bosnia report
New Series No:49-50 December - March 2006
Address to the ‘Igman Initiative’
by Stjepan Mesic

Address by Stjepan Mesić, president of the Republic of Croatia, at the ‘Igman Initiative’1

Sarajevo, 7 November 2005

Dear friends of the Igman Initiative,

Mr Member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina,

Mr President of Serbia-Montenegro,

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

You have chosen the right issue at the right time for your agenda: Dayton ten years after. This is an issue which interests and must interest not only people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, but also people in neighbouring countries and the wider region. And, with good reason, it naturally attracts also the attention of the international community.

As president of the Republic of Croatia, a neighbouring country, I could certainly say a lot about the issue at hand. At the same time, I must resist the temptation of saying something that might be interpreted as interfering in the internal affairs of another sovereign country. Therefore, I hope that you will understand and accept my somewhat unusual approach. To wit, I shall specifically discuss past events and reserve my principled approach for a verbal consideration of what and how things could and should be done.

Let me deal first with what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina ten years ago. I shall then share with you my thinking about the possible structure of the country - of any country - whose population includes members of several constituent peoples and which seeks, after war and internal conflict, a way out from being a peculiar sort of international protectorate towards full and true independence - in peace and stability.

The Dayton compromise

The Dayton Agreement, signed ten years ago, was the outcome of the circumstances in which it was concluded, but also reflected the power balance on the ground and the degree of influence and interest shown by specific key players on the international scene.


The Agreement was a compromise, hence not an ideal solution, but it was - let me stress - the only possible solution at the time. The goal that its architects had in mind was how to stop the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in that respect the Dayton Agreement was truly a great success. It stopped the war.

On the other hand, the Agreement laid the foundations of what became known as the Dayton structure of government in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which unfortunately has not turned out to be a sufficient foundation for the establishment of a steady peace and durable stability. And that in turn was a consequence of the fact that the Agreement, in order to establish peace, simply recognized and accepted certain outcomes of the war, and turned some of the war gains into facts of life. This has led to a unique situation in which the major protagonists of the aggressive war in Bosnia-Herzegovina are being indicted and sentenced by the Hague Tribunal, while the results of the war for which they are being held accountable still survive on the ground.

But the Dayton Agreement was a compromise, as I have said; it reflected the power balance among the different players and the willingness of international actors to engage more energetically in the resolution of a conflict that many of them did not understand, at least not in time to prevent its spillover. The vision expressed by the Agreement was focused on putting an end to the war, but not on establishing durable peace and stability, and that is its major shortcoming. In other words, the ostensible vision of future development was based on the acceptance of war gains and losses, and therefore precarious.

Let us ask ourselves: what are the current chances of progress towards internal stability, if the international community should withdraw from Bosnia-Herzegovina - and I have in mind the withdrawal of military forces as well? I am afraid that we know the answer to that question, so nobody - either in this country or in the region - thinks of demanding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina. But can that be the future of this country? I am certain it cannot. Consequently we must find the strength and the honesty to admit, ten years on: the Dayton Agreement, such as it is, has served its purpose.

The time has come to move on. But do not get me wrong. I am not talking about rejecting the Agreement. It is and it must remain the foundation, because it put an end to the war. However, today it should be upgraded, adapted to current and future requirements. If the situation ten years ago called for stopping the war, current conditions call for laying the foundations of a stable, truly democratic Bosnia-Herzegovina, which will assume its own role in the transformation of Southeast Europe into an area of peace and security and secure its legitimate pursuit of membership in the European Union.

So much about specifics, although I may have dwelt on them too much. Yet, I consider it my duty to talk candidly, as befits the president of a neighbouring country, but also as president of the country that is the primary homeland of the Croats. Moreover, I think that I have not just the right, but also the duty, to speak as a politician who resigned from his post and joined the opposition precisely because of the policy of his country towards Bosnia-Herzegovina. At the time I advocated a unified, sovereign state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and I continue to advocate it.

A hypothetical model

Let us now turn to theoretical consideration. Let us consider a country, whatever its name or location, with three constituent peoples. These are not minorities but indigenous populations, peoples having a constituent capacity throughout the state although it is currently divided on an ethnic basis. The country experienced an internal war fomented and supported from outside, by two neighbouring countries but also by the world.

The war involved forceful resettlement of the population and created artificial, virtually mono-ethnic territorial units. As the war came to an end and peace was imposed by the international community, so-called entities were created out of these units and initially endowed with powers and a status that allowed them to behave like states within the state. Internal peace and stability in this country are maintained by foreign troops; the powers of central government bodies and institutions are small; and the ultimate arbiter in practically any situation is the High Representative of the international community, who objectively speaking has the status of a protector, not to use a stronger term. The country has been living like this from year to year. Some internal reforms are being enforced slowly, almost diffidently; the concept of three armies in a single state is dying away; control of financial resources coming from abroad, including two neighbouring countries, is being enforced or at least attempted; a single customs and police force is being created. But there is an international agreement, which has recognized the war gains as facts and which is increasingly thwarting every deeper reform. What next?

In my opinion, in a situation where such a country is trying to - and must - overcome profound divisions, including that caused by war, the way out is not in any new divisions, least of all in ethnic division. First and foremost, the return of refugees and displaced persons should be enhanced - not just to any place, but to their original homes. This would change the composition of the population to an extent where any divisions, including administrative ones, on ethnic grounds would become meaningless and utterly unfounded.

The key to the status of the members of the constituent peoples lies in their complete equality, but not in their ghettoization. This implies complete opening up rather than parochialism. As I see it, the solution in the state under consideration is to be found in the establishment of a civil society in which the internal organization of the state is purely of an administrative nature, and in which nobody would claim his or her rights on the basic of ethnic background, but exclusively on the basis of civil equality. Of course, such equality includes what we might conditionally call the right to specific ethnic features - such as one’s own language and script.

In order to have a sound foundation for a stable life and development, such a state must radically leave behind past liabilities. In this regard, I think, the courage must be mustered - first and foremost within the three ethnic communities - to face the truth about the recent past. There must also be political will to punish the perpetrators of war crimes. I mean all perpetrators of war crimes, with the ethnic background of specific perpetrators or of their victims playing absolutely no role. It is the crime and the criminal that must be punished.

Moreover, the climate of tolerance must be enhanced; every kind of parochialism must be prevented, and models of coexistence in diversity must be not only offered but aggressively promoted, through reliance on the young population. I am talking about a multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic environment: about its reinforcement where it is still present and about its re-establishment where it is not. I am talking about unity in diversity, about the hallmark of the united Europe that our imaginary country wants to join.

Finally, after the implementation of internal reorganization along the suggested lines, the required powers should be given to the central bodies of the state - parliament, president and government - along with a status for local government and self-government complying with European standards. The armed forces of the country must be organized exclusively along defensive lines; the borders must be watched by border policy under the authority of central government; and the police on the ground must be geared to the requirements of the administrative units into which the country will be divided.

Our imaginary country must be given help, through a network of political, economic and other bilateral relations, in promoting its maximum integration - first of all within its own region and then into a united Europe. Possible radical phenomena of any colour or provenance should be prevented, by strengthening democratic institutions and promoting the idea of democracy as well as, let me reiterate, by a spirit of comprehensive tolerance in which the freedom of one person shall never cross the boundary where it would jeopardize the freedom of others.

The imaginary and the real

Is all that possible in the conditions I listed at the outset, and considering the existence of an international agreement that currently stands in the way of the desirable evolution, however positive that agreement may have been when it was concluded?

I think it is possible.

Of course, the support of the international community is still required. Without it, any effort would hardly be possible in our imaginary country under present circumstances. However, such support must be focused on evolutionary change rather than on freezing the current state of affairs.

This requires a precise sequence of events, an order for the gradual and systematic implementation of meaningful reforms. The process will also require a campaign of enlightenment, let us call it, through which it will be explained to each and every citizen what is being done and why. Finally, the ultimate goal must be clearly defined, and that is the strengthening and stabilization of the state and its entry into the European Union, with an accurate definition of the advantages.

And the underlying messages should be: nothing is gained by war, and a future in peace cannot be built on war gains. The state to be built must be a state of all its citizens, open towards its neighbours, democratic and tolerant, a state which will be able to enter united Europe.

Such are my reflections concerning the possible development of an imaginary state which, I admit, bears a lot of resemblance to Bosnia-Herzegovina. I shall be pleased if anybody agrees that some of my ideas could be applicable here, in these very specific conditions and in this specific state. I have presented them, trust me, as a sincere friend of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as a convinced advocate of its survival and strengthening, as a politician well aware that no stability is possible in our region without a stable and democratically organized Bosnia-Herzegovina.


1. Inspired by, and named after, the April 1995 visit of a group of antiwar activists from FRY, headed by Belgrade Professor Miladin Životić (died 1997) and former Serbian president Ivan Stambolić (murdered 2000), via Hungary, Croatia and Mount Igman to Sarajevo under siege, in order to attend the first congress of the Serb Civic Council, the ‘Igman Initiative’ was launched - with support from the US-based Freedom House - by a conference of regional NGOs held at Zagreb in November 2000, with the aim of coordinating actions for peace between B-H, Croatia and FRY.


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