Profile 13 Nov 15

Serb Extremist's Promotion Causes Anger in Bosnia

The election of Nikola Poplasen, a so-called 'Chetnik Duke', to the board of the Agency for Development of Higher Education of Bosnia and Herzegovina, has caused widespread shock.

Rodolfo Toe

Nikola Poplasen posing in Chetnik uniform in 1992.

Archive photo.

The appointment of Nikola Poplasen, a radical Serbian nationalist, to the management of the Agency for Development of Higher Education of Bosnia and Herzegovina has angered many in Bosnia.

The agency, created in 2007, is an independent authority responsible for the accreditation of higher education institutions and for ensuring respect for standards in the field of higher education.

Poplasen was elected to the post together with three other candidates by the House of Peoples of the Bosnian parliament on Tuesday.

Poplasen is widely considered an extreme Serbian nationalist. He founded the Bosnian branch of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party [Srpska Radikalna Stranka, SRS] in 1993.

The far-right party advocated the creation of a Greater Serbia and accused the Serbian Democratic Party led by Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial for war crimes at the Hague Tribunal, of being weak and under the influence of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Poplasen was proclaimed a Chetnik Vojvoda, or Duke, in 1994. The Chetniks were World War II Serbian Royalists who also advocated a Greater Serbian state. Many hardline Serbian militias in the 1990s began describing themselves as Chetniks.

The ducal title was awarded in recognition of his "merits" for preserving the national interests of the Serbs.

After the end of the 1992-5 war in Bosnia, Poplasen was elected President of Republika Srpska, Bosnia's Serbian-dominated entity, a post he occupied from 1998 to 1999, when the High Representative at the time, Carlos Westendorp, removed him.

In more recent years, Poplasen sat in the Senate of Republika Srpska for the Serbian Progressive Party. He was awarded the Order of the Republika Srpska, the highest decoration given by the entity, by Bosnian Serb President Milorad Dodik in 2012, marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the entity.

The nomination of Poplasen to the Agency for Higher Education has infuriated many Bosnians, especially members of the Bosniak community.

Some republished a notorious picture of him dressed in traditional Chetnik uniform, sharing a list of the members of the House of Peoples who voted for his candidature.

"Representatives of the SDA [the main Bosniak party] and the DF [the Democratic Front, a party which is supposed to represent a 'civic option' in Bosnia, voted in favour of Poplasen", Dragan Bursac, a columnist for the Banja Luka-based website BUKA, noted.

"This is an absurdity that should not surprise any citizen of this country," he added.

"We cannot understand how somebody who defined the European Union as a 'Fourth Reich that is committing genocide against the Serbian people' can be put in charge of an Agency that should guarantee respect for European standards in our academic system," Sabina Cudic, deputy president of the civic party Nasa Stranka, said.

"Now we have Poplasen sitting on the board of the Agency for Higher Education, I expect Vojislav Seselj to be appointed chief of the Direction for the European Integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina", she noted, referring to the head of the ultra-nationalist Serbian Radical Party.

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