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Serbs Boot Dissenter From Mayor's Post


BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina — The popular mayor of this northern Bosnian Serb city was ousted from office by the ruling Serbian Democratic Party on Friday, less than a week after he dared to challenge the party's hard-line nationalist candidate in the Bosnian Serbs' presidential election.

The removal of Predrag Radic, while not entirely unexpected, dealt a demoralizing blow to opposition politicians in Banja Luka, which has emerged as the center of dissent to the ruling nationalists in Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb half of the country.

Despite encouraging returns in some election contests, the opposition here is largely discouraged by the country's first postwar balloting, which gave huge victories to the main Serbian, Muslim and Croatian nationalist parties that ruled throughout the 43-month war.

Although they scored better than their counterparts in Muslim and Croatian territory, the Banja Luka opposition groups barely dented the hard-line nationalist front.

And many of their votes, analysts said, came from Muslim refugees--who voted in Bosnian Serb municipalities in the faint hope of someday returning home--not from Bosnian Serbs persuaded by their relatively moderate views.

"The opposition parties needed to get 10% to 15% more of the vote to have any real impact," said Mladen Ivanic, a Banja Luka candidate for the three-member Bosnian presidency who posted the strongest showing of any opposition figure in the country. "Most people are disappointed, disillusioned and discontented."

Radic, a former economics professor who ran Banja Luka for the last five years, collected less than 5% of the vote in the race for president of Republika Srpska. The contest was easily won by acting Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, the handpicked successor to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who has been indicted on war crimes charges and was barred from running for president.

But Radic's poor showing did not spare him the wrath of the ruling elite; they unceremoniously dumped him at a City Council meeting Friday morning.

Radic had been stripped of his party membership months ago for his dissent, and Plavsic had coldly predicted before the nationwide elections that the mayor's days in office were numbered.

"They realized that removing me before the election would only increase my popularity," said the 55-year-old Radic, hastily arranging an interview at his party's campaign headquarters after suddenly losing his City Hall quarters. "Now it doesn't matter."


An official with the Serbian Democratic Party, or SDS, in Pale, the Bosnian Serb headquarters, said Radic lost his job because party rules prohibit a nonparty member from holding the top city post.

"He came to that function as a member of the SDS and he cannot occupy it as a member of another party," the official said.

Radic, a Bosnian Serb nationalist who was mayor during brutal periods of "ethnic cleansing" in Banja Luka, is, nonetheless, among a core of Serbian politicians who have been cast by American and European diplomats as the best-hope alternative to the largely defiant SDS--and perhaps the foundation of a full-fledged political opposition in the Republika Srpska.

In the context of ethnic divisions in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Radic qualifies as a moderate Serb.

He does not advocate the immediate, or violent, separation of the Republika Srpska from Bosnia and says he is willing to work with Muslims and Croats to implement the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord.

"This is not Mother Teresa--but also not Radovan Karadzic," said one Western official in Banja Luka. "He kept himself distant enough from the 'ethnic cleansing' to emerge from the war as a moderate. He knew what was going on and he did nothing to stop it, but he didn't lead it."

Radic was among only a handful of Bosnian Serb politicians who met with President Clinton on his trip to Bosnia earlier this year.

He and many other opposition leaders have also developed links with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who signed the Dayton accord on behalf of the Bosnian Serbs and has been at odds with the SDS leadership.

Radic said his moderate stance--and particularly his willingness to talk to Americans--cost him dearly in the election.

The SDS waged a campaign heavy on anti-American sentiment, plastering Radic's campaign posters with U.S. flags as a symbol of his disloyalty to Serbs.

His meeting with Clinton--which Radic said was not his idea--was exploited in the Bosnian Serb media. In the last weeks of the campaign, he was banned from appearing on Bosnian Serb television, even in his capacity as mayor.

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