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Monday, 7 October, 2002, 00:47 GMT 01:47 UK
Nationalists prosper in struggling Bosnia
A man cast his vote in Bosnian elections
But many voters stayed at home

When the leader of the largest party in Bosnia's outgoing parliament admits its election results are worse than predicted, it's a sure sign that the non-nationalists are in trouble.

Paddy Ashdown
Ashdown: Prospect of nationalist success had kept him up at night
The final results won't be available for days, perhaps weeks - one of the legacies of the 1992-95 war is a large population of out-of-country voters. An estimated 50,000 of those cast ballots in this weekend's poll.

But the early indications are that the nationalists - Serb, Croat and Muslim - who led Bosnia into war ten years ago are resurgent.

Turnout was low - 55%, down 10% from the last elections two years ago. That's likely to benefit the nationalist parties, whose supporters are more active and committed.

Disaffected voters unaligned with any party are more likely to stay away from the polls altogether.

And there's no shortage of disaffected voters.

Many people are angry and frustrated at the failure of politicians - of every stripe - to improve the economy.

Average wages are around $250 dollars a month; unemployment stands at 40 per cent.

This isn't what people expected from the post-war period.

Lagging

International aid is being cut back - the money which is still coming in has tougher conditions attached.

Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund threatened to withhold a standby loan of $100 million after the government of the Muslim-Croat Federation proposed an unsustainable increase for war veterans' pensions.


There is no real risk of another war - but there is a danger of a failed state

Since the end of the war in 1995, Bosnia has received more than $5 billion in reconstruction aid.

Despite this, it's now ranked economically behind Albania - in South Eastern Europe, only Moldova is poorer.

There are fewer than four million people in Bosnia.

Even in the old Yugoslavia it was one of the poorest regions.

Now, divided into two and sometimes three ethnically defined markets, it's falling further and further behind.

More worrying still, the gap between the two halves of post-war Bosnia - the Muslim-Croat Federation and the Bosnian Serb Republic - is widening.

In the Federation, the economy has stabilised and is showing small signs of growth in places.

In the Republika Srpska, it's getting worse.

The World Bank says the Republika Srpska is dragging down Bosnia's economic performance.

It's calling for the economies of the two post-war entities to be fully integrated, creating a bigger market and more opportunities.

Sleepless nights

But this integration is exactly what the nationalists, especially the Bosnian Serbs, seek to prevent.

Mirko Sarovic is the candidate of the main Bosnian Serb nationalist party, the SDS, for the Serb seat on Bosnia's three-member state presidency.

Mirko Sarovic
Mr Sarovic is not keen on integration
He has pledged to protect the autonomy of the Bosnian Serb entity from all encroachments by the state: a single economy, a single government, and especially a single army.

Meanwhile, the European Union and Nato are urging Bosnia to go in the opposite direction.

Barring a political earthquake, Mr Sarovic will be elected.

Once in power, his main aim will be to block the state government from functioning.

This should not be too difficult: under the outgoing non-nationalist administration, the state government had only really begun to function at all.

The chief international envoy in Bosnia, Paddy Ashdown, said before the elections that the thought of the nationalists returning to power kept him awake at night.

If so, he can expect many more sleepless nights to come.

Bosnia will continue to rely on its international overseers. Donors - with other demands on their resources, such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and in future perhaps even Iraq - will become ever more impatient, looking for a way out.

Meanwhile, the people of Bosnia struggle on, increasingly disengaged from the politicians who purport to represent them.

There is no real risk of another war - but there is a danger of a failed state.

And that could have repercussions, both for Bosnia's neighbours and for the rest of Europe.

Organised crime is flourishing: drugs, cigarettes, petrol, illegal migrants and women trafficked into prostitution are all smuggled through Bosnian territory.

Unstable, ethnically fractured and impoverished, Bosnia risks becoming a black hole in the region, and a byword for the failure of international intervention to rebuild a shattered country.

See also:

06 Oct 02 | Europe
04 Oct 02 | Europe
15 Jul 02 | Europe
01 Jul 02 | Europe
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