bosnia report
New Series No. 15/16 March - June 2000
Dayton must fall for Bosnia to survive
by Ozren Kebo

System among the Bosniaks

Discussions about the corruption of the Bosniak authorities are good, necessary and useful, so long as they don't create the illusion that corruption is the main problem with the Bosniaks. Because corruption in that part and on that territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina is just a consequence of a much bigger problem: the non-existence of order.

Which produces yet another questionable political trend. The real issue is not whether Alija Izetbegovic is corrupt. The real problem is that Izetbegovic is at the head of a system that creates corruption. It is a flawed system, which will, as time passes, create ever growing difficulties: misery, hunger, terrorism, ideological rigidity. To insist on Izetbegovic's corruptness while ignoring this systemic dimension of the whole project is to relieve the First Bosniak of his real responsibility.

Recently, the Bosniak authorities had an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the building of a serious state. Of course, they didn't take it. I'm referring to that terrifying article by Zlatko Dizdarevic about the telephone threats he receives. Seven months after the assassination of Jozo Leutar in Sarajevo and seven days after an assassination attempt on Zeljko Kopanja in Banja Luka, it was their obligation to respond. In a city which was exposed to incomparable terrorism from the fascist phalanx from the hills for four years, any anticipation of a new form of terrorism should be met with an instant reaction. After corruption, we might end up with terrorism also becoming our horrifying reality - and we might not have effective means to combat that either. So we counteract it with all sorts of committees.

It would have been wonderful had Alija Izetbegovic or Mustafa ef.Ceric reacted on this occasion. Just one single reaction, stating that such intimidation is completely contrary to the spirit of Islam (the Reis) or to that of the Bosniak people (the presidency member), wouldÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ have given a different tone to the whole incident. I don't consider Izetbegovic or Ceric guilty for what happened to Dizdarevic. I just mean that it would be more bearable to live in a country where politicians and religious officials acted against the creation of such an atmosphere. Instead the atmosphere is creating us, post festum.

There are truly interesting interpretations of the current reality. According to one of them, it would be enough to load a few disloyal and awkward Sarajevo journalists, poisoners of reality, into a second-hand bus (by no means a brand new, air-conditioned one) and expel them for ever and everything would be set to rights. There's even an ironic version of this crazy theory: it doesn't take a bus, a van will do or at most a mini-bus, and milk and honey would flow for the Bosniaks.

The problem is that this is precisely when the problems would start. As things are, there's at least someone who periodically describes the unbearable reality. But after that bus, there would be no one to articulate the unbearable, so people would think they were fine.

Here's a reason for concern: with their ideological discontent, with their cultural intolerance, with the way they articulate their national frustrations, and especially with their `majority' syndrome (with their own, on their own), Bosniaks in 1999 are from a distance slightly reminiscent of Serbs in 1991. And since the area under Bosniak control is still in every way superior to the Croat wildernesses and Serb deserts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, it's hard even to imagine the extent of cultural misery ruling in the other two entities. So let's take a peek at our neighbours too:

Stupidity among the Croats

After they divided Mostar with the help of concentration camps (the Heliodrome), murders (from Ilici to the Bulevar), rape (the racetrack), expulsions (from the Avenija to Rodoc), shells (from the Old Bridge to the railway station and Donja Mahala), and after that approach didn't come up with the result they wanted, the officials of HDZ BiH tried to tell us that they're finally civilized and now want to divide Travnik by administrative means alone. With peace and dignity, so to speak. The HDZ is touchingly stupid in its efforts to create a true capital city for the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They're not even efforts, but irresponsible meanderings. We can remember them saying: the Muslims have Sarajevo, the Serbs got Banja Luka, we want Mostar. Then they gave up on Mostar and turned their attention to Travnik.

What's interesting is that in doing so they're stubbornly creating their capital out of multi-ethnic, indivisible wholes, while avoiding establishing it in one of the towns where only Croats live. Which would make their job easier. This phenomenon has a logical explanation. No capital for B-H Croats is possible with this kind of HDZ. A capital is above all the cultural, spiritual and intellectual centre of a certain social community; and a cultural, spiritual and intellectual centre at the transit-point between two centuries automatically implies a strong movement of resistance against the ruling structures. In the case of the Croats, this would mean an authoritative gathering of media, journalists and all-purpose intellectuals that would bravely, constantly and ruthlessly debate the HDZ's war past (the Heliodrome, Dretelj, the Old Bridge, devastated mosques, mass graves, destroyed cities, massacred Mostar) and corrupt present (from the Aluminium combine onwards). So far this does not exist, and is not even anticipated.

So the HDZ is asking the impossible, because it would be the first to silence any such journalism. And without such journalism, there can be no civilized atmosphere either. And without such an atmosphere, there can be no capital city. In any case, the HDZ is demonstratively asking for something it doesn't essentially need. And not only does it not need it, it is paranoically afraid of it. If this were not so, they would effortlessly construct a capital iÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ n ambitious Siroki Brijeg, panoramic Posusje or an open Citluk.

Umicevic among the Serbs

Dear, oh dear, what a stupid man. This simple electrical engineer, who only at the present moment and at no other moment in the history of humankind could be thrust into the political limelight, has shown all the poverty of political thought and practice in Republika Srpska. I'm referring to the other night's interview, excellently handled by Sanela Prasovic of BH TV. `I'm against rebuilding the Ferhadija and Arnaudija mosques', Umicevic said during that interview, `because I consider it to be more of a political act than a true exercise of religious freedoms.'
What arrogance. And in order not to appear totally stubborn, he is proposing the construction of a new mosque. Listen to this: `So far as I know, Muslims should go to the mosque several times a day, so it should be built where where they live.' What can be done with him? I can just imagine how Irfan Horozovic felt, as Umicevic was blurting out that the expulsions in Banja Luka `were not handled that roughly, but were more like voluntary departures'. Biljana Plavsic belongs to the same mental code. On the occasion of the attack on Zeljko Kopanja, in the offices of his own Nezavisne Novine, she wonders in bemusement: `What will happen if it carries on like this?'

So, what is going to happen? Times are changing and even Biljana Plavsic has reached the point of being afraid of terrorism. She is, however, afraid of something that she has produced. What happened to brave Kopanja did not begin a month ago, two months ago, or six months ago. The process began in 1992. That carnival figure with stocking on head and machine-gun in hand that stopped a trolleybus in the Sarajevo district of Grbavica was the real beginning of a process that is not yet over. It is understandable that Plavsic does not recognize it as a social process and political continuity. She too is unimportant in this story. What is far more important is the direction Republika Srpska will take, following the attack on Kopanje. The whole of that territory is so sick and so far from healing, that we in Sarajevo too should be worried about what is happening in Banja Luka. And all the more so because we sometimes resemble them.

Dayton needs to be pulled down until there's nothing left of it

It's easy to recognize what the West intends to do with us. If they have really given up on everything, they'll just stubbornly insist on implementation of the Dayton Agreement. And let's be clear about it: they would give up on us, if it wasn't for the money they have spent on us so far. And in order to preserve at least some small part of that money, since they cannot make it fully bear fruit, they'll have to attack something by which they all swear today, from Bill Clinton to Predrag Lazarevic, from Madeleine Albright to Ivan Bender: they'll have to attack the Dayton Agreement, with all available means and from all the familiar positions.
`We support everything that's in accordance with the Dayton Agreement', says Umicevic, always in the mood for a joke. If that's how things are, if even he supports it, then let us make a list of all the advantages of that agreement. Number one, it stopped the war and promoted peace as a totally new and previously unknown way of handling relations between the nationalist parties. Number two - there is no number two.

On the other hand, there are three insuperable flaws:

  1. the Dayton Bosnia that was filtered from Milosevic's whisky is a theoretically clumsy and practically unviable state construction, founded not on equality of its constituent peoples, but on blockage of the system; certainly not for its citizens, but for its nationalist parties;

  2. the Dayton Agreement was not tailored for the peoples of B-H, and certainly not for its citizens, but for its nationalist parties;

  3. this confusing B-H progress (one OHR step forward, three national steps back) cannot producÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ e any satisfactory result. There's no precedent in the whole world for delegates voting with such enthusiasm not just against their own interests, but against their dignity as well.

What should Wolfgang Petritsch do?

First of all, he should tidy up his own backyard. That means he should extend his own mandate, and in that way the responsibility of the High Representative would likewise grow. Muhamed Filipovic is completely right in saying that the OHR has a vast amount of authority but a small degree of responsibility. In his two years a High Representative barely gets to know the problem and then goes away just when he could be most effective. He goes away and leaves the responsibility to his successor. A High Representative needs at least three, or ideally four years. The principle of a two-year rotation was concocted in the worst tradition of self-managing socialism.

Secondly, he should make the OHR into an efficient state-building system, instead of a gigantic international sinecure.

And thirdly, he should break the system of tri-national power by breaking Dayton. Haris Silajdzic merely sounded the alarm too early, but sooner or later the issue must reach the agenda. At the moment of writing this text, just as I am writing this sentence, I have received the news that ICG experts have taken up the idea. It has begun. . .


So far the foreigners have only interpreted Bosnia in various ways. The point is to change - and if possible preserve - it.

This article has been translated from Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 6 November 1999. Ozren Kebo was voted journalist of the year by the B-H Union of Journalists in April 2000.


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