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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Serbs block road to Bosnian unity
By Nicholas Walton
BBC News, Sarajevo

Haris Silajdzic
Haris Silajdzic has a vision of a unified country
At an indoor election rally in Sarajevo's concrete Skenderija sports centre a couple of weeks ago, an excited crowd filed in, waving banners and Bosnian flags.

One group, looking slightly unnerved by the noise and occasion, carried placards saying they were a delegation of Roma from the town of Zenica.

The rally was for the Party for Bosnia-Hercegovina, and it had all the glitz of a modern European election campaign. On a bank of television screens, archive pictures of the party's leader, Haris Silajdzic, flashed up.

Mr Silajdzic became an international figure during the war of the early 1990s, serving as the country's embattled foreign minister.

The wartime pictures on the screen showed a slightly bedraggled politician desperately trying to find a diplomatic way out of the bloody mess of the Bosnian War.

The Haris Silajdzic of 2006 looks like a very different man. Campaign posters show the polished head and shoulders of somebody so immaculately turned out and coiffed that he could easily be an American televangelist.

Nationalism sidelined?

His party campaigned on a platform of ridding Bosnia of its complicated political divisions. After the war the country was split into two halves - the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska.

The message - to think of Bosnia Hercegovina as a whole, rather than looking to the different ethnic constituents - has evidently been a successful one with Muslim voters.

A Bosnian Serb during campaigning for Bosnian elections
Bosnian Serbs have voted to maintain the status quo

Mr Silajdzic will now be the Muslim member of the country's presidency, beating off the challenge of the incumbent, Sulejman Tihic of the more explicitly Islamic SDA party.

Does this signal a shift away from nationalist politics in Bosnia? It probably does, but only for some.

Many of the country's citizens are fed up with a stuttering economy, high unemployment and ethnic division.

Many are also sceptical of politicians whom they see as unworthy of the responsibility of running the country when the international community plans to hand over power next year.

Compromise distant

In the Croat areas of the country the results suggest that the nationalist HDZ, which has long held power in a firm grip, could also be losing ground.

But up in Republika Srpska the picture is different. The clear winner of the Serb part of the presidency is Nebojsa Radmanovic. The leader of his party is the influential Milorad Dodik.

Mr Dodik has been campaigning heavily for a referendum on the future of Republika Srpska - not on whether it should hand over power to a more centralised Bosnian government, but whether it should be allowed to leave Bosnia altogether.

These election results suggest that many Bosnian Serbs agree with Mr Dodik's views.

That is likely to cause a great deal of trouble. Bosnia has largely been run by the international community since the war. The high representative, Christian Schwarz Schilling, now wants to hand over many of his powers to local politicians next year.

But for that to happen, difficult constitutional compromises between Bosnia's ethnic groups need to be made, with the two entities handing back power to a more centralised government.

With the Bosnian Serbs seemingly giving a powerful mandate to their politicians to reject such compromise, any agreement looks like being a long way off.

Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
18 Jun 06 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Bosnia-Hercegovina
15 Mar 06 |  Country profiles

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