Comment 22 Mar 12

Zeljko Komsic, All Teeth but No Backbone

Bosnians are still puzzling over why the popular and populist Social Democrat quit ‘out of principle’ on Monday – only to dump those same principles and come back a mere two days later.

Eldin Hadzovic

Zeljko Komsic’s burlesque resignation-and-then-comeback to all functions in the strongest party in Bosnia, the Social Democratic Party, SDP, has confirmed suspicions that the crisis at the heart of the Social Democrats is essentially down to the autocratic behaviour of the party boss, Zlatko Lagumdzija.

Komsic, the ethnic Croat member of Bosnia’s three-man presidency and a respected vice-president of the SDP, submitted his “irrevocable resignation” on last Monday, describing his move as “the only logical one”, while promising to continue the fight for the principles of social democracy.

At first, it looked like Komsic decided not to be a mere decoration in the party anymore.

But, only two days later, he withdrew his resignation, apparently out of deference to a decision of the party presidency on Wednesday not to accept it. The SDP Presidency unanimously rejected Komsic’s resignation. Without any public explanation, in the same way that he had resigned, Komsic claimed that he was only following the decision of the SDP leadership.

Earlier, while the Bosnian public had been speculating that Lagumdzija’s support for Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic’s candidacy for the post of UN General Assembly President might be the reason for quitting, Komsic had refused to go into details, maintaining that he made his move “out of principles”.

If indeed the principles that Komsic advocated were taken into account – together with autocratic manner in which the party has been run for the last decade, not to mention the results of its actions since joining all of Bosnia’s governmental levels – Komsic’s resignation seemed like a late but honest choice.

Komsic is also one of the few prominent SDP officials not to be involved in, or suspected of involvement in, any of the corruption affairs reportedly involving senior party officials, including Lagumdzija.

Because of this, and also for his patriotic statements, Komsic has gained a great following among the Bosniak [Muslim] electorate, even though he is officially the Croat member of Bosnia’s State Presidency.

After winning nearly 340,000 votes won in the last elections in 2010, about 50,000 more than his own party, Komsic is far and away Bosnia’s most popular politician.

Secondly, the evidence of Lagumdzija's autocratic style of governance has become more than obvious. As a result the SDP has in recent years been abandoned by many of its most promising lieutenants, such as Nijaz Durakovic, Bogic Bogicevic, Ivo Komsic, Miro Lazovic, Nermin Pecanac, Ljubisa Markovic, and others.

A few weeks ago, another local party Leader, Hamdija Lipovaca from Bihac, was also removed from the party leadership. Lagumdzija himself, however, won the last intra-party elections in 2009, as the sole candidate for party president, in the best manner of the former Yugoslav Communist regime.

So, why did Komsic show no backbone on Wednesday, having bared his teeth on Monday?

If the assumption that he decided to obey his conscience and not Lagumdzija’s instructions is correct, one question is why act only now and not years ago? He has surely often witnessed Lagumdzija’s methods, which some describe as Stalinist.

Komsic has been a member of the SDP since 2000. In 2001, he became Bosnia’s first ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro. The next year, he resigned, citing disagreements with state policy, only to be elected mayor of the Municipality of Novo Sarajevo, where he stayed until October 2006, when he joined the State Presidency.

After almost six years on the Presidency, Komsic has gained considerable number of voters, not for advocating left-wing ideals or backing the rights of disenfranchised workers, but for patriotic populism.

Now recognized as an SDP hardliner, Komsic’s rhetoric might almost have been too harsh for Lagumdzija’s rather basic pragmatism, which has led to unnatural coalitions between the SDP and far-right Serb and Croat nationalist parties, “sudden” friendships with the former arch-enemy, the Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, and, latterly, support for Serbian Foreign Minister Jeremic’s UN ambitions.

In other words, Lagumdzija, as Foreign Minister, has made too many compromises for Komsic’s taste. The very core of Komsic’s political essence was being challenged, and he knew how hard it was to oppose Lagumdzija and remain in the party at the same time.

Komsic is now likely to be the Social Democrats’ next leader, having announced his candidacy for that position at the next SDP Congress, which will take place three months after Bosnia's general elections in 2014. His own popularity should see him to the top. Unfortunately for the party, Komsic’s failure to stick to his own principles for more than two days is not the best recommendation.


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