SAT, 03 JUN 1995 20:24:00 GMT
Union of Pale and Knin
Summary: The Serbs from Krajina and Bosnia are making attempts to create a single state, but so far discussions are all still on the level of a formal procedure. Essential issues have not been resolved yet, and the greatest barrier is Belgrade which is against the union. Babic is collecting points and strengthening his position.
AIM, Belgrade, June 1, 1995
Parliaments of the Serbs from Krajina and Bosnia have declared themselves in favour of the union, but it is difficult to determine the real range of this project. There are even reasons to assume that this is in fact rather a declarative readiness of the two "Western countries" to unite than an actual intention to create a new state with a single center of power.
Leaders from Pale and Knin have so far met twice - in mid May in Banjaluka and on May 31 in Bijeljina. The second meeting was held in the shadow of the airstrike of NATO forces, "hostage crisis" and threat of an intervention of international land forces, but despite everything, essential moves on the road towards creation of a single joint state which is expected to be called "United Republic of Srpska" have not been made. Questions of procedure are still discussed in general, such as the time of convening a joint session of the two parliaments, work of different committees and similar.
Key issues which refer to the manner of division of power and the system have not been resolved yet. For instance, it has not been decided yet how the composition of the "Constitutional Assembly" will be determined, that is, whether half of the delegates who will vote about the union and the future joint parliament will be from Knin and the other half from Pale, or the Bosnian Serbs who are the greater and the stronger partner will have more.
It was not resolved either what the internal structure of this state will be like, that is, the key dilemma - federation or a unitarian state with strong central power. Pale, as the stronger partner, advocates creation of a powerful unitarian state, while Knin emits dissonant voices. President of Krajina, Milan Martic supports the idea of Pale, but his cautious foreign minister whose influence is growing, Milan Babic, seems to be sceptical, but still has not said his last word.
Regrouping in Knin
The parliament of Krajina reached a formal decision about the union on May 20 in Borovo Selo, in Eastern Slavonia, and the parliament of Bosnian Serbs at its session in Banjaluka on May 23. The document adopted at the session of the Krajina parliament, however, contained a clause saying that the union would be "coordinated with the FR of Yugoslavia", completely diminishing the significance of the whole deal. This means that the union should practically be approved by Belgrade which at this moment has no interest for anything of the kind.
Belgrade has already shown its disinclination towards the "joint venture" Knin and Pale are engaged in, by inspiring the former first man of Krajina, Goran Hadzic, to proclaim some kind of an autonomous region in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem. In statements made on the occasion, Hadzic emphasized the stance that union without approval and support of Belgrade does not suit the "Eastern part of Krajina".
Prime minister of Krajina, Borislav Mikelic, who is known for being directly linked to the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, openly opposed the union. Mikelic's opposition was also, probably, the result of a stimulus from Belgrade which does not wish the union and strengthening of the links between the leader of Krajina, Milan Martic, and the leader of Bosnian Serbs, Radovan Karadzic.
Mikelic stepped forward with the thesis that Krajina, in case of union with the Bosnian Serbs, would become subject to the sanctions introduced by Belgrade against Pale. According to his assessment, Pale wish to "swallow" Knin and subordinate it to its will. He said that the interests of the mother country, Serbia and Yugoslavia, had to be taken into account, and that no partial union, without participation of Belgrade should be effectuated.
The prime minister's attempt to prevent voting about the decision on the union ended in a complete fiasco - the decision was adopted unanimously. In this attempt, he had probably expected assistance of Babic's Serb Democratic Party, but he was tricked. Mikelic is not popular among the Serbs from Krajina, so his speaking against the union just added fuel to the fire.
This was obviously the last attempt of the prime minister of Krajina to keep control in his hands. Right after he publicly disassociated himself from the decision on the union, Babic's Serb Democratic Party of Krajina issued a statement threatening that it would demand Mikelic's dismissal because he opposed the decision of the parliament in his public appearances. Last week, the parliament of Krajina formally relieved Mikelic of his post.
Union in statements only
Reaching the decision on the union can be interpreted as a political manoeuvre of the Krajina foreign minister and the leader of the most powerful parliamentary party Milan Babic. Babic who is undoubtedly at the moment the most important and most influential political figure in Krajina, by proposing such a decision and its voting in the parliament to a certain extent satisfied the desires of radical factions. At the same time, however, by squeezing the clause about the need for "coordination with the FR of Yugoslavia" into the text of the decision, the whole affair is diminished and opens a great manoeuvring space in relation to Belgrade and the President of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic.
After the session in Borovo Selo, Babic left for Belgrade where, according to unofficial information from Serb sources, he met with President Milosevic several times. He was also, it is certain, in Belgrade on May 22, the day after the intention of his party to demand Mikelic's dismissal was publicized.
Political observers in Belgrade close to the authorities of Krajina Serbs believe that thanks to this manoeuvre about the union, Babic in fact got rid of Mikelic, clearing the political ground around himself. In this way he remained the only one President Milosevic can seriously count on in Knin, and his position in both Belgrade and Knin thus improved greatly. Now he can participate in carrying out formal affairs linked to the union of "Western Serb countries" and wait for the outcome of the whole situation.
Head of diplomacy of Krajina will certainly not be ready to obey each and every order issued by Milosevic, as Mikelic mostly did, while he discharged duties of some kind of a governor. It will be more difficult with Babic and Belgrade will be forced to pay much more attention to his political stance.
On the other hand, the pragmatic Babic will certainly not allow the link with Belgrade to be completely broken. He should not be observed as a new moderate variant of Krajina politicians either, one who is ready for compromises with Croatia. According to his statements made so far, he is not ready for any form of reintegration of the territory of Krajina into Croatia and he demands preservation of complete independence of the state proclaimed by the Serbs from Krajina.
Plainly speaking, the manoeuvre with proclamation of the union, gave Knin and Babic some space for slowing down and maintaining the status quo. The union will not be effectuated if that should bring about interruption of relations with Belgrade, and it will remain a permanently open possibility in case of a new threat of intervention of Croat forces.