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Bosnian Serbs Renew Nationalist Rhetoric in Run-up to Election


Bosnia-Herzegovina holds parliamentary elections on October 1, and a rise in nationalist rhetoric has drawn concern from the European Union. In Serbia, observers have noted nationalist sentiment being voiced by Bosnian Serb politicians.

Recent suggestions by the prime minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Milorad Dodik, that Bosnian Serbs do not see their future as part of Bosnia-Herzegovina has raised concern in the West, which is pushing for a strong central government.

Since the end of the war in 1995, Bosnia-Herzegovina has been comprised of two entities, a Serb Republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.

In Bosnia's divisive election campaign, some Muslim, or Bosniak politicians have suggested the Bosnian Serb republic could not exist indefinitely, because they say it was established on the basis of genocide.

Leaders in Serbia have not injected themselves into the Bosnian election campaign.

Moderate nationalist Dodik has surprised some by calling for Bosnian Serbs to be able to vote in elections in neighboring Serbia. Bosnian Croats already have dual citizenship and are permitted to vote in Croatia.

Seska Stanojlovic is foreign editor of the news weekly, Vreme, in Belgrade.

She says, for Serbs, the situation in Bosnia is directly linked to what is likely to happen in Kosovo, the Albanian majority U.N.-administered province that is seeking independence from Serbia.

Stanojlovic believes that, if Kosovo is put on a path to independence, Serbian leaders could join in calling for a referendum among Serbs in Bosnia, an idea that has been floated by Dodik.

"They think this is the right moment to publicly say that Republika Srpska has the same right as the Kosovo Albanians have now," said Seska Stanojlovic.

Other analysts say Serbia has set itself on a course to join the European Union and western institutions, and opposes Bosnian Serb secession. Serbia is under pressure to turn over Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

International efforts to strengthen Bosnia's weak central government came close to success earlier this year, as political parties in both entities endorsed a plan advanced by leading politicians with the assistance of U.S. diplomats. That plan narrowly failed to win parliamentary endorsement, and has now been set back by the divisive electoral campaign.

Stability in both Kosovo and Bosnia is provided by international peacekeepers. In Bosnia NATO has already handed over security responsibilities to a European Union-led force. A larger NATO-led force is in Kosovo, whose status will be discussed this week at the United Nations in New York.

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