Bosnia Vote Is Only the Start Of Mending War-Torn Nation
Across Bosnia-Herzegovina, international peacekeepers and election monitors are preparing for their most difficult logistical feat to date: "E-Day," the nickname given to tomorrow's general elections.
An estimated 200,000 voters - mostly Muslims - are expected to cross unfriendly ethnic lines to cast their ballots in the towns from which they were expelled during Bosnia's recent war. And the NATO-led peace implementation force (IFOR) aims to keep all from harm.
Special buses, some traveling through corridors lined with barbed-wire fences to keep antagonistic ethnic groups separate, will transport voters across 19 checkpoints between the two Bosnian entities, Republica Srpska and the Bosnian-Croat Federation.
But the results of the election may prove even more complicated than the vote itself. With nationalist parties in all three ethnic communities expected to dominate, the task of keeping Bosnia together may get harder rather than easier.
For instance, the Serbian Democratic Party, which dominates the Bosnian Serb region, calls for a postelection partition of Bosnia. And in campaign rallies and public statements the party has continued to heap praise on their censured leader Radovan Karadzic, the man accused of engineering Bosnia's genocidal war for ethnic purity.
"The [ethnic] cleansing club is up for election," says Kris Janowski, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "Our fear is that the elections will put the people responsible for war and ethnic cleansing in power, and the victims will once again be the losers."
The international effort in Bosnia is massive. About 100,000 civilian and military personnel are keeping peace, administering the international venture, rebuilding infrastructure, and sponsoring a complicated national election.
But many say the effort has gone smoothly precisely because the international community has shied away from enforcing key provisions in the 1995 Dayton peace accord. Top among them: the arrest of those like Mr. Karadzic, who have been indicted for war crimes. Critics say IFOR worries it will upset a carefully balanced apple cart.
On the eve of elections, Bosnia remains divided into two ethnically based countries, just as those who waged the war wanted it.
"A war psychology still reigns here, which entrenches the nationalist position. People are looking for leaders who will protect them from the Croats or Serbs or Muslims," says political analyst Chris Bennett of the International Crisis Group.
Meanwhile, Western officials are trying to put a positive spin on events. The US has flown in a gaggle of additional press officers to impress its interpretation on the US media: The elections, while less than perfect, are a positive step; only through timely creation of all-Bosnia government structures can leaders begin working toward common solutions.
"These elections are being held primarily for the benefit of the international community," says Ibrahim Spahic, presidential candidate for the opposition Civic Democratic Party.
The only hope, he says, is if "the maximum number of parties gain representation in the parliament, since the nationalists will not cooperate with one another."