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NEWS ANALYSIS

In Bosnia, a Street Divided Sums Up Woes

September 24, 1996|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Nowhere is the line that divides the two halves of Bosnia narrower than here, in the scarred and depressing housing complex of Sarajevo's Dobrinja suburb.

Serbs can stand on one side of a 20-foot-wide street and look at, even talk to, Muslims standing on the other side. And they did that, until an incident six weeks ago left a couple of people beaten up and shot.

Today, more than a week after national elections designed to bring the country together, the Bosnia-Herzegovina that one sees in Dobrinja seems as divided as ever.

Jelena, 12, in a green L.A. Lakers jacket, scurries down the Bosnian Serb side of the street of separation in Dobrinja. "They [Muslims] hang out here, but we just pass and don't look at them," she says. "My parents told me not to go on the other side. I was told not to talk to them."

A short distance away, on the Muslim-Croat side, Alen, also 12, is playing in a new playground built with American donations. "Sometimes Serbian kids come over here and we play," he says. "But I don't go over there. It's a little scary."

Dobrinja may be Bosnia's best example of Muslims and Serbs who insist on separation, even when across the street from one another. And as the elections showed, the same ethnic-based nationalist parties that waged war and advocated segregation have received resounding votes of confidence from a beleaguered population.

But even as Bosnia seems doomed to a cycle of conflict, international mediators and some Bosnians try to salvage positive signs.

New, joint governmental institutions will be formed, although no one really knows how they'll work. A legitimized opposition has its foot in the door, although the door could slam fast. Very tentative ties between Sarajevo and Belgrade, the capitals of Bosnia and the rump Yugoslavia respectively, are being created.

Still, the united, multiethnic Bosnia envisioned in the U.S.-brokered Dayton, Ohio, peace accord may be dead.

Moreover, the presence of international, and especially U.S., military and civilian forces seems more likely, perhaps more essential, than ever to prevent a fragile shell from falling apart.

Can Bosnia's postwar government, elected Sept. 14, really function?

"Over time, with major problems, and with sustained involvement and pressure by the international community, yes," answered Carl Bildt, the senior civilian in charge of executing the Dayton accord. "Immediately, if we leave, no. . . . If power-sharing does not work this time in Bosnia, peace and the unity of the country [are] at risk."

By holding elections when the country was generally not ready and bloodshed was so fresh in people's minds, the international custodians of Bosnia took a huge gamble. They sacrificed freedom of movement, which did not exist on election day, and their own credibility on a bet that the institutions will somehow begin to bring the fractions of the country together.

Under a new constitution framed within the Dayton accord, voters chose a three-person presidency composed of a Muslim, a Serb and a Croat, and a 42-member national assembly evenly divided among the three groups. Each "entity"-- the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic (Republika Srpska)--chose its separate parliament.

Republika Srpska, in addition, elected its own president and vice president, while the federation will have a Muslim president and a Croatian vice president appointed by a "House of Peoples" that in turn will be selected by 10 cantonal assemblies also chosen in the Sept. 14 vote.

In all, there will be 18 national or entity legislative bodies, plus 109 municipal governments.

The 42-member national assembly will also name a six-member "Council of Ministers." This is, in effect, the government, but the Serbs refused to accept that label.

Already, serious differences have emerged that threaten the working of this system. The Bosnian Serb member of the presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, refuses to go to Sarajevo to meet with his counterparts, as required by the accord. And he is demanding that the chairmanship of the presidency, which went to his Muslim counterpart, be rotated.

"It's going to be pulling teeth and pushing a mule" to make this work, a senior diplomat said.

In fact, as difficult as harnessing the armies and holding elections were, the next two years of nation-building and the search for consensus and cooperation will prove even more daunting, say those charged with the mission.

"We are at the stage where what we are asking them to do really goes to the heart of democracy and reconciliation," said William Montgomery, the Clinton administration's special envoy for implementation of the Dayton pact.

Svetislav Stanojevic--president of Republika Srpska's self-declared Supreme Court, who also oversaw the elections there--said war led to polarization that caused people to hide within their ethnic communities. Repairing that, if possible at all, will take time, he said.

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