March 5, 1996 in Nation/World

Ethnic Harmony Candidate’s Theme Bosnia’s Former Prime Minister Could Change Nation’s Future

New York Times

In a campaign that may profoundly affect the future of this country, Bosnia’s former prime minister, Haris Silajdzic, is planning to run against President Alija Izetbegovic in elections this year on a platform of ethnic harmony and an end to religion-based politics.

His campaign will be a challenge not only to Izetbegovic, who is expected to run for another term despite recent health problems, but also to the assumption that this country will continue to be dominated by three political parties representing Serbs, Muslims, and Croats.

Since leaving the government last month, Silajdzic has been traveling around Bosnia in an effort to build support for a new party, which he hopes will attract support from Serbs and Croats as well as Muslims.

“We’re seeing a struggle for the soul of Bosnia,” said a foreign diplomat who is monitoring pre-election maneuvers.

Since Bosnia became independent from Yugoslavia in 1992, parties representing Serbs, Croats, and Muslims have become increasingly militant. Factions in all three parties favor dividing the country into three quasi- or fully independent republics, each dominated by a single group.

“I am afraid a death sentence will be passed on Bosnia in the name of nationalism,” Silajdzic said in an interview at the bare Sarajevo office that serves as his base. “It’s like a sickness. I want to fight this sickness with the view that Bosnia must remain one country based on respect for otherness.”

Silajdzic refused to criticize Izetbegovic directly. But when an interviewer pointed out that the president often appeals for tolerance, Silajdzic replied: “Declarations are cheap. Words are cheap.”

Silajdzic, 50, is seeking to put together a slate of candidates that would include moderate Serbs and Croats who share his opposition to ethnic politics and his admiration for what he called “the avantgarde spirit of the Bosnian people.”

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