Elections To Bolster Bosnian Divisions

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Just look at the math, says Momcilo Cvjetinovic, local head of the Bosnian Serb political party whose army conquered this once-Moslem town last year.

Thanks to more than 15,000 Serbian refugees who have moved into the deserted apartments of Srebrenica, plus 20,000 who can be bused in from elsewhere, it will be easy to outvote any Moslems who might show up for Saturday's countrywide elections.

"Use mathematics and you will see they have no chance,'' Cvjetinovic explains confidently in his office in Srebrenica City Hall, right next to the office of the appointed Bosnian Serb mayor.

The Moslems here once numbered 28,000. But most were deported. And an estimated 8,000 are dead or missing, many possibly lying in nearby mass graves.

About 150 miles across Bosnia-Herzegovina to the west, Bosnian Croat leaders in Drvar aren't even bothering with number-crunching.

All sides in the city see victory for the Croatian Democratic Union, the entrenched nationalist party of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, as a foregone conclusion. Opposition parties haven't delivered a speech in Drvar, let alone waged a serious campaign.

All but 82 of the 17,000 Bosnian Serbs who once lived in the city fled last year, when the Croatian and Bosnian Croat armies captured the region in a final offensive of the 3 1/2-year Bosnian war. Since then, thousands of Bosnian Croat refugees elections will give nationalist leaders what they now crave most: a seal of legitimacy for their ethnic engineering. The endorsement will come in the first countrywide voting since an ill-fated referendum on independence from the former Yugoslav federation in 1992 unraveled into civil war.

Bosnians will choose a three-person presidency for the entire nation and executive and legislative leaders for each half. But voters in both towns have been offered little or no choice in the matter. Exhausted, embittered and uninformed, they say their ballots will be cast along strict lines of ethnicity, just as their political leaders have instructed them to do. Serbs will vote for Serbs, Croats for Croats, Moslems for Moslems.

Election rules are stacked against nonconformists: In Serb-controlled Srebrenica, names of Moslem and Croat candidates for president will not appear on the ballot; in Croat-controlled Drvar, Serb names will be missing. And the main ethnic parties so dominate the political landscape that there is little choice even within ethnic groups.

At Drvar city hall, it is impossible to see through the front window because of campaign posters of one party -- the Croatian Democratic Union. Inside, the official city bulletin board is covered with them, as are hallways and the offices of most city officials.

On a table at Srebrenica city hall lies a stack of new identity cards for members of one party -- the Serbian Democratic Party. Delivered just the day before, the cards are signed by Radovan Karadzic, party founder and indicted war crimes suspect who supposedly is banned from public politics.

Karadzic stands accused of genocide in the fall of the city, which after Saturday's vote will formally belong to his Bosnian Serb state -- and be run by his elected party.

"The lack of real political competition is an obvious concern,'' said John Graham, senior elections officer for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is overseeing the vote. "The objective should be the development of a multiparty system.''

For Cvjetinovic, the Serbian Democratic Party chieftain, and other politicians, Saturday's voting will be the strategic final step in jury-rigging a nation. The party, known as SDS, casts itself as the builder of a united Republika Srpska -- the Bosnian Serb Republic. Voting for anyone else is unpatriotic.

"It is in our best interest that elections happen normally so that we confirm what we achieved in the war,'' said Cvjetinovic, 33.

"We have to defend our own country so that we can unite with the countries we want to: Serbia, Montenegro [constituents of the rump Yugoslavia], one day maybe Macedonia.''

An estimated 5,000 Croats from 42 towns, most of them in Moslem-controlled central Bosnia, began resettling in Drvar in October, when fires still smoldered in buildings and confused farm animals roamed the streets. For some, the apartments assigned to them by municipal authorities were their first real homes in four years, gloomy but secure.

The path to permanent shelter was cleared by the Croatian and Bosnian Croat armies, both with strong links to the Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ. About 2,500 Bosnian Croat soldiers are still deployed in the town; many have moved their families there. They remain fiercely loyal to the HDZ, and their presence looms over the town like a thick fog.

"If you have been bitten by a snake, you are afraid when you see a salamander,'' said Janja Martinovic, 43, a mother of two standing in the cold rain at the recent HDZ rally. "We don't know much about politics, but we know what we have to do.''

If politicians see strategy in the elections, others look for hope and stability. For many in both Srebrenica and Drvar, the elections are only secondary to the basics of survival and recovery.

"Everybody is hoping the elections will make things better, make all this stop,'' said Miroslav Kapetanovic, a refugee in Srebrenica from the Sarajevo suburb of Ilijas. "The war is over, but there is still too much tension. Everybody wants to go back to our old standard of living. Doors used to be open to us. We could go anywhere we wanted. Now all doors are closed for Serbs.''

Kapetanovic and his family fled their little farm outside Sarajevo early this year, just before the town was transferred from Serbian to Moslem-Croat control as part of the 1995 Dayton, Ohio, peace agreement's attempt to reunify the Bosnian capital.

He came to Srebrenica because its homes, unlike most available housing, still had roofs. He works 15 hours a day, tending a small grocery store, for $65 a month.

Unlike the hardline Serbian nationalists, Kapetanovic, 37, and a father of two, is willing to live in a union called Bosnia-Herzegovina -- as long as the Bosnian Serbs' Republika Srpska enjoys autonomy.

"We can live next to each other but not together. Maybe our children will be able to live together one day, but not us, not now.''

He will hold his nose and vote for the Serbian Democratic Party, he said, because he has not seen a better alternative. "The best would be not to vote at all, but the Moslems will vote, and if we don't vote, then they'd [outvote] us.

In Drvar, the Rev. Kazimir Visaticki, the parish priest, was near tears. A desperate woman with three small children had just arrived in town and needed a stove to heat her apartment. The church had given away the last one a week earlier. He had a waiting list of 12 shivering families.

Visaticki was tempted to hand over his own stove, but then realized he would be of little use to the 1,722 families who turn every month to his Catholic church for food, clothing and other relief. He wrote down the woman's name and politely turned her away; two days later, he said, he still could not get her out of his mind.

Outside, the sound of axes splitting wood filled the cool September air. Drvar is a lumber town, but there is a frantic shortage of firewood. Few people can afford to hire a truck to haul logs from the mountains. Elderly refugees cannot muster the strength to chop them. Residents who do manage to stockpile wood find it has been stolen overnight.

"I am really worried,'' said Visaticki, himself a refugee from a Serb-controlled village near Banja Luka. "There is not enough food, there is not enough clothing and there is not enough firewood. And people keep pouring into town every day.''

Will the elections help?

Visaticki winces. He does not want to talk politics. A parade of HDZ politicians visited him just before their rally in Drvar.

"They just wrote down my problems the same way you are doing,'' he said.

Visaticki tells a reporter. "But I need concrete assistance. When people first started coming here, there were still pigs and cows around. They had meat to eat. Now there is nothing.''

"These elections are just a formal thing. Everything has been decided,'' said Jozo Maric, 32, an HDZ loyalist who flies a Republic of Croatia flag over his cafe on Drvar's main street. "We remember the days of predetermined elections, and this is no different. This is not democracy.''

As in the old days, Maric and others note, there is an information void concerning opposition activities.

International election officials say there are four parties competing for seats in the cantonal assembly that will represent the region encompassing Drvar, but no one in town seems to know about them.