Republika Srpska – Poplasen, Brcko and Kosovo
Republika Srpska – Poplasen, Brcko and Kosovo
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue
Report 62 / Europe & Central Asia

Republika Srpska – Poplasen, Brcko and Kosovo

The early part of 1999 has been turbulent for Republika Srpska. Political life has been unsettled by three separate and hardly-related crises: the decision of the High Representative to remove from office the RS President Nikola Poplasen; the decision of International Arbitrator Roberts Owen to give the municipality of Brcko neither to RS nor to the Federation but to both as a condominium; and the NATO air-strikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

Executive Summary

The early part of 1999 has been turbulent for Republika Srpska.  Political life has been unsettled by three separate and hardly-related crises: the decision of the High Representative to remove from office the RS President Nikola Poplasen; the decision of International Arbitrator Roberts Owen to give the municipality of Brcko neither to RS nor to the Federation but to both as a condominium; and the NATO air-strikes on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY).

Either of the first two issues alone would have been ordinary daily business in the bad-tempered world of Bosnian politics.  The two together could probably have been handled.  But RS reactions to NATO action in FRY, coming on top of the excitement already created by previous events, have raised tensions to very high levels.  Numerous peaceful demonstrations have turned violent, and international organisations – usually the target of the demonstrations – have withdrawn most of their personnel.  There are still elements in RS ready and willing to use violence to promote political objectives, and the current climate offers them fertile soil.  The beleaguered authorities in Belgrade have every reason to foster a diversion in Bosnia to give the international community another problem besides Kosovo to worry about.  The present moment could be the most dangerous for the Dayton Peace Agreement since it was signed in 1995.

This paper examines the background to the three crises and their effect on events in Republika Srpska from the election of Poplasen in September 1998 to the aftermath of the Kosovo crisis in April 1999.  It analyses the political agenda of the main parties in RS, examines the stability of the government, and assesses the risk that extremists in RS might seek to take advantage of the tense pro-FRY atmosphere to mount campaigns of violence against the international community.

It concludes that there is a real risk that the situation could get out of control, at the deliberate instigation of the Serb Radical Party and other extremist forces.  It also suggests that the governing coalition in RS may be about to split, and assesses the likely composition of a new government.  It concludes with short-term recommendations:

  • OHR and contact group governments need urgently to explore the intentions of the Socialist Party, and exert maximum pressure upon them to remain in the SLOGA coalition.
  • If SLOGA and Dodik cannot be saved, then Mladen Ivanic should be given a chance to form a government, but advised that the SRS should be excluded and the SDS not given key posts, otherwise the prospects for international assistance will be bleak.
     
  • SFOR needs to be aware that a concerted campaign of violence could spring up at any time, particularly in the eastern RS.  Measures to forestall such a campaign could easily be counter-productive, since too obvious a show of strength excites public resentment, but SFOR units will need to be ready to use force at the first sign of armed disturbances.  The RS police cannot be relied upon to control them.
     
  • It is unwise to offer the Serb population needless provocations.  For example, the recent interdiction of the Belgrade-Bar railway line would have been better carried out by NATO aircraft bombing the Serbian stretch.  Such action by SFOR blurs the distinction, which SFOR themselves have sought to make, between NATO’s action in FRY and SFOR’s role in Bosnia.
     
  • SRT (the RS Radio and Television network) must be reminded that balanced reporting is part of responsible journalism.  If the current bias continues, for example misleading reporting of the Kosovo refugee crisis, they should be threatened with financial penalties and closure.  The people of RS have a right to know what is happening in FRY, but they also have a right to hear both sides of the story.  Recent experience with the population of Serbia, and past experience from wartime Bosnia, suggest that the public simply will not believe any point of view which reflects badly on the Serbs, but at least the one-way propaganda will receive some counterpoise.
     
  • Private broadcasters such as BNTV Bijeljina and Radio St George have exceeded acceptable bounds of prejudice and should be closed immediately.
     
  • Withdrawal of the international community from RS was probably unavoidable in present circumstances: civil personnel should not be required to expose themselves to danger.  But their absence makes intimidation look successful.  Staff who genuinely wish to return should be allowed to do so, and to work as publicly and openly as their judgement allows.  SFOR should be asked to ensure their security in as low-key a manner as possible.
     
  • The impact of political or financial leverage at times of high passion is limited, and the Serbs are stubborn under pressure.  But it is worthwhile and fair to remind the public that a major aid donors’ conference is scheduled for May.  Donors will not be impressed if violence and political tension in RS persist.  The population and political parties will need to weigh their passions against their own long-term needs for development and international acceptance.

Sarajevo, 6 April 1999

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue

Online Event to discuss Crisis Group's report "Relaunching the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue", in which we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

Thirteen years after Kosovo broke away from Serbia, the two countries remain mired in mutual non-recognition, with deleterious effects on both. The parties need to move past technicalities to tackle the main issues at stake: Pristina’s independence and Belgrade’s influence over Kosovo’s Serbian minority.

In this conversation, we discussed what currently stands in the way of a new status quo and what it will take to relaunch the process with the Pristina elections in view.

How to Relaunch the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue (Online Event, 28th January 2021)

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