Bombing Rocks Mostar on
Eve of Crucial Elections
'I guess I'm not racist enough,' said coffee shop owner Goran Mestrovic as he shoveled the remnants of his business into a wheelbarrow. 'This is the Croat election campaign.'
Croat ultranationalists kicked off the last phase of their election campaign with a bang early this morning -- literally.
After bombarding Cafe San Remo with menacing notes for a week, one of their minions placed four pounds of plastic explosives in the coffee shop run by a Croat known for his moderate political views, Western officials said. The 3:55 a.m. blast turned the establishment into a mixed salad of shattered glass, shredded aluminum siding, chopped table tops and minced Venetian blinds.
"I guess I'm not racist enough," said the haggard owner, Goran Mestrovic, as he shoveled the remnants of his business into a wheelbarrow this afternoon. "This is the Croat election campaign."
On Sunday, the people of this beautiful and still-divided city in southern Bosnia will vote in a municipal election that holds significance for all of Bosnia and for the NATO-led mission trying to ensure peace in this battle-scarred land.
In theory, according to French army Lt. Gen. Xavier de la Lambert, the NATO commander in the region, the vote "should lay the foundations of democracy in Bosnia." In reality, the elections, like the nationwide vote scheduled for Sept. 14, appear destined to ratify the partition of Bosnia into an explosive mix of three ethnically based ministates. Like the mangled remains of Cafe San Remo, democracy is not expected to fare well in the Mostar vote -- and that prospect does not bode well for balloting in September.
Western officials say Mostar's vote will probably hasten the destruction of Bosnia because Mostar combines the ultranationalism of the nation's factions and an almost blase attitude on the part of West Europeans supervising the vote. As such, Mostar provides a taste of what is to come in the more important September election.
Under a complex set of rules, voters in Mostar will choose a city council and assemblymen in six boroughs. The ethnic breakdown of the council and the borough assemblies has already been decided by an election commission dominated by Muslim and Croat nationalist parties. For example, the city council will comprise 16 Muslims, 16 Croats and five "others." Voting will simply fill the ethnic quotas. Results are expected on Tuesday.
One of the key failings of the election is that many Serbs, who made up 20 percent of Mostar's 1991 population of 126,000, have effectively been denied the right to vote. The electoral commission did not ask Serbia, where about 10,000 people from Mostar now live, for permission to open a polling station there. The commission did, however, approve voting booths for mainly Croat and Muslim refugees living in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.
As a result, Serbs intent on voting will likely have to return to Mostar to cast ballots. To do that, however, they will need NATO's assistance to pass through territory controlled by the Bosnian Serbs, who violently oppose the idea of reuniting not only Mostar but all of Bosnia as well.
Lambert did not comment when asked if French troops would help the Serbs reach Mostar. A West European official who witnessed his silence termed Lambert's reaction "extraordinary."
Indeed, the election rules appear to be written to guarantee the lowest turnout possible for Mostar. The European Union estimates that voter turnout here will be between 25 and 40 percent. This is because under the rules, people in Mostar must vote in the districts they inhabited during the last vote, held in 1991. This means an estimated 10,000 Muslims who were expelled from the Croat-held side of the city, west of the Neretva River, will have to return there to cast their ballots. For many, it would be the first visit since 1993.
This could be explosive, and more than 2,500 NATO soldiers, 400 international police officers and 1,800 local police will be on hand to prevent violence. But Western officials speculate that many people will not risk attack simply to vote.
Another problem involves the troubles faced by a list of opposition candidates running in the race. Since the 1993-94 war between Croats and Muslims ended thanks to U.S. diplomatic pressure, Mostar has been divided in two. The east bank of the Neretva River is run by the increasingly nationalist Muslim political organization, the Party of Democratic Action; ultranationalists from the Croatian Democratic Union control the west.
Earlier this month a coalition of five small Bosnian opposition parties put together a list of prominent Mostar residents who had always opposed the nationalist policies of the two sides. In response to the organizing, Muslim and Croat nationalists on the election commission met secretly and moved up the deadline for submitting candidate lists in an attempt to keep the opposition out of the race.
After intense pressure from Western diplomats and a ruling from the European Union's ombudsman for Mostar, the election commission relented, and the opposition candidates will be allowed to run. However, in the past week, four opposition candidates have withdrawn from the election after one candidate was beaten and the others received death threats.
Lambert claimed that "all candidates are protected because they are in an area where NATO is guaranteeing security." But opposition officials laughed at his assurances.
"They are joking too much, those NATO men," said opposition leader Jozo Musa, 64. "They won't do anything to help." Extracting an enormous red switchblade from his coat pocket, the former factory manager and one-time soccer star cracked a crafty grin. "This is my NATO," he said. "If they come to get me, I guarantee you that one of them is mine."
Berserkistan, June 27 · Sundayís Elections in Mostar: Flawed but Safe, Hopes EU
June 27 · Returning Refugee Finds Mostar on Edge, Mistrustful
Berserkistan, June 25 · Mostar Elections: Dry Run for Bosnian Democracy
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 · 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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