bosnia report
New Series No: 37-38 January - March 2004
He was a born politician
by Haris Silajdžic

War strips off masks and restricts choices. My cooperation with Izetbegović started at such a time. We had no time to conduct the leisurely conversations that bring up the more human side of one's personality. We were united by our desire to join the struggle for survival, and separated when peace brought new political choices. But we did not allow this to influence our relationship too much.

Peace offered a choice of priorities. One was to concentrate on consolidating the ranks, strengthening the centre and bolstering internal forces, in order to be able to deal with the difficult task of reconstructing society and the state. The other option was to open up to the currents flowing past us: to open our horizons, stress pluralism, and direct our energy to building a state that the peace terms had divested of certain attributes essential to its survival. The first option carried the danger of falling behind, which in these times amounts to a deadly sin; while the other carried the risk of making mistakes, due to exposure to unfavourable internal and external developments, without the beneficial passage of time. In an area where the past is more weighty than the future, the first option was more acceptable to the majority, as is always the case with maintaining the status quo: this carries the danger of consecrating tradition and rejecting the new. The other option sought to be rid of surplus history, but it risked inflaming open wounds and failing to understand the wider public. In the conflict between the two options, political positions were not always clear or consistent - there was overlapping, changes of tactics, addition and subtraction - but they remained recognizably different. The people gathered around this second option went on to form the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina (Stranka za BiH).

New times opened new possibilities: neither left-wing nostalgia nor right-wing orthodoxy, but a new political option that would open new perspectives without suppressing any. The aim was to create a state that would act united on the international level, while at home becoming an instrument of free citizens. Pluralism is a source of creativity and can be made into an advantage in international competition. This is true especially for the Bosniaks, who while lacking a strong collective identity have a strong sense of individuality that could be turned into an advantage in Europe. To copy tribalist models could only produce bad copies, while annulling our comparative advantage.

I frequently talked about this to Izetbegović and do not recall any major disagreements at the level of theory. Practice, however, is a matter of people and time. After the demobilization of Bosnia's defenders, our public space was suddenly occupied by 'guardians of what has been achieved': guardians of unity, tradition, religion, identity, and so on. We are talking about people who ask few questions and know all the answers, the stern advocates of discipline who behave as if they owned the truth, patriotism and concern for the people. They favour a black-and-white world that suits them well, and feel lost in a world of colour and movement. For them identity is a museum piece rather than a quality that can develop only in contact with others. [...]

President Izetbegović and I always agreed that entry into Europe implies a final settlement, not only for Bosnia but also for the region as a whole. It is a process bringing what people here have never had: freedom. I can only say, in conclusion, that President Izetbegović made a considerable contribution to the cause of freedom, which will forever ensure him a special place in our country's history.

  Haris Silajdžić, former B-H foreign minister and president of the council of ministers, (premier), founded and led the Stranka za BiH (Party for B-H)


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