Karadzic’s party crushing opposition before elections

BANJA LUKA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — They live with death threats and their homes have been bombed. The government cuts their electricity and thugs hurl tear gas canisters during their rallies.
Life as an opposition candidate in Bosnia’s “Republika Srpska” is dangerous.
Bosnia’s complex elections — to be held under international supervision on Sept. 14 — are the first since post-Communist balloting in 1990 that put ethnic-based parties in power and led Muslims, Serbs and Croats into a four-year war.
International officials view the elections as a major step toward reuniting Bosnia, but the continuing strength of nationalist parties creates the danger they will only further divide the country.
If the ruling ultra-nationalist Serbian Democratic Party or the rival Muslim and Croat nationalist parties win in the parts of Bosnia under their control, it could mean a new war or de facto partition of the country.
As the elections approach, the Serbian Democratic Party is intensifying its campaign of intimidation and even terror against its opponents, opposition leaders contend.
“Without the war, they are rapidly losing influence among the Serb people, and they fear they might lose the elections,” said opposition Liberal Party leader Miodrag Zivanovic.
“They are trying to make it up by intimidating our members and supporters in a classic terror campaign.”
The SDS dismisses the accusations.
“There is nothing communists will stop at to grab power,” said Biljana Plavsic, who replaced Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic as the leader of Republika Srpska, the official name for the Serb-ruled section of Bosnia.
The SDS brands its most serious challenger, the Socialists, as communists, and other opposition groups as traitors for allegedly seeking the reunification of Bosnia.
The SDS’ toughest challenger in a 24-party field is the Socialist Party, widely thought to be financed by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.
“There will be no more Republika Srpska or the Serb people” if the opposition wins, the favorite SDS slogan insists.
“It’s like (President) Clinton claiming that if he loses, America and Americans would vanish,” said Predrag Radic, the mayor of Banja Luka and a former Karadzic ally who now heads a center-right coalition.
Although Karadzic resigned as SDS head under international pressure last month, opposition parties suspect he is orchestrating the party’s campaign from the shadows.
“No one can make any move without consulting with him,” said Radic, speaking softly out of fear that his downtown offices were bugged.
Zivanovic and other opposition leaders in this northwestern Bosnian Serb stronghold say they have received anonymous death threats for criticizing and opposing the ruling party.
They report incidents of beatings, bombings of their homes, obscene overnight phone calls and mud-slinging during their few presentations on state television — the only channel.
“All those with some chances of winning are proclaimed enemies of the Serb people, like we are the black plague,” Socialist leader Zivko Radisic said.
Radisic noted that callers to talk shows regularly cite intimate details from opposition leaders’ lives — material that could come only from secret police files.
“Perfection cannot be expected after four years of war,” Serb leader Plavsic replied, referring to the state-run media. The media holds a near-monopoly in Serb-held Bosnia and regularly brands opposition politicians “traitors” who want to reunite Bosnia.
Last Sunday, an explosive device was found under the table where Socialist leader Radisic was to sit at an opposition meeting in Brcko, northern Bosnia. The building was cleared and the device destroyed.
And last month, tear gas canisters were hurled at opposition rallies throughout Bosnia. A hand grenade destroyed the house of an opposition leader in the southern town of Trebinje. Thugs often attack opposition rallies with sticks and stones.