bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
Mostar, coalitions and the SDA
by Safet Orucevic

Your letter to Alija Izetbegovic, in which you renounce all party posts, suggests a final parting of the ways with the SDA leadership.

I have never tried to hide my frustration with certain people in the SDA and their political moves. The meeting of the SDA Main Committee [Glavni odbor] was a great disappointment to me, in that none of my suggestions regarding electoral strategy and its role in integrating Bosnia-Herzegovina were discussed by its members. My view was that the SDA can win only by maintaining and broadening the Coalition for an Integral and Democratic B-H, which I see as an all-Bosnian movement. Within the SDA and other parties of the Coalition, the idea of extending the latter to include the SDP as well as parties from Republika Srpska and from the moderate Croat bloc has been present ever since the local elections of 1997. I am troubled by the a priori rejection of a coalition with the SDP but not with the HDZ, which until very recently has been a main obstacle to the proper functioning of our country. Many people are like myself convinced that no party on its own can overcome Bosnia's current agony. This proved to be the case also in Croatia. In Mostar and Herzegovina no one can win elections by fighting solely for the interests of one party. Such an approach, as proved in the case of Mostar, only strengthens those parties that are against people living together. If we in Mostar had come out with a different concept, we would have effectively surrendered the city to the HDZ; and we know how they would have behaved if they had won a majority of votes in the city as a whole. Everything we have achieved up to now would have been negated.

You agree with Izetbegovic that the SDA is itself to blame for its poor performance in theÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ elections?

Mr Izetbegovic spoke in general terms about the municipalities the SDA has lost. The election results have shown that the SDA has lost the claim to be the only party fighting for the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. From now on it will be only one of the forces active in the political struggle for Bosnia's unity. However, the SDA and its mistaken policies cannot be treated as the only culprit for the whole situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The main blame rests with the international community. Its behaviour has exhausted our people's patience. It has wasted several years, permitting the extremists to consolidate ethnic divisions on the ground.

It is difficult to believe that you have distanced yourself from the SDA solely because of its faulty electoral strategy. You surely cannot deny that for many years now you have been in conflict with people like Ejup Ganic, Edhem Bicakcic or Omer Behmen?

I simply do not wish to waste my time any longer. This is why I stated in my letter that I am concerned only with Mostar. It was a matter of disagreement over essential principles, not of personal likes or dislikes. There were two concepts in play: for or against a wider coalition. It was perhaps naive of me to expect a radical change at the Main Committee meeting; but given that the SDA taken as a whole did badly in the elections, it seemed to me highly irresponsible politically to leave everything as before. I expected the party to come up with a new platform, and with a critical analysis of its work and appraisal of the individuals responsible for major errors; that the SDA leadership would finally find the strength to admit its mistakes and come up with a clear strategy for the future. I have nothing against the use of a secret ballot to decide the future of party members and officials; but it is absurd to reduce everything to the removal of 4 or 5 people, since they cannot be held responsible for all the blunders. I was also personally annoyed with speakers who could not tell the difference between people like myself, who have worked so hard for the past eight years, and people who have been working in the party presidency. I cannot accept the criticism of someone like Mr Muhamed Cengic, who at the time I joined the SDA left for the United States and returned only recently. I simply cannot accept that those who have lost the elections are also the most ardent critics. Another reason for my decision to withdraw was the fact that such hard-working and deserving people as Halid Genjac and Hilme Nimerlija were not elected to the party presidency.

There is a rumour circulating within SDA circles that your resignation was caused by the Main Committee's vote of confidence in Edhem Bicakcic?

Mr Bicakcic and Mr Obradovic are not that crucial. There are many such `points of conflict'. Meho Obradovic is perhaps a diligent and likable man, but he has done great harm to Mostar and the party as a whole. He should have been replaced. As someone who lives in Mostar I find I cannot defend Sarajevo's choice, since he is mainly responsible for damaging people's property and endangering their lives. The SDA, due to its leadership's protection of Mr Obradovic, proved unable to establish the responsibility of the head of a public enterprise and in that way brought me into conflict with the citizens of Mostar. The flooding of Mostar brought into focus the gathering dissatisfaction of Mostar citizens towards Federation policy in general and that of the SDA leadership in particular. My resignation can be seen also as an expression of their frustration. I cannot go against them. It is obvious that the SDA was ready to sacrifice me.

Your victory in the local elections and your resignation have brought the SDA into a situation in which it will depend exclusively upon you, so far as its policy towards Herzegovina is concerned. Can its leadership expect you to behave in accordance with the aims of the newly elected Main Committee?

Regardless of what SDA policy will be in theÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ future, I will cooperate with it only if it is good for Mostar and works for the reintegration of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The policy of the SDA in the past was often contrary to the interests of Mostar citizens. One example of this has been the struggle over apartments. In Mostar as in Sarajevo this is the key issue. The struggle to hold on to apartments in Sarajevo, over which a tacit agreement was reached with the opposition, has worked directly in favour of HDZ extremists in Mostar. All this time we have been unable to return a single person to the western part of Mostar. I was forced to struggle simultaneously with HDZ extremists and with those people in the SDA who do not care about the return of all to their homes. On this I had Mr Izetbegovic's sympathy; but with that alone and no action I could change nothing. The same is true for SDA officials in other parts of Bosnia confronted with the same problem. If the SDA continues to behave contrary to the interests of Mostar and to its citizens' desire to see it unified, it will be difficult for it to retain any influence in Herzegovina. This is true not only for the SDA but for all other parties too.

What if Mr Izetbegovic orders you to comply with party discipline?

Mr Izetebegovic has never ordered me to do anything. We have collaborated as good friends and colleagues. As the mayor of Mostar, the city remains my priority. As far as I am concerned all matters to do with Mostar will be decided by its citizens and the Mostar city council.

Do you think that the outcome of the Main Committee meeting is a sign of the growing strength of the SDA's right wing?

As long as Mr Izetbegovic heads the party, its orientation will be decided by him. He alone will decide how much the SDA will incline to the right or to the left or remain in the centre. After he is gone there will be a whole new situation.

Would it be possible for you to assume the position of SDA president and Bosniak national leader after his departure?

That's not possible. I was offered in advance of the elections to become one of the four SDA vice-presidents, but I refused. I will end my political career as the mayor of Mostar. There was a time when I had the ambition of becoming foreign minister and in that capacity fighting for Bosnia's interests, but now I have won this new mandate that is no longer on.

Speaking of potential Bosniak leaders, it seems that one of the greatest losers in the recent elections was Haris Silajdzic, president of the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In my view Mr Silajdzic will play a crucial role in the coming period as a corrective to the SDA electoral machine among Bosniaks, in that he will mark out the political centre. It is not up to me to advise Mr Silajdzic, but in my view he needs to improve his standing among Serb and Croat voters.

What about your relationship with the president of the SDP Zlatko Lagumdzija?

The elections have shown that this relationship rests on a solid basis. Mr Lagumdzija and the SDP are facing their greatest political challenge in the shape of the October elections. If he and his party do not succeed in winning a sufficient number of votes in RS and the former Herzeg-Bosna, the concept of a B-H Social-Democracy will be seen as having failed. At this historical moment it is dangerous to enter an electoral campaign with programmes and projects, without seeking a change at the level of the state as a whole. This is the risk facing the SDP, and Mr Lagumdzija personally.

Everyone is talking these days about Mr Izetbegovic's apology to the Serb people for the crimes committed on Kazani and to the Croat people for the war crimes in Grabovica. Do you count yourself among those Bosniaks in whose name Mr Izetbegovic offered his apology?

I certainly do not, since I neither ordered nor executed any crimes. Mr Izetbegovic has offered his apology as one more signal of his readiness for reconciliation, of a kind that unfortunately does not come from tÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ hose who should have sent them out long ago. The best form of apology would be for the Army to try those who have committed crimes. It is the Army leadership which should have apologized, which should have said: `our units included individuals who have committed crimes and we have sentenced them accordingly.' I myself was present at a meeting of the Presidential Council three years ago at which Mr Izetbegovicdemanded of one of his advisers that the Grabovica case be immediately placed before the courts. I do not know who it was who prevented this course of action.

During the electoral campaign you seem to have behaved incorrectly towards the SDP, in that you brought into your coalition Jole Musa, who was a SDP member. You also declared that the SDP cannot win elections in RS or the former `Herzeg-Bosna'.

That is true. I did say and wish to repeat that the SDP cannot take power in RS or the part of Herzegovina where Croats are in a majority. That is not the fault of the SDP and its programme, but of the nature of Dayton Bosnia: of the fact that the international community favours the ethnic system. The international community has chosen as its preferred partner the nationalist Serb Social-Democrats led by Milan Dodik and in that way it works directly against the anti-nationalist all-Bosnian Social Democrats led by Mr Lagumdzija. If the Constitutional Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina had, in advance of the elections, introduced a law making all three peoples constituent throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina, then the SDP would most probably have won a significant number of votes in RS and in that way helped Bosnia-Herzegovina's integration. The idea of Social-Democracy is good and politically very healing for Bosnia-Herzegovina, it is good and productive also for Mostar, but it unfortunately remains imprisoned in one part of Bosnia. Jole Musa agreed to cooperate for the sake of Mostar and for the Coalition which has long been present here. And he won. The participation also of Braco Andric, Milan Jovicic, Avdo Zvonic and Emir Balic shows that such a coalition is the best solution for Mostar. Anything else would have worked in favour of the HDZ. Jole Musa did not win many votes in west Mostar, but that would have been the case even if he had entered the elections as an SDP candidate. What is important is that a new atmosphere has been created in the city. The victory of the Mostar slate has started off something that four years ago appeared unthinkable. Today we can see people from all over the city sitting and talking together. They do not speak of the war, they walk about freely, while four years ago I had to show my identity card each time I crossed from one part of the city to another.

Is it true that you have been negotiating with Mr Lagumdzija about campaign strategy for the general elections in October?

We have not negotiated, but simply talked about the elections. I explained to Mr Lagumdzija the importance of Mostar, what I plan to do in Mostar, and some crucial matters relating to the processes taking place in west Mostar. We largely agree, there is not much difference between us, since our April election lists also contained a large number of Social-Democrats, people from mixed marriages and of different nationalities. I think that Mr Lagumdzija has understood the importance of our struggle for Mostar.

Within the Mostar HDZ, a battle has been joined regarding the successor to deputy major Ivan Prskalo. Josip Muselinovic and Neven Tomic are being cited as serious candidates. Whom would you like to see as your partner?

Whoever replaces Prskalo will be driving at high speed, since the brakes are off in the race for Mostar. If the HDZ does not change its policy towards Mostar and refuses to work for its unity, it will simply break up into Bosnian and Herzegovinian components. If, however, it does manage to change course and accept the idea of a unified city, it will remain politically the strongest element of Croat cohesion, which the Catholic Church will continue to ÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ support. There is a new mood for reconciliation in Mostar, and I am able to communicate much better now with the local HDZ officials. The question now is how long it will take for Mostar to become the one centre for all of Herzegovina. But so far as Mostar's own integration is concerned, the critical moment is already behind us.

Sooner or later Mostar will become a single municipality or a district. Only then will it be able to live and develop. It is not a big place. Its present organization was forced upon us, since the international community made us negotiate with extremists who sought Mostar's division. The best we could achieve in a situation in which Hans Koschnik argued that `a single municipality is a pro-Yugoslav idea' was to make sure that the six municipalities agreed upon at Dayton did not have a national prefix. The extremists are now claiming a part of the city that does not have a single feature of a city centre, but looks like a suburb. Mostar today is a city in which the Croats feel lost and betrayed. HDZ or Croat representatives supporting the idea of a Mostar as a single municipality or district would allow the Croats to regain a sense of belonging to the city as a whole.

The process of unification is a process of reconciliation. Tudjman allocated to Mostar the role of a city of hatred and impossibility of coexistence. He tested upon us every method his idiots could think up: torture, psychological warfare, threats, terrorism, murders - we have lived through all of that. The international community watched it happen and demanded that the criminals and their victims come to an agreement.

Mostar could easily have become a Beirut or Gaza Strip. All that was needed was for the media in east Mostar to behave in the same way as the media in west Mostar. If we had responded to Christian fundamentalism with Islamic fundamentalism; if we had reacted to the erection of a cathedral in the central district by building a gigantic mosque, as was at one point offered to us; if we had responded to the hatred with our own hatred - if we had done that, then we would have fallen into Tudjman's trap. We have instead responded to ethnic exclusivism by a struggle for common life, to hatred by reconciliation - we offered to rebuild the Old Bridge jointly. We could have demanded that those responsible for its destruction be tried first, and made any joint project conditional on that. We did not do so, but instead turned the rebuilding of the Old Bridge into the most important project of reconciliation. Herein lies the importance of Mostar.

Mostar, or if you wish east Mostar, saw through all the traps and caught in them those who had devised them. Tudjman's concept met its demise on the Mostar Boulevard.

This interview has been translated from Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 11 May 2000, with the addition in Orucevic's last reply of some comments from an interview he gave to Dani (Sarajevo), 12 May 2000.


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