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Pale Imitation

The price of the September 14 elections in Bosnia was not simply that ethnic cleansers were legitimized; it was, more mundanely, that ethnic cleansers were elected. Though Radovan Karadzic was not voted into office (indicted war criminals were not permitted to run), his ideas were. All three ruling parties--Serb, Croat and Muslim--spent the election "campaign" cracking down on opposition candidates, obstructing the media, stomping out free expression and blocking refugee repatriation. As a result, the vote proved empowering only to those who already held power. The joint institutions so crucial to preserving peace and so often hailed by the Clinton administration as the "way forward" will now be almost exclusively comprised of undemocratic, uncompromising and generally unsavory individuals.

Nowhere is the danger to Bosnia's existence as overt as in Republika Srpska, the Serb half of Bosnia piloted from behind the scenes by Karadzic and now from the democratic stage by a clan of ruthless nationalists. The "Pale Mafia" --whose ideas of ethnic separatism won out in the war--have made no secret of their plan to do everything in their power to sabotage the Dayton peace. Herewith, a look at the new ruling faces of Republika Srpska:


Biljana Plavsic, President, Republika Srpska

Like the "father of Republika Srpska" before them, Srpska's new leading lights led pre-war lives marred by disappointment. Plavsic, 66, was an ambitious Fulbright scholar who studied in New York in the 1970s and later became a biology professor at Sarajevo University. There she was known as " the Iron Lady" by students and colleagues who feared the attractive, sharp- tongued scientist. A loner who spurned suitors, Plavsic devoted herself to her research in plant diseases and elbowed her way into the department deanship, where she got her first taste of power. In the late 1980s, for the first time in her professional life, Plavsic was snubbed--passed over by Yugoslavia's prestigious Academy for Arts and Sciences. She turned swiftly to politics, becoming a prominent member of the nationalistic Serb Democratic Party (SDS) when it was formed in 1990. In November 1990 she and Nikolai Koljevic, a Shakespearean scholar at Sarajevo University, were elected Serb representatives on the rotating Bosnian presidency. She vacated her post in April 1992 when war broke out and traded laboratory for limousine, moving nine miles down the road to the breakaway Serbs' rural, wartime "capital" of Pale and assuming the post of vice president of Republika Srpska.

Plavsic's biology expertise was not altogether wasted during the war, however. She developed a "biological" theory of ethnic separatism, telling the Serb newspaper Borba that the cleansing of Muslims and Croats was a " natural phenomenon" and not a war crime.

In the early days of the conflict, Plavsic took to walking around in battle fatigues; she even had a Serb tank and armored personnel carrier named after her. She held a convoy of Muslim children hostage until her brother and 92- year-old mother were safely evacuated from Sarajevo and was photographed touring newly cleansed eastern Bosnia and planting a kiss on the cheek of Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic (a.k.a. "Arkan"), a gesture she later explained with the remark, "I always kiss the heroes." Commenting on the plight of Muslims crammed into ethnic ghettos, she said, "Muslims always live like that. They like it. We Serbs like a bit more room." And, if the establishment of lebensraum meant a few dead Serbs, that was acceptable. Early in the war, Plavsic advised a group of grieving Serb women, whose sons and husbands had been killed in the war, to save their tears. "Don't weep," she was quoted as saying. "This is only the beginning." Later, in an unforgettable statement, she proclaimed, "There are 12 million Serbs. We can afford to lose 6 million of them in battle." (During the war, a Belgrade joke had Plavsic climbing Mt. Everest in a party with six Serbs and six non-Serbs. When the group reaches the top, she whips out a gun and kills all the Serbs. The non-Serbs are shocked: "Why did you kill the Serbs?" they ask. "Because," Plavsic answers, "they are Serbs--and any land which contains dead Serbs automatically becomes Serb territory. Mt. Everest is now the highest peak in Greater Serbia.")

Neither the advice nor the ire of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic could tame the nationalistic fervor of the woman liberal Serbs call "Miss Necrophilia." When Milosevic traveled to Pale in May 1993 to sell the latest international peace plan to the Bosnian Serb parliament, Plavsic effected a lasting rift by refusing to shake his hand and asserting that her people could make up their own minds. After the Bosnian Serb parliament indeed rejected the plan, Milosevic denied Plavsic entry into Serbia, saying, "Such people, if they are not put in a hospital, must be kept from occupying any public function."

So perfidious was Plavsic during the war that she could make Karadzic look like an honest man. On a Bosnian Serb television program, Karadzic discussed the international ban on flights with his vice president: "Radovan, tell them that our airplanes are not flying any more!" Plavsic commanded. "How can I when everyone can see that they are?" Karadzic answered. "No, they're not!" she snapped. "They're flying like crazy!" Karadzic responded, visibly uncomfortable. "Just tell people they are flying to mark Aviation Day," she insisted.


Momcilo Krajisnik, Serb Representative to Bosnia's Joint Presidency

It was a prison term, not an academic rebuff, that probably planted the seed of resentment in Momcilo Krajisnik, the most powerful man in Republika Srpska. In all likelihood, the ubiquitous Krajisnik--whose bushy mono-brow makes him readily recognizable behind Karadzic in wartime photos--directed the Bosnian Serb war effort all along. David Owen, the plodding negotiator for the European Union, reports in his memoirs that, before deciding anything, Karadzic would look over his shoulder for Krajisnik's assent.

Krajisnik, now 52, was the pre-war director of one of Bosnia's largest state-run firms, Energopetrol, and went to prison in the 1980s for embezzlement. Like his partners in Pale, Krajisnik attributes any misfortune he suffered in the old Yugoslavia (including his jail term) to the fact that he was an oppressed Serb. When war erupted, he happily went from serving as speaker of the Bosnian parliament in Sarajevo to speaker of the self-styled Bosnian Serb parliament in Pale--an ethnically pure version of the Sarajevo assembly comprised of Serbs who walked out of the national parliament to protest Bosnia's declaration of independence. Until last March, he owned a farm in a rural suburb of the capital and bred cattle and pigs, but, under the Dayton Agreement, his property was transferred from Republika Srpska to Bosnian government control. Embittered, he is said to have helped spearhead the massive Serb exodus from Sarajevo last spring, which left whole quarters of the capital in flames.

Like Plavsic, Krajisnik has put his former profession to use, pocketing so much cash from arms and fuel smuggling that, last year at a Serb gathering in northern Bosnia, Bosnian Serb military leader and indicted war criminal Ratko Mladic singled Krajisnik out as a war profiteer and demanded that he leave the room. Though he had no public role in the seizure of the Muslim safe area of Srebrenica last summer, in the days leading up to the Serb attack, Krajisnik was a busy man--allegedly arranging, with his brother Mirko, to smuggle explosives and ammunition into Bosnia from a munitions factory in Serbia. When questioned about these activities, Krajisnik boasted publicly, " If I could ask you to publicize that one of the Serbs, in particular my brother, helped the Serbian people and imported the arms--or as you say smuggled them--I would be proud."

Krajisnik once enjoyed cordial relations with Belgrade, but, when the Serbian president froze him out of the peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, last year, handing him the final agreement (which stripped him of his farm) just minutes before a signing ceremony, the Bosnian Serb exploded and forgot himself on Bosnian Serb television. He described Dayton's maps as "bad, blackmailing and servile" and warned President Milosevic that "nobody ha d the right to give territories that we defended in blood."


Aleksa Buha, President of the ruling Serb Party

Before the war, Buha, now 55, was a professor of German philosophy (his specialties were Kant and Hegel) at Sarajevo University. Having lived in Germany, Belgium, Holland and France as a visiting scholar, Buha was tapped as Serb foreign minister in April 1992. The downside is that, stuck in rustic Pale ever since, he can publish his books only with a military printing company. His latest collection (available for sale in Pale, along with geese and guns) is a ruby red hardcover set of essays and speeches with titles such as "Against the Victory of Stupidity" and "How to Prevent Everything From Going to Hell."

During the war, it was Buha who often articulated the defense of Serb atrocities. When the photos of starving Muslim prisoners in Serb-run camps were released in August 1992, for example, he explained that the starvation was "not deliberate government policy. We don't have enough food to go around for the civilian population. People on the other side of the wire also suffer. " Last September, while nato bombed Serb positions, Buha exhibited his nuanced grasp of statecraft: "The international community can continue to bomb us until they kill us all."


Jovan Zametica, Political Consultant

If Plavsic is the spinster of Srpska, then Zametica, a 40-year-old bespectacled imp, is its spin doctor. Zametica, who was given the name "Omer" by his Muslim father and half-Serb, half-German mother, emigrated from Bosnia to England in his late teens; like the Turkish janissaries, he has been overcompensating for his "impure" blood ever since. Capitalizing on his connections and schooling--University of Liverpool (degree in history and politics, 1977), London School of Economics (Master's in international history, 1978), Cambridge University (Ph.D. research, tutorship)--this tweedy "neutral observer" (who changed his name from "Omer" to "John" while in England) wrote a series of anti-interventionist, Serb apologist tracts in the early days of the war that made him extremely popular with Whitehall. He even briefed the American ambassador in London on the Yugoslav conflict in October 1991. The zenith of Zametica's hand-to-mouth academic career came that same year, when he wrote the "Yugoslav Conflict," an Adelphi paper that was published by the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies. Laudatory Fleet Street reviews followed, which consecrated his monograph as the "well-crafted," "authoritative" gospel on the roots of the tragedy.

His many sponsors were shocked a few months later when Zametica turned up in Belgrade with the name "Jovan" and the job of mouthpiece for the Bosnian Serb cause--the Serb answer to suave, English-speaking Muslim senior officials. An official at the University of Westminster, where Zametica was then employed as a research fellow, issued a curt statement: "His research has come to an end."

I first met Zametica in Belgrade in August 1994 when, after Milosevic closed the border to the Bosnian Serbs, he was reduced to thumbing a lift to Pale in my car. ("I'm not fat, and I carry a small suitcase," he promised on the phone.) Three months later, in November 1994, he was living out the dream of every bullied schoolboy, telling U.N. Commander Lieutenant General Sir Michael Rose--the Sorbonne- and Oxford-educated knight--where to go: "I shall use very undiplomatic language," squealed Zametica. "The message is don't mess about. Don't f* around. If you hit us, it means war. Repeat. If you hit us, it means an all-out war."

Rose was duly chastened. "No one's messing around with anyone," he soothed. "We are merely trying to act as intermediaries and peace-keepers in a rather confused and difficult situation." To which Zametica replied: "I think you should use all your formidable intellect and authority back in London to state exactly what is at stake here."

Like the rest of the Pale clan, Zametica loves to lie. The difference, former tutors say, is that this Anglophile should know better. "Over the past few days," he declared last year in the aftermath of the fall of Srebrenica, " the world media, assisted and prompted by the Muslim authorities, have indulged in an orgy of uncritical reporting on the events in Srebrenica. Claims of torture, executions, rapes and deportations of Muslims are being repeated constantly without any independent confirmation. The truth is that none of the above mentioned has happened... Serbs treated the Muslim civilians well." More than 6,000 Muslim men and boys are now presumed to have been massacred by Bosnian Serb soldiers.

The problem with having Plavsic, Krajisnik, Buha and Zametica anywhere near Bosnia's joint institutions is not only that they will actively work to partition Bosnia, it's that they have a cannon fodder approach to their constituents. They simply do not give a damn about Serbs. (Bosnian Serb refugees who dare return to Muslim or Croat territory would "no longer be Serbs," Plavsic thundered at a recent rally, "but Turks or Catholics.")

Western leaders justified holding the recent elections with the erroneous reasoning that "if we build the joint institutions, the Serbs will come." The reality is that the current cast of Serb nationalists have spent the last half decade violating shoeless Joe Jackson's call to the plate and coining a call to arms of their own: "if they build it, we will destroy it."

Already Krajisnik, known during wartime negotiations as "Mister No" for his obstructionism, is refusing to convene the joint presidency to which he, Muslim rival Alija Izetbegovic and hard-line Croat Kresimir Zubak were elected. Though the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe rules were spelled out from the start, Krajisnik now says he will not allow Izetbegovic, the leading vote-getter, to serve a two-year term as chairman of the presidency. Krajisnik has also reiterated his demand that the new presidency be built in the industrial Sarajevo suburb of Dobrinja, which straddles the inter-entity boundary line. Predictably, he has also begun meeting privately with Zubak and reportedly conspiring to divide the country.

In fact Krajisnik's wish that only a "thin roof" will link the three ethnic groups meshes with the current interpretation of Dayton in Western capitals. Serbs will be allowed separate schools, armies and cultures; they will be required to share with non-Serbs transport and utility links, as well as something called an undivided "international personality." Though the three groups were supposed to employ a common currency, international civilian implementor Carl Bildt has already suggested that the new banknotes might carry different symbols in each region. "It is their country," Bildt said recently. "It is not for me or anyone else to tell them what to do."

The international community's hope is that the joint institutions will function just long enough to enable the forces of integration to take hold. However, the Pale Mafia--whose ideology has now been "democratically" enshrined, and who never signed the Dayton Agreement to begin with--simply will not allow those forces into their neighborhood. "Bosnia could have a higher standard of living than Hong Kong, and Serbs could have sanctions against them until well into the next century," one Pale minister told me, " and we Serbs still wouldn't choose Bosnia... That is why these elections will be a catastrophe for the international community."

Donald Cameron Watt, the Emeritus Professor of International History at LSE who once wrote letters of recommendation for Zametica, wrote his pupil an open letter last year: "Being soured off by disappointment is one thing. Becoming the mouthpiece of a man who regards mass murder and ethnic cleansing as normal means of warfare is another... You can look forward to years of contempt and loathing. Stay where you are and rot in the realization of what you have become. But do not, repeat not, expect us to forget or welcome you."

Unlike Professor Watt, the international community has willfully forgotten the deeds and goals of the men and women responsible for the last five years of war and indeed has reached out to embrace them.

It is true that people change. But these people won't.

Samantha Power has covered the war in Bosnia since 1993.

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By Samantha Power