Day E Plus One
Monday, Sept. 16, 1996
The dateline reflects the fact that I cannot think or speak about anything other than these elections. But neither can anyone else, so at least we’re not boring each other. Mr. Robert Frowick made several upbeat declarations before the day was even over. I don’t quite understand how he could say that the elections were “almost entirely free of abuse” before the international observers’ reports had even been brought to Sarajevo, let alone read and analyzed. Unless he was planning to say that no matter what happened. Could that be the case?
I missed that particular press conference because we spent the whole day crossing back and forth over the boundary line to monitor the voting by displaced people. Our duo turned into a troika. Chris Bennett and I were joined by Samantha Power, my best Bosnia buddy, who rushed in from Harvard Law School for a week, slept three hours a night, and is flying off right now.
Richard Holbrooke and a whole lot of other important Americans, congressmen, and others came here to observe the elections. They’ve been here for more than 24 hours and observed some “spontaneously” chosen polling stations, and they just knew that everything went fine. Holbrooke said, “We have anecdotal evidence,” then said the turnout had been from 60 percent to 70 percent. Now this is an astonishing figure, not because it is low or high, but because it is a figure. You see, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is organizing the elections here, doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what the total eligible population is (“perhaps 2.4 [million] or 2.9 million people,” said Director General of Elections Jeff Fischer rather lightheartedly) or how many people voted, so it is sort of strange to divide an unknown figure by unknown figure and arrive at 60 percent, isn’t it? Unless the turnout was decided beforehand. Could that be the case?
In the area where our troika was operating, around Doboj, the voting was far from free and fair, although there was no violence. The polling stations for displaced people from the Bosniak-Croat Federation who wanted to vote in Republika Srpska were situated just a few kilometers beyond the IEBL, the inter-entity boundary line, the former front line. Going farther was too risky. Some freedom of movement.
There were a lot of Serb policemen around, and Bosniaks were herded into a bus (one vehicle per hour), driven across the IEBL, allowed to vote, then taken out without even having a chance to walk off the muddy path (it rained heavily last week) lined by Serb cops. This may have been the ultimate politically neutral environment: The voting went so slowly that many Bosniaks we saw waiting just gave up on the idea altogether. (Another mathematical miracle: Sunday, it was announced that 24,000 displaced persons crossed the IEBL to vote. Today, Monday, the figure was corrected at the press conference to be something like 14,000. More wishful thinking or just miscalculation?)
We spent the whole day watching minor and major irregularities. (Minor, like a polling station official telling a voter: “If you don’t use the ballot, just give it to me, I’ll take care of it.” But I caught the little scumbag, even got his name. Or major, like over 3,000 Serb refugees now living in rump Yugoslavia bused straight to a town of Derventa from two little towns and told to vote there or lose their refugee status. This is more than tampering; this is fraud in white gloves.) Meanwhile we were listening to the BBC, which reported that the OSCE was happy with itself and with the elections. Sunday morning, the other observers, some of them totally new to the country, gave their reports. One woman in our region said that there was an atmosphere of welcome for the displaced people: I wondered whether she meant the line of Serb cops watching over Bosniaks trudging through the mud to vote, or perhaps the barbed-wire tunnels at the other secure crossing point. The arrangements for displaced Bosniaks to vote in Republika Srpska were in fact a cross between Potemkin villages and concentration camps.
The OSCE didn’t show much tact in choosing the sites for the Bosniak polling stations. In Foca, the station was located at a former Bosniak execution site, where the bullet holes were apparently still visible. The same thing happened in Lazete near Zvornik, where in 1992, Bosniaks were rounded up and shot by Serbs. Oh brother!