Banking on Mostarís Elections to Lead the Reunification of Bosnia
MOSTAR, Bosnia Jun 23 (Reuterss) - Western officials are counting on elections on June 30 in Mostar to put the ethnically divided city on a path to reunification and set an example for Bosnia's first postwar, countrywide vote in September.
"(Electoral) conditions in Mostar do not compare with a country in Western Europe. But we are anxious to make a start along the democratic road," said Martin Garrod, chief of staff of Mostar's transitional European Union administration (EUAM).
"Although we'll be the first to admit elections will not be perfect, they will be a step forward and I think both sides in Mostar are anxious to see the elections going well, without any major incident," he told Reuterss. But strong centrifugal currents that have split Bosnia into three ethnic nationalist entities and Mostar into two, raise the question: Will polls next weekend and in September foster unity or cement division?
Mostar has been partitioned into a western sector held by separatist Croats and an east side run by the Muslim-led Bosnian central government since a vicious 1993-94 war for control of southern Bosnia's biggest city.
U.S. diplomacy halted Croat-Muslim fighting across the country in 1994 and arm-twisted the two sides into a bi-national federation that now covers just over half of Bosnia. Separatist Serbs got the remainder under the 1995 Dayton peace treaty. But ethnic hatred and nationalism endures on both sides, frustrating the mediators' goal of federal power-sharing.
Mostarians will be voting for a joint council that is to elect one mayor for a city that now has two mayors, two currencies, two flags and two kinds of car number plates. Muslim and Croat nationalists dominate two of three party candidate lists registered for the vote and expect to overwhelm a coalition of non-ethnic, moderate parties on the third slate.
"I don't visualise a unified city for some time to come, but it would be foolish of us to expect everyone to just shake hands and live happily ever after," Garrod said.
Mostar had a prewar population of 75,000 with Muslims the largest community at 34 percent, Croats 28 percent and Serbs 18 percent. Almost all of Mostar's Serb minority fled in 1992 at the outset of the three-sided war in Bosnia. The city council is to have 48 seats -- 16 for Croats, 16 for Muslims, and five for Serbs, with the rest to be filled by undetermined candidates "in the time to come," said Garrod.
"I think we will now have a unified administration and one mayor, and that must be a significant step in the whole process of unification."
In July, 1994, the city was placed under an EU administration which set about repairing the war-shattered infrastructure and nudging the ethnic camps towards reintegration. Bridges have been rebuilt across the inner-city river that divides Muslims and Croats, some public buildings and housing have been reconstructed and water and electricity restored. But local nationalist lords have blocked war refugees from returning to their homes, as required by Dayton, and few civilians dare cross Mostar's ethnic lines for fear of being assaulted or worse.
Although the elections are being organised purely by the local authorities, the EUAM will provide assistance for the overall organisation and take care of public security. "Clearly security is high on our list of priorities. The main issues are security of opposition candidates, of polling stations, of people crossing confrontation lines, and concern that a small incident could escalate," Garrod said.
Voting will take place in 77 polling stations. Each will have a supervisory committee made up of a Croat, a Muslim and a Serb. People must vote in districts where they were registered before the war. That means many will have to cross former confrontation lines to vote in the areas from which they fled or were expelled by ethnic militias.
Refugees abroad may vote in Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Sweden, or come to Mostar for the occasion. Voting will be monitored by observers from the EU and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which will be overseeing the September Bosnian elections. NATO troops based in the vicinity will deploy in Mostar to help EU and local police ensure safety for those coming by buses from abroad or across urban ethnic boundaries.
Berserkistan, June 21 · Rampant Nationalism in Mostar Elections May Deepen Division
Berserkistan, June 17 · Muslims Stone Catholic Monastery in Mostar
Berserkistan, June 12 · Mostar Administrator Gives Approval to September Vote
Berserkistan, May 30 · EU Administrator Sets Mostar Elections for June 30
Berserkistan · Mostar, A Tale of Two Cities by Jim Bartlett
Berserkistan · For Peace in Mostar, Follow the Money Trail to Croatia
Mostar: Before and After its Devastation A site by Dubravko Kakarigi
Benvenuti in Guerra Gavino Paddeu chronicles Mostar's fall
Building in a War Zone European Union Helps to Reconstruct Mostar
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