Republika Srpska- Dayton and Democracy 5468-republika-srpska-dayton-and-democracyRepublika Srpska- Dayton and Democracy15 November 1998 The biggest surprise of the September general elections in Bosnia was the victory of Nikola Poplasen, leader of the extreme nationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), in the Republika Srpska presidential elections. Poplasen beat President Biljana Plavsic, a moderate who had been championed by the international community. In his first public appearances after the election, Poplasen made an effort to tone down his rhetoric. Excerpts from a 28 September interview with Senad Pecanin, editor in chief of the Sarajevo magazine Dani, follow.

Dani: Are you aware of the international community's disappointment with your election?
Poplasen: ... This obviously results from what has been attributed to the SRS and me personally, which has nothing to do with reality and my conduct and the SRS's [political] orientation thus far, and, especially, it has nothing to do with our intentions. ... In other words, none of this talk about the SRS's isolationism, the so-called ethnic cleansing, the so-called chauvinism, the so-called racism, is true. Those are nothing but lies. On the contrary, we are committed to openness, intensifying of all ties ... and we will not only respect the Dayton agreement but insist upon its implementation.

Dani: The Serbian Radical Party sees the future of Republika Srpska in its unity with Serbia and Montenegro, whereby the border with the [Bosniak-Croat] Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina would become a state border, and the border with Yugoslavia would be erased. I believe you recognize these words of yours, and I am interested in whether your appointment to the office of the president of Republika Srpska changes anything in that frequently reiterated position.
Poplasen: Some political or historical goals may be achieved in five, ten, or 20 years. I have never given up on [our] general political goals, [that is] historic goals of the Serbian people and the SRS. ... Within these [next] two years, the struggle for the Dayton agreement and for a Republika Srpska within the framework of the Dayton agreement is not in conflict with that citation you have read to me. The existence of the Serbian people in Republika Srpska and in other countries in the Balkans is possible and will be prosperous only on the condition that other peoples who live in the Balkans live in peace, and I would say, cooperating to a lesser or greater extent with the neighboring peoples, and there is nothing unusual about that. ...

Dani: But in this case, you are against the preservation of the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Poplasen: I didn't say that we are going to reject--where does it say so?

Dani: Right here: ... whereby the border with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina would become a state border, and the border with Yugoslavia would be erased.
Poplasen: Right, I'm talking about the long-term mandate. The Dayton peace agreement can be changed when the three peoples and the two entities agree to do so. ...

Dani: Would you object to erasing entity borders?
Poplasen: Well, see, you're constantly stressing the entity borders as state borders. According to the Dayton agreement, they are only imaginary lines. ...

Dani: Yes, but you know the cooperation between the entities is on the level of bad cooperation between two separate states.
Poplasen: We won't contest the joint functions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. ... According to Dayton, the equality of entities and peoples is guaranteed. ... The Dayton Bosnia and even the Dayton Republika Srpska are not in conflict with our long-term goals--we don't mind that. Why wouldn't we have good cooperation with the people we were in conflict with until yesterday? ... I cannot decide whether Republika Srpska will unite with Serbia, or whether Bosnia will become stronger, in ten years or so, but all the people who live here must make that decision in a legitimate and democratic way.

Dani: I saw your photograph in the foyer, probably from the battlefield. Did your combat experience help you gain a [chetnik] title [of vojvoda]?
Poplasen: Yes.

Dani: Were you a good fighter?
Poplasen: That's for others to say. Probably, since I got the title, I was. I was both a fighter and a commander on several occasions.

Dani: Will you, from the office you hold, make possible the extradition of Radovan Karadzic to the tribunal in The Hague?
Poplasen: One of the primary duties of the president of the republic is to respect the constitution and laws of the republic. Something like that is not envisaged in our laws.

Dani: Will you support the request for the rebuilding of the Ferhadija mosque in Banja Luka? [See Controversial Ruins, August.]
Poplasen: Why would I support it? The president of the republic does not make decisions on that.

Dani: He doesn't, but [the president] is very important in any case. What is your personal opinion?
Poplasen: The institutions that have to decide will make a decision on it.

Dani: If you are asked to speak your mind, what will you say?
Poplasen: I will say that I am not in charge, because I am not.

Dani: But I am very interested in your personal stance on the issue.
Poplasen: I believe that many churches should come first, and the reconstruction of any mosque is the Bosniaks' business. ... That is a religious right that we will not block either by laws or our conduct. I expect the same situation for other peoples in other areas.

Translated by Denisa Kostovic.

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