Thursday, Sept. 12, 1996
Yesterday we had the final weekly panel of the OSCE “Democratization Center.” It was open to journalists and other mortals, but off the record. The title was, “Are we ready for E-day?” (“E” stands for elections, of course.) OSCE’s answer was an emphatic “yes.” The answer from the International Crisis Group was an emphatic “no.” So the panel, which included the two OSCE representatives and Hrair Balian, our legal adviser at ICG, was animated, to say the least. I am not allowed to quote from it, not the words, anyway, but let’s just say that OSCE’s theme song sounded a lot like Beethoven’s Fifth, very triumphant, while Hrair’s lonely voice of reason was backed by a chorus of Cassandras in the audience. I cannot reveal who they were; my lips are sealed. The OSCE election team seems very happy with itself. The OSCE’s human-rights team is probably less so, since election day promises to bring more restrictions on freedom of movement than anything else.
The journalists covering the event–and there are hordes of them–get the positive spin/official line at the morning briefing and flock to the International Crisis Group immediately afterward for the “on the other hand” paragraph or sound bite. Yesterday, we were visited by four television crews and two dozen writers. It is incredible how high a demand there is for us to state the obvious on the record. One agency reporter told me that going to the IFOR briefing before visiting ICG is like watching cartoons before a feature film.
The morning press conference is pretty stale, probably because, with the exception of Kris Janowski, who represents the high commissioner for refugees (the darling of the press corps), everyone on the panel is busily trying to dodge the same difficult questions about minor and major mishaps and the general lack of resolve to capture indicted war criminals or even to enforce basic human rights.
I remember back in 1992, when war in Bosnia first broke out, press conferences used to be rather friendly events under Spartan conditions. Everyone on the panel and in the audience wore flak jackets, sometimes helmets, and lived in almost constant danger. These days, the conferences have all the spontaneity of an American political convention.
Today, there’s a training session for the international monitors. ICG has almost 200 monitors working under its auspices, most of them taken from nongovernmental organizations. It is the best-informed group around. These people understand the situation, because they’ve operated here for some time, and they often speak the language. We will be reporting to Mr. Ed Van Thijn, coordinator of international monitors, who then will deliver his verdict as to whether the elections were free and fair and whether they can be certified.
Tomorrow evening, we will all be sent to our monitoring positions. The teams usually consist of four people: two foreign monitors, a translator, and a driver. I’m in a mobile team with Chris Bennett, our second political analyst, a British fellow who’s great company on the road (we tried each other out in Republika Srpska). We both speak the local language and will drive ourselves, so we’ll remain a duo. We’ll operate out of Doboj, a town under Bosnian Serb control. It could be a hot spot, because a lot of Bosniaks have been ethnically cleansed from Doboj and will now be coming back to vote.
The IFOR soldiers in Doboj calculate that as many as 20,000 people could try to cross into the town to vote. From Tesanj, where most of these Bosniaks live, there’s just one road, and only vehicles with at least eight people will be allowed through–only buses and trucks, in other words. Even if those people were crammed 100 passengers to a bus, it would still take 200 buses. The security plan requires the soldiers search the buses and their occupants for weapons and political paraphernalia. Jan Urban from the Open Media Research Institute figures that if they gave each person six seconds to be searched, they would still have to spend 33 hours to check them all. The polling stations will be open for 12 hours. We ARE ready for E-day, aren’t we?