'Black' alliance strikes a chord

Bosnia elections: Unlikely coalition has fun at expense of the nationalists
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The Independent Online
This is the single-issue election to beat them all, a Bosnian campaign in which the only question is: are you one of us or one of them?

There are dozens of parties running, but only three count: the Muslim SDA, the Croat HDZ and the Serb SDS - or so the leaders of Bosnia's warring factions believe. A poster printed by the SDA, which led Bosnia's wartime government, says it all: "The Croats know what to do, the Serbs know what to do, what about YOU?"

Contrary to the beliefs of those who wrote the Dayton peace plan, there are Bosnian citizens who choose not to vote along ethnic lines and they turn to the United List, a coalition of five opposition parties with a black humour that helped the big cities survive siege.

Their slogan is: "We managed to unite ourselves and we will unite Bosnia." That union is an achievement, given that the coalition includes two leftist parties, one from the centre, and two from the right, and involves Serbs, Muslims and Croats. Their symbol is an alarm clock, hands stuck at 11.59. "We wanted to show people that it is the last chance to vote for a better future," said Muhamed Brkic, vice-president of the Social Democratic Party, a List member. He knows that his side cannot win, but supporters are enjoying themselves at the expense of the nationalist behemoths - although only on the territory of the Muslim-Croat Federation, since they are unable to venture into the Srpska Republic, the entity held by separatist Serbs.

A leaflet addressed to first-time voters addresses burning questions: Can you vote if you are an adult with no sexual experience? If you don't vote you will be screwed anyway. Who should I vote for and why? For the United List because they are not as bad as the others ... and who should I vote against? Against those who won the last election. They promised to take us to Europe, but they did not say it would be in a wheelchair.

At a cheerful rally held on Sarajevo's main street, some 7,000 voters turned out to hear List candidates. "They bombed us and bombarded us with propaganda to persuade us that we cannot live together, but they did not succeed because you stayed here to defend Sarajevo and to convince us that three nations can still live together," said Dragan Vikic, a Serb who commanded a Bosnian military unit and is recognised as a hero.

A young Serb woman said she would vote for the List despite certain failure. "They will not win because most people are going to vote for these guys," she said, pointing to a cable sagging under SDA posters. Mr Brkic is not even sure the group will win Sarajevo and Tuzla, whose mayor, Salim Beslagic, is a List candidate, because although the party will do well among the educated,urban types, it will not claim the suburbs or the countryside, where people will vote along ethnic lines.

A middle-aged man in a Tuzla shop said he was voting for the United List and identified himself as Mayor Beslagic's brother. "I'm not voting for my brother, but for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina who have suffered so much," Alija Beslagic said. "During the war, the local government kept Tuzla multi-ethnic and multi-confessional, and we want Bosnia to be like that."

Even in Tuzla there is some anxiety about being seen to support the List against the SDA. Three burly young men at a cafe in the square where a Serb shell landed in May 1995, killing 71, were hesitant to discuss the elections. But Izo, a Muslim, eventually said: "Intelligence builds a country," and we knew we had found List supporters.