bosnia report
New Series No:49-50 December - March 2006
A third entity would harm Bosnia-Herzegovina
by Nezavisne novine interviews Stjepan Mesic

‘According to Croatian president Stjepan Mesić in this interview for Nezavisne novine, the tenth anniversary of Dayton is a good excuse to drink champagne because the agreement ended the war; on the other hand we cannot be fully satisfied either with the past decade, since B-H still lacks essential state instruments. Mesić also argues that the establishment of a third [Croat] entity would not be good for Bosnia-Herzegovina, since it would "fully conserve the existing state of affairs". The Croatian president states that in 1991 Milošević offered Tuđman the borders of the former [1939] Banovina Croatia plus so-called "Turkish Croatia" [in B-H] composed of Cazin, Kladuša and Bihać. Alija Izetbegović, on the other hand, offered him a confederation between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mesić points out that the world has grasped that Bosnia-Herzegovina should not be divided: "It is a vain illusion which some still nurture that the world will tire of Bosnia and permit it to be divided between Croatia and Serbia."’

Nezavisne novine, Banja Luka



A third entity would harm Bosnia-Herzegovina

- interview with Stjepan Mesić, President of the Republic of Croatia


N.N. Is the tenth anniversary of the Dayton agreement a moment to celebrate, to admit that it was wrong, or what?

Mesić: It depends on how one views Dayton. If we see it as something that ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, then it makes sense to drink to it. If, however, we focus on the fact that the state does not possess the instruments of government enjoyed by other states, then we cannot be happy. In this case we must look for such additions to the Dayton structure as would enable B-H to realise its strategic aim of joining the European Union.

If such additions were to leave in place, formally at least, the two-entity structure, would you yourself support the creation of a third - Croat - entity?

It would not be a good idea in my view to form a third entity, because that would cement the existing state of affairs. We must not overlook the strong forces acting outside Bosnia-Herzegovina that were seeking to destroy it.

What do you have in mind?

For a long time Milošević tricked the world into believing that he was fighting for Yugoslavia. He knew of the affection that Yugoslavia commanded thanks to its role in the creation of the non-aligned movement, which helped to cushion the East-West conflict. This is why Milošević kept bragging that he was defending Yugoslavia, though in actual fact he was destroying it. He tricked the Serbs by telling them that they would all live in the same state. Many believed him, though he deceived them all, especially the Croatian Serbs. In other words, the war started not because of confessional or national differences, but as a result of Milošević’s policy. He knew that the former Yugoslavia had three integrative factors only: Tito, the Communist party and the army. Tito died, the party fell apart, and Milošević Serbianised the army. He believed that he would be able to create a Great Serbia on Yugoslavia’s ruins.

Tuđman was not such an innocent either.

He was impressed by Milošević’s success. He believed, in addition, that the international community would support B-H’s partition. It is a matter of interpretation who sent what messages to whom in this regard, but there is no doubt that such messages existed. As time went by, however, the world was increasingly persuaded of the true nature of the events in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Did the world really believe that a multi-ethnic Bosnia could survive the bloody separation of the Yugoslav nationalities?

Unlike Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina was not established with the Versailles Treaty. It is a country older than many European states. The world also realised that it should not be divided. The idea which some still entertain - that the world will get tired of Bosnia, so that it will be possible to divide it up between Croatia and Serbia - is nothing but an illusion. What would happen if Bosnia were divided along ethnic lines? There would remain a small Muslim state, surrounded by enemies, that would be able to survive only with the help of foreign regimes, which would dictate to it the rules of the game. It would become a centre of terrorism. And there are people - Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats - who would be unhappy with the division. We would acquire a new Palestine, this time on the European soil. This is why Europe cannot allow the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Does this mean it will survive come what may?

No. B-H must gain a constitution that will secure throughout its territory the equality of its three main nationalities, as well as of all its citizens.

But how is such an instrument to be created, and how is trust to be re-established?

That is primarily a question of the political will of the B-H parties, aided, of course, by the international community.

The Catholic bishops have come up with their own proposal for the internal organisation of B-H.

So far as I am concerned, it is a matter for B-H citizens.

You say that many were working against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Mate Granić [former Croatian foreign minister] argues that at one time Alija Izetbegović favoured Bosnia’s division, as he allegedly informed Tuđman.

I was at that time very close to President Tuđman, and was present at his numerous meetings with President Izetbegović. I never heard such a proposal coming from Izetbegović. What the latter did propose in my presence was a confederation between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Nevertheless there was a war between the Croats and the Bosniaks. The Croatian parliament adopted a notorious resolution whitewashing what Carla del Ponte describes as a criminal conspiracy. What is the truth?

Given that during the unfortunate war I was the speaker of parliament, I can relate my own personal experience. The Croatian parliament never took a decision to send the Croatian army to foreign lands. The Croatian president never publicly issued an order to that effect either. As for which groups or individuals ordered or financed that adventure, who directed whom to act outside the legal norms, that is a matter for the courts. It remains a fact, however, that the Croatian state as such never authorised the sending of troops to Bosnia-Herzegovina. It is up to the courts to establish who sent some groups there.

Belgrade surely can also claim such an alibi.

They may do so, but the fact remains that whole army units were sent from Serbia, and that the Republika Srpska officer corps was paid by Serbia. It is difficult to see how Serbia can extricate itself from that.

Milošević is in The Hague. There are transcripts offering a good basis for Tuđman’s indictment, while the Prosecutor’s Office makes no secret of the fact that Izetbegović himself was investigated. Is there an attempt to equalise the responsibility? Or were all three seriously implicated?

The tribunal was set up by the United Nations and it operates according to clear criteria. The complaint that it is politically biassed is unwarranted. The indictments flow from investigations. The fact remains that terrible crimes were committed.

The court in The Hague has just acquitted Sefer Halilović. Is this not an inducement for those currently seeking to avoid arrest to surrender, especially those who insist that they are innocent?

It would be good for everyone to surrender to the court, especially those who say they fought bravely in the war yet are now in hiding, behaving like mere cowards. I myself doubt their alleged bravery.

Milošević apart, was not so-called ‘humane resettlement’ favoured also by Tuđman?

Even our Gastarbeiters were ‘humanely resettled’. But if you burn people’s homes and force them out, then the resettlement is not particularly humane. It is in fact nothing but a crime. It is a matter for the courts to establish the degree of collusion.

This takes us back to Karađorđevo, does it not?

It was I who organised the meeting at Karađorđevo. I was in Belgrade at the time and suggested the meeting to Borisav Jović. I openly told him: ‘Listen, you are arming the Croatian Serbs, but the problems can be solved only through agreement.’ He denied that they were arming the Serbs and insisted that Serbia had no annexationist intentions. He argued that the Serbs were only defending themselves. I, on the other hand, tried to persuade him that armed rebellion would harm them most, since 10% cannot win against 90%. Jović’s response was that they were not interested in the Croatian Serbs, but only in 65% of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He told me that so far as they were concerned, we were free to have them impaled, because they were our citizens!

[I told him:] ‘Let’s sit down together, you and Milošević, Tuđman and I, and let’s resolve this problem, leaving Bosnia-Herzegovina to be solved by the Security Council.’ In the event, however, Tuđman and Milošević negotiated in Karađorđevo without Jović and me. Tuđman went there at the end of March 1991, and on his return to Zagreb he told us that Milošević had offered him Croatia within the borders of the [1939] Banovina plus Cazin, Kladuša and Bihać, i.e. so-called Turkish Croatia. We did not discuss this at the time, except that I said it could not happen without war.

This means that the plan for partitioning Bosnia-Herzegovina was decided in Karađorđevo?

Only in part. The two had a later meeting at Tikveš, but we never learnt what had gone one there. I believe that a concrete agreement was reached then, but we were given no information about it.

The Sarajevo declaration was intended to moderate the consequences of those agreements. But things are proceeding very slowly, and the refugees are not returning.

I agree that things are slow and that we should make greater efforts. So far as we in Croatia are concerned, we must encourage our [Serb] citizens to come back. Those people were tricked. We must restore their property to them, but also make it possible for them to live. It is not enough to return them their homes. I repeat: those responsible for their unhappy fate should be brought to account. A whole people cannot be made responsible for the crimes committed by individuals. Our interest is that the Serbs return [to Croatia] and the Croats to Bosnia-Herzegovina. This can be accomplished if we work on this together.

Zagreb-Sarajevo relations are often marred by such ineptness that one gets the impression that it cannot be accidental. The most recent issue relates to the projected building of a bridge connecting Pelješac with the mainland.

It is my belief that decisions affecting one’s neighbours should be reached in agreement with them. This is a repetition of the situation a few years ago in relation to the transport of oil. Now we have the bridge. This should have been the subject of talks with the Bosnian leaders, since there remain a number of questions to be solved between Croatia and B-H - such as the port of Ploče, the 5C road corridor, etc. Conflicts on one issue do not contribute to the positive solution of others. What worries me in this case is that the project [for the bridge] was made before any agreement [with the Bosnians]. Quite apart from the fact that this project, which could cost the tax-payers perhaps as much as half a million euros, ought to be submitted to international tender. We are talking about a project that represents a challenge for both professionals and politicians. This is why decisions should not be made too hastily. I do not doubt, however, that this issue too will be resolved by agreement of both parties.

Bosnia apart, there is also the urgent problem of Kosovo. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this problem?

It is not a simple matter. Milošević’s plan to drive out the Albanians and settle in their place Serbs from Croatia ended in a complete fiasco. The Albanians returned and insisted on immediate independence, while the Serbs feel they cannot surrender the area given its historical connotations.

How to unravel the knot?

The Serbs there are concentrated in a few enclaves. When they demand autonomy for these, the Albanians respond: ‘What about Preševo and Medveđa [in Serbia]?’ That’s natural: what you demand for yourself, you cannot deny to others. In my view the only correct solution is to make all [Kosovo] citizens equal in their rights. The Serbs should be able to return, while those elected to Kosovo’s institutions should participate in their work. That is the best way [for the Serbs] to protect their interests. To wait idly in the expectation that Belgrade will solve the issue of the Serbs in Kosovo is illogical, for the simple reason that this would take a long time and the outcome would be uncertain. The Kosovo Serbs themselves should fight to secure their position through the Kosovo institutions, and with the help of the international community. As for the final status of Kosovo, this should be decided by negotiations between Prishtina and Belgrade, with the international community’s assistance. Croatia will support any solution reached, provided it is not imposed by force.

This interview, conducted by Marko Roknić, has been translated from Nezavisne novine (Banja Luka), 20 November 2005










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