's Nezavisne Novine's reporter wrote that this ceremony was indeed different from the one attempted on 7 May.
"Compared to the unrest of 7 May, this time the RS MUP (Interior Ministry) was ready. The entire region around the land, where the Ferhat-Pasha mosque had been located until 1993, was closed by strong police forces... Ten minutes before the beginning of the ceremony, demonstrators, whose numbers grew larger and larger by the minute, became aggressive. With the cries: 'Kill, kill the Turks,' and 'This is Serbia,' the core of the demonstrators tried to break through the cordon."
When the ceremony started, demonstrators began throwing beer bottles and stones at the police, who had earlier warned them that the whole event was being taped by various video cameras, making it easy to identify anyone who might commit a crime. Police responded to the protesters with water cannon and tear gas.
An anonymous phone call on Monday also warned of a bomb planted in the RS government building in Banja Luka. Police evacuated everyone from the building, but the threat turned out to be baseless.
Parliament fails to pass election law
The election law that the central government forwarded to BiH House of Representatives failed to get a majority of votes in the House Thursday, as the deadline for the law to pass came and went this week. Bosnia still has no law governing its elections, which have been the domain of the OSCE since 1996. The OSCE said last November's general elections would be the last one it would organize, and that the government had to come up with an election law if BiH is to become a Council of Europe member.
The Council's deadline, however, passed on Thursday, with no election law in sight. Oslobođenje reported that 16 House members voted for the law, 12 against and 11 abstained. Politicians are arguing over many amendments to the law, but one of its most contentious parts is the election of BiH Presidency members.
Bosnia's Constitution, drawn up as part of the Dayton Peace Accords, is "one of the most complicated constitutional documents blessed by the international community in recent times," wrote former High Representative Carl Bildt in the Constitution's introduction.
He couldn't be more correct. As it stands in the Constitution, the three Presidency members—a Croat, a Muslim and a Serb—are to be elected by the two entities that make up post-war Bosnia: the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Republika Srpska. The Croat and the Muslim are to be elected from Federation territory, and the Serb from Serb territory. In general, Bosnia's Constitution gives the entities enormous powers, often at the expense of the central government.
But now some politicians are starting to question the fairness of this rule, saying, for example, what if a Serb living in the Federation wants to run for the Presidency? That would be discrimination on the basis of nationality, which the constitution does not support. Neither does last summer's BiH Constitutional Court decision decreeing that all Bosnians have equal rights no matter which entity they live in.
Where people are allowed to vote is also a problem. An amendment allowing people to vote in their pre-war municipality (thus erasing the effects of ethnic cleansing, which concentrated Croats, Muslims and Serbs in various parts of the country) was refused by five Serb parties. Various House parties also refused other of the 18 amendments on the agenda this week.
"I am honestly disappointed by the representatives coming out against these amendments," BiH Presidency member Beriz Belkić, who presided over the session, told Dnevni Avaz. "I can understand refusing these ten amendments for political or some other reasons, but I can't understand why they would refuse an amendment that incapacitates those who usurp other peoples' property and then vote from that property. Those people who have voted against that amendment are really supporting robbery."
Petritsch to stay another year
The Peace Implementation Council, meeting in Stockholm Thursday, supported current High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch's wish to stay in BiH another year. Rumors had circulated in the Bosnian press for weeks whether Petritsch would follow in the footsteps of past high representatives and leave this summer after his two years of service were over.
The mandate of the high representative, who has the final say in the civilian aspects of the Dayton Peace Accords, does not really have a time limit. His predecessors in the position, most recently Carlos Westendorp, stayed for only two years, but that does not mean Petritsch is obligated to leave in August. And since the OHR has been seen by many as just beginning to crack down on wayward politicians, the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) seems to see no reason why Petritsch should not remain in Bosnia for another year.
The PIC also stated that it would mull Petritsch's recent request to place the OSCE and the UN missions to Bosnia under the wing of the OHR. Petritsch has said that such a streamlining would allow the international community to work together more efficiently.
And in other news...
- More than 1000 people were evacuated from their flooded houses in Lukavac Municipality (in northeastern Bosnia near Tuzla) this week. The constant rain between Monday night and Thursday morning caused the Tinja, Jula and Drinjača rivers to flood, as well as Modrac Lake. Half of Tuzla Canton was reported under water as of Thursday.
- Interpol opened an office in Sarajevo on Tuesday to help entity police tackle illegal immigration, human trafficking, drug smuggling and car thefts. BiH Civil Affairs and Communications Minister Svetozar Mihajlović said at the opening ceremony that entity police are not ready to deal with these problems without Interpol's help.
- FBiH Defense Minister Mijo Anić said Monday that the Croat part of the Federation Army had been fully re-established. Croats had left the army en masse after Croat nationalist political parties led by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in March declared self-rule in areas where they are a majority. Anić said the deadline for the soldiers to renew their contracts expired Friday and that most of the 7200 Croat soldiers had done so.
- Bosnian rock legend Davorin Popović, 55, succumbed to cancer Monday. He was famous for fronting the Sarajevo band Indeksi since the 1960s, and was considered a real symbol of Sarajevo. Cafe Davor closed and several people stuck flowers onto the metal grate covering the doors. "Even the sky cried," read a Jutarnje Novine headline over a story covering his funeral. BH-TV ran archived interviews and concert footage all night Monday, and hundreds of prominent Bosnians—politicians, actors and musicians—attended a commemoration for Popović at Sarajevo's National Theatre. "He will always be a legend," wrote all the Sarajevo papers.
Beth Kampschror, 22 June 2001
- Archive of news reviews for Bosnia
- Browse through the CER eBookstore
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page