SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Bosnian Serb politicians boycotted the inauguration of this country's new joint presidency and parliament Saturday, keeping a theater full of foreign and national dignitaries waiting for hours before a truncated and largely powerless government was installed.
The boycott bodes ill for the next phase of postwar recovery in Bosnia, where multiethnic governing institutions are supposed to be set up after national elections last month.
"We are extremely unhappy and displeased," said John Kornblum, a U.S. assistant secretary of state and the Clinton administration's senior envoy for the Balkans. Kornblum had traveled from Washington to Sarajevo, the capital, for the ceremony.
Word came almost an hour and a half after the ceremony was scheduled to begin that the Serbs, citing security concerns and resisting intense cajoling by Western mediators, refused to attend. It took another two hours before the Muslim and Croatian politicians could then be persuaded to carry on an inauguration without the Serbian third of the government.
Several hundred guests, meanwhile, shifted uncomfortably in their seats and occasionally abandoned the hall altogether to roam the lobby. The Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra bravely played on, sometimes to an empty theater, running through selections from Rimsky-Korsakov and Grieg.
When the inaugural meeting finally took place, two of Bosnia's three co-presidents--Alija Izetbegovic, the Muslim, and Kresimir Zubak, the Croat--sat on stage next to an empty chair reserved for Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serb. Krajisnik boycotted, and 11 Serbian members of the 42-member House of Representatives, or parliament, also were absent.
Izetbegovic, Zubak and 31 other Muslim and Croatian politicians signed a "solemn declaration" committing themselves to upholding the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the U.S.-brokered peace accord that halted the war last December.
Reading from a speech he had prepared when he thought the Serbs would be present, Izetbegovic welcomed the Serbs in words that only emphasized their absence and the divisions yet to be overcome.
"When you arrived, you broke the devil's leg," he said of the Serbs. "So welcome to Sarajevo. Feel safe. This is your city too because it is the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina."
Later Saturday, at his headquarters in the village of Pale, nine miles southeast of Sarajevo, Krajisnik said he is willing to participate in Bosnia's joint institutions but could not bring himself to venture into what he sees as "Muslim Sarajevo."
"It is not a safe place for our representatives," Krajisnik said, noting that he had offered to meet instead at another site, such as Sarajevo's heavily damaged airport or even the U.S. Embassy.
But Carl Bildt, the international community's high representative in Bosnia, said Krajisnik--loath to recognize Sarajevo as the capital of Bosnia--was using security fears as a pretext, an unfounded one given the highly visible presence Saturday of heavily armed North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led forces. The Serbs had wasted a chance to "rejoin the world," Bildt said.
"They are playing games," he said. "But they have a marvelous tendency to shoot themselves in the foot."
Kornblum said he believed the peace process will continue to march forward. But he warned that the Serbian leaders were "endangering the future of their people" because failure to cooperate with the peace accord jeopardizes financial aid and international acceptance.
"This will cause us to reconsider how we deal with them in the future," he said.
Western officials said that in advance of Saturday's inauguration, Krajisnik and his aides repeatedly raised objections to one item after another, from seating arrangements to musical selections. At one point, they vetoed the playing of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
They also disputed what kind of oath of office they would sign--and whether to call it an oath. The negotiators relented and agreed to call it a solemn declaration, but the Serbs were still reluctant to pledge allegiance to a united Bosnia-Herzegovina, a concept they fought against during 43 months of war.
A computer, laser printer and parchment paper were waiting in a room at the theater until agreement could be reached. Drafting went down to the wire, but in the end the accord did not gain Bosnian Serb approval.
Of the 11 Serbian legislators who were absent Saturday, nine belong to Krajisnik's Serbian Democratic Party, the party of indicted war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. Two others belong to an opposition coalition and wanted to attend the inauguration but "had difficulties" that prevented them, Bildt said without elaborating.