Bosnian leaders and the division of B-H - late 1993
by Stenographic record
The Sarajevo weekly Slobodna Bosna has recently published extracts from a momentous stenographic record, never before released, of the extraordinary meeting of the Bosnian presidency held on 15 December 1993 at the request of its four non-SDA members: Nijaz Duraković, Ivo Komšić, Tatjana Ljujić-Mijatović and Mirko Pejanović, who were unhappy with the course of the negotiations being conducted in Geneva within the framework of the Owen-Stoltenberg peace plan, which envisaged transformation of the traditionally unitary state of Bosnia-Herzegovina into a union of three republics with weak central institutions.
As the record suggests, the SDA leaders were divided into two camps. The first, led by President Alija Izetbegović, favoured the preservation of Bosnia-Herzegovina within its existing borders, but accepted its internal division into three de facto ethnic republics. The second camp, led by foreign minister Haris Silajdžić, sought the creation of an independent Bosniak state. Silajdžić’s basic message to the meeting was that the war for Bosnia-Herzegovina was lost and the collective presidency should accept the reality of this defeat and act on that basis. The EU, in his view, did not support a united Bosnia-Herzegovina, having sided with Slobodan Milošević. Silajdžić also admitted to having met in secret with Momčilo Krajišnik, in order to talk about the division of Sarajevo, whose status at this time was the only unresolved issue in Geneva. At this time Bosnia’s battered capital was conducting a broad international campaign against the city’s division, which as the record shows greatly displeased Silajdžić, who had agreed with Krajišnik that the Sarajevo districts of Pale, Dobrinja, Ilidža and Hadžići should go to the Serb republic. Ilidža’s hamlets of Butmir and Hrasnica, held by the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, were to be exchanged for Vogošća. The key polemic at the December meeting took place between Nijaz Duraković and Alija Izetbegović on the one hand and Haris Silajdžić on the other.
According to Slobodna Bosna, this meeting of the presidency was preceded by another meeting held on 26 November 2003, at which Izetbegović and Silajdžić argued from practically identical positions. The November meeting was initiated by Boro Bjelobrk, head of the SDP parliamentary club, who wished to know whether Izetbegović and Silajdžić had abandoned the platform of a single and indivisible Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bjelobrk stated on this occasion that the only way to save Bosnia-Herzegovina was to internationalize the problem. Izetbegović responded: ‘World politicians are against Bosnia. The two armies that are destroying Bosnia are the lesser problem. [More important is that] for the past two years the world has been working against Bosnia’s unity. America alone supports a single Bosnia. Someone [from the EU] has told me: "It is illusory to think that we’ll quarrel with the Serbs; don’t count on that." You, Mr Bjelobrk, may say we want a single Bosnia; but I ask you, where are the political and military resources with which we can resist the forces of disintegration? The maximum we can achieve is to save the Bosnian framework, to save the internationally recognised borders, and to save Bosnia’s core with its democratic tradition which can be a factor of future integrations.’ He himself was unsure, however, that even this minimal programme could be achieved.
Silajdžić followed on: ‘The international community cannot defeat the Bosnian Serbs and Croats. Even if the international community wished to do that, most Croats and most Serbs don’t wish to live with Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This at least is clear. Up to now we have been guided - or at least I have been guided - by the idea that we stand at the threshold of a clash of civilizations. We no longer have ideological or economic conflicts, we have a conflict of civilizations, or if you wish different cultural systems. [We in Bosnia] have not completed the process of the formation of national states. We must complete that process. Whether this will lead to a union of three states is quite another question. What is clear is that national states will exist in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and that if we are lucky we shall have this third one. I fear only one thing: that if we do not make haste we shall lose it.’
Nijaz Duraković was not present at the November meeting. Having heard what had taken place there, he asked for another meeting that would fully clarify the differences. Izetbegović stated at the beginning [of this second meeting] that the Bosnian negotiators had accepted the transformation of Bosnia-Herzegovina into a union of three republics, but that there was no agreement on the internal borders. These republics could secede only with the agreement of the other two. He, Izetbegović, had signed a paper together with Krajišnik that a referendum should decide this issue.
Izetbegović: ‘We don’t know what [our] people want. It seems to me, however, that the people want Bosnia to exist. This is my impression. [In] regard to Sarajevo, our position is that Sarajevo must remain single, but thousands of people who are starving here and now are telling us to make peace at all costs. No one asks them anything - they don’t read papers, appear on the radio, etc. Suddenly a few hundred people turn up [with a petition] and represent public opinion: this, they say, is what Sarajevo thinks. Forgive me, but Sarajevo does not think like that. During my occasional walks through our dark [Sarajevo] alleys, I ask people what they think and they tell me.’
Izetbegović nevertheless thought that the people wanted Bosnia to remain single. The union left open this option, which in time could be realized. ‘Time passes very quickly. It is possible that in five years’ time we will be able to say all is right, thank God. Karadžić is gone somewhere, has disappeared, new people have come forth. Maybe we could work with them, let’s try. Starting with trade. To save Bosnia. Because it is certainly in the interest of the Muslim people to live in a larger state rather than in a state of anxiety - if not something worse. So let’s leave the possibility of there being a single Bosnia, which is why we speak on behalf of Bosnia as a whole. But it seems to me that an internal division into republics is unavoidable. Difficult to resist. So let’s see here, for this is the subject of our discussion, whether we should proceed in this manner or not. Those who have another solution should express it. For there are only two possibilities: to agree to an internal organization into three republics, or to have as before a common mixed Serb-Croat-Muslim Bosnia, a single entity. Is this possible? What are the chances? In my view one would need to defeat Mladić’s army, defeat the Croat army, break them up. We did not seek division, it was imposed on us. We are trying now that the Bosnian republic, which should be the successor to and nurture the old Bosnian - meaning democratic - tradition... that we should save for it a maximum of territory. [...] We control approximately 20%. We want 34%. They have conceded ten, but not the additional four ... [We] reckon that if we go for the lot it will become a game of all or nothing, in which case I fear we may get nothing.’ [...]
Silajdžić, however, spoke against the idea of Bosnia as a union of three republics, on the grounds that this would hobble the central republic politically and financially. He also stated that Karadžić and Milošević were not in a position, even if they wished, to surrender more territory.
Đuraković argued: ‘We should not give up Bosnia’s status as an internationally recognized state at any cost, in my view. This is something which, I think, should not even be discussed. As far as I have understood you, Mr President, you too insist that our state’s international-legal status should not be questioned. If, however, we were to opt for [Silajdžić’s] concept of an independent state, then a major problem would arise: whether our 30% or so of Bosnia would gain the same status as that now held by Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ Despite Silajdžić’s assurance that ‘we would automatically inherit that’, Đuraković was not convinced. He insisted that ‘we should not give up our only remaining asset, the internationally recognized status of the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ As for dividing Sarajevo, it would be like ‘giving Hitler half of Leningrad or Stalingrad. Sarajevo as the capital city is the symbol of the Bosnian state, but also of its resistance and heroism. It is not for nothing that the Chetniks want a part of Sarajevo. It is a symbol of true victory which they would like to have more than many other territories. The question is whether there is not an alternative to this.’ After being told by Izetbegović that placing Sarajevo under international control was still a viable negotiating position, Đuraković argued that this would be better than agreeing to talks about dividing Sarajevo. ‘If we agree now to divide it, I can assure you this would be the end of both Sarajevo and Bosnia. One cannot expect to build a unified state by allowing three Berlin Walls to be built in its capital city.’
Although Izetbegović feared that ‘this may well happen in the end’, he agreed with Đuraković, particularly since this option involved also the removal of heavy artillery from Sarajevo’s vicinity. Đuraković’s further argument was that time was working against Serbia, in the sense that the sanctions imposed on the Serbian economy would soon force Serbia to desist. ‘If we could muster the strength to last, with enhanced humanitarian aid, another winter’, and ‘if something could be agreed with the Croats, especially in central Bosnia’, the spring could well bring new possibilities. According to Đuraković, if the other side continued to play hard, further armed struggle was not excluded.
Silajdžić, however, attacked Duraković’s comparison of Sarajevo with Leningrad. According to him, the Germans would have taken Leningrad if only the West had supported them. In the case of Bosnia, however, ‘the West has taken Milošević’s side’. Đuraković, he argued, favoured a military option, but this was an illusion: the other side, if anything, was making further gains. ‘We shall become a Sarajevo enclave, a Tuzla enclave, a Zenica enclave. That is more realistic.’ People were coming to him, he continued, pressing him to make a quick peace. ‘There is one thing far more holy than international recognition [and] that is living people. I don’t need a unified Bosnia without people.’ In his view the border with Serbia and Croatia had disappeared, and there was no way to change this. If one accepted the union, Belgrade and Zagreb would be able to further their policies, while ‘Sarajevo would be the capital of nothing.’ The union would legitimize Great Serbia and Great Croatia, which would be able to squeeze the central republic until it broke up. ‘Should we be and remain something undefined?’ According to Silajdžić, the majority of the people, and especially the poor, wanted to end the war in order to save lives. As for Sarajevo, he asked: ‘What is Sarajevo, after all? Let’s be honest. Since when have Hadžići and Pale been part of Sarajevo? Never. A village remains a village. We are now arguing about ten Sarajevo municipalities. Which of these ten are Sarajevo? This [the centre] is Sarajevo. People from Dobrinja always came in the evening to Sarajevo; no one from Sarajevo went to take a walk in Dobrinja. Is that not so? Now, however, Sarajevo is ten municipalities. When Krajišnik told me that Zabrđe was his, I told him my problem was that I had no idea where his Zabrđe was, until he showed me on the map that it is near Rajlovac, saying he would not give it up at any cost. Don’t, by God - you can keep your Zabrđe. So we are talking about the urban part, this is the symbol, this here. One can accept if one has to that Vogošća is part of it. Why should I wish to destroy this for the sake of a Hadžići [where in any case] the majority is Serb and supports Karadžić?’
Izetbegović argued that one third of Bosnia-Herzegovina was the best they could get, given the lack of Western support. If they wanted more territory in the middle of the country, they would have to surrender territory in the east. The Bosnian negotiators, he stated, should insist also that the central republic had an exit to the sea at Neum and to the Sava at Brčko. Sarajevo and Mostar would be placed for two years under international control, the former under the UN and the latter under the EU. He argued that they should insist on the preservation of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s borders, because this permitted them to continue the struggle for an integrated country. Bosnia would survive, he added, only if the Croats and the Serbs wanted it; the Muslims could not defend it on their own. If at some point the Croats and Serbs wanted to leave, the preserved framework would allow the Muslims to ask for additional territory.
Silajdžić continued, however, to argue in favour of a complete and final division of the country, on the grounds that Belgrade and Zagreb would use the union to stifle the central, Muslim republic. ‘We shall find ourselves in the situation that we shall have two enlarged states, Serbia and Croatia, against us; as a result of which, in my view, the process of fragmentation of that Bosnia would continue. In which case war is bound to start again, which this time would be a true civil war. We would no longer have the right to speak of aggression.’ According to Silajdžić, Belgrade and Zagreb could finish off the reduced Bosnia even without having to go to war against it, by blocking its link to the outside world. ‘I think it would be better for us to be independent. I hope I am clear now. Three parts: two parts don’t need sovereignty, they don’t need a seat at the UN, since they would join other sovereign states, and they will block the one we have. We would thus remain unsovereign between two sovereign states. Is this what we want?’
Izetbegović: ‘We could agree to support the proposal for a union as the framework for Bosnia-Herzegovina, [thus] leaving open a theoretical possibility that Bosnia could be preserved. Let’s go for that. This, after all, is what the Geneva documents say. As for who will guarantee the Bosnian republic, it will be its army.’
Silajdžić: ‘Most Serbs and a good number of Croats do not wish to live with Muslims. This is a fact. They are ready to kill and be killed for that. So I now have to experiment once again with the Muslim nation. The papers I see on the table, the kind of union that is being projected, leads me to believe that the Muslim nation will pay the price. Those who wish to live with them and those who are loyal to Bosnia will pay the price. Because they will signify nothing, because they will not be able to sign the agreement on their own, because they will not be able to conduct their own policy at the UN, but only that of Belgrade and Zagreb. They [the West] are protecting Serbia until the tension over Bosnia is past, when the world will forget Bosnia. They need Serbia to be a gendarme. We are facing the final negotiations. It is possible that they will put us against the wall and say: Europe has had enough, the world has had enough.’
Izetbegović then repeated his earlier summary of Bosnia’s negotiating position. This was to be their bottom line. ‘If they give us this, we shall nod our heads and say that we think that would be acceptable.’
Translated from Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 23 and 30 March 2006