Bosnia: election results favorable Washington relieved: Serbs seem to accept Muslim chairmanship of tripartite presidency.

September 20, 1996

THE PRESIDENT of Bosnia, as confirmed by U.S.-sponsored elections, is a Muslim -- and therein lies some hope for eventual peace at the end of a long, twisted road.

Like the Serb and Croat leaders who share a cumbersome tripartite presidency, Alija Izetbegovic favors the kind of fervent nationalism that plunged the Balkan nation into 3 1/2 years of civil war. But unlike his counterparts, he saw self-interest in a unified country dominated by its Muslim majority. The Serb and Croat members elected to the presidency campaigned in favor of partition and eventual union with "Mother Serbia" and "Mother Croatia."

The results from Saturday's fateful election indicate that Mr. Izetbegovic's Muslim followers voted smart. They piled up the vote in the Muslim-Croat sector of Bosnia while sending thousands of Muslims into the Serb sector to vote for Serb moderates who whittled away at the margin for breakaway nationalists.

This insured Mr. Izetbegovic's victory over Serb hardliner Momcilo Krajisnik who was soon advising Bosnian Serbs they must give up their dream of union with Belgrade for now. "Utopia has cost us both too much blood," he said. "If we are not realistic, we have no future."

Mr. Krajisnik and his Croat counterpart, Kresimir Zubak, might still throttle the three-man presidency at birth. But the Clinton administration, having taken a political risk for peace, is putting tremendous pressure on the Bosnian Serbs. It has virtually denied them any of the $558 million in World Bank aid that has flowed into the Muslim-Croat sector. And it has let Slobodan Milosevic, president of the Republic of Serbia, know that international economic sanctions imposed on him for instigating the civil war will be lifted only so long as the peace process continues.

While these intricate Balkan maneuvers may be confusing, their implications are simple enough. If the whole thing collapses, the United States and its European allies might leave the Muslims, Serbs and Croats to their fate. NATO will have failed its biggest post-Cold War undertaking and U.S. isolationism would be encouraged. But if violence is avoided and Bosnia's hostile tribes accept de facto partition under a facade of unity, a follow-on international force of less than half the present 50,000-member contingent might stay on indefinitely. U.S. officials talk of a kind of Cyprus, writ large.

This is a lot less than a triumphant march toward democracy. But the election outcome is, nevertheless, cause for satisfaction.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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