Mostar Elections: Dry Run
For Bosnian Democracy
By Kurt Schork
SARAJEVO, June 25 (Reuters) - Municipal elections in the former battleground of Mostar this weekend will test Bosnia's tolerance for democracy before national elections scheduled for September, international experts said on Tuesday.
"Elections in Mostar are a part of the (peace) process but it is important to remember they are not the goal," John Fawcett, director of the Bosnia Project for the International Crisis Group (ICG), said in Sarajevo.
"The goal was a unified city and a unified country. Most important is what happens after elections. Will elections enable Mostar to form a government which can run the city? That test will be very relevant to the September elections."
Three years ago Mostar was the worst battlefield in Bosnia, the pivot point for bitter fighting between Muslims and Croats who turned on one another after their uneasy alliance against a common Serb enemy broke down. U.S. diplomacy ended the Muslim-Croat war in 1994 and locked the two sides into a federation agreement.
That agreement, in conjunction with the Dayton peace accord which ended the overall war in December, made the Muslims and Croats partners in governing 51 per cent of Bosnia. Nowhere are the shortcomings of the two agreements more painfully apparent than in the divided city of Mostar, which once was a model of multi-ethnic Bosnia.
Virtually all Serbs, who once made up 18 per cent of the city's pre-war population of 75,000 people, either fled or were driven from Mostar after the Bosnian war began in 1992. Many thousands of Muslims also fled as the better-armed Croats, backed by neighbouring Croatia, used heavy artillery to devastate the Muslim-held east bank of the Neretva river.
Now, in peace as in war, remaining Muslims are confined largely to the east bank and Croats rule the west bank in a city well on its way to partition. Freedom of movement across de facto ethnic boundary lines is severely restricted in Mostar and diplomats say Croat hegemony on the west bank is enforced by criminal gangs with deep connections with the police.
Few observers expect Sunday's elections to produce significant near-term changes in the way Mostar operates, especially since the municipal election will be repeated again in September when all of Bosnia goes to the polls. A violence-free vote with a reasonable turn-out, including those displaced by the war, is the threshold goal of the European Union, which is organising the balloting on behalf of the international community.
"It's really a dry run for democracy in Bosnia, a roll of the dice. The hurdle participants will have to get over for the exercise to be deemed a success has been set pretty low," said a Western diplomat in Sarajevo who asked not to be named.
Critics argue that holding elections in an already divided city where Bosnia's major Muslim and Croat nationalist parties are likely to sweep the vote will simply ratify partition. Proponents of the balloting insist that only by contesting a real election can opposition parties ever become effective enough to shake the two major nationalist parties' grip on government either locally or nationally.
The International Crisis Group, an independent non- governmental agency working in Bosnia to monitor implementation of the Dayton peace agreement, initially opposed holding Mostar elections this summer. It argued that conditions for free and fair elections had not been established in the city. But ICG director Fawcett now admits he already sees some positive signs developing as a result of the exercise.
"The most interesting thing has been the building of coalitions among political parties, which might have taken another month without Mostar," Fawcett said.
Berserkistan, June 24 · Bosnian Croats Expect Elections to Cement Mostar Divisions
Berserkistan, June 23 · Banking on Mostarís Elections to Lead the Reunification of Bosnia
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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