Serbia still awaits a catharsis
by Stipe Mesic - interviewed by Feral Tribune
FT: What is your view on three topical developments in the region: Montenegro’s independence, the recent talk about separation in Republika Srpska, and the radicalization of the political climate in Serbia?
Mesić: I should like to think that I understand the situation in the whole region well. Regarding Montenegro, one should remember that at the first conference at The Hague in 1991, when the Yugoslav presidency met with the republican presidents, the Montenegrin delegation declared that they too would consider independence if the other republics decided to leave Yugoslavia. This was explicitly stated by the Montenegrin foreign minister Samardžić, who was dismissed soon afterwards. Momir Bulatović did not contradict him at the time, but then went to Belgrade and agreed to follow Milošević’s policy. It was only a matter of time, however, before Montenegro would revive the idea of its independence. Many of its people changed their views subsequently and realized they had been wrong. RS, on the other hand, did not exist at the time of Yugoslavia’s break-up and cannot claim any basis for separation from Bosnia-Herzegovina. The only thing that it should consider is return of the population which was driven out. Talk of separation is nonsense, because there is no legal-political basis for comparing RS with Montenegro or Kosovo.
Is the redicalization of the Serbian political scene a serious factor of instability in the region?
The problem of Serbia is that it has not undergone a catharsis. There are still very strong political currents there which would like to include half of Croatia into Serbia. Serbia should instead send a strong message to the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina that they are citizens of that country and their capital city is Sarajevo - i.e. the same message that we have sent to the Croats in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I am not sure that the HDZ there agrees with that message.
Yes, but they nevertheless use similar rhetoric on that issue. What is important is that there is no relevant political current in Croatia that supports enlargement of its borders. I hope that something similar will happen in Serbia, and that it will encourage the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo to solve their problems within the Bosnian-Herzegovinian and Kosovar institutions.
What motivates your strong regional commitment?
The more stable and pro-European the region is, the easier it is for Croatia to open up space for cooperation and communication. There are those who seek to uncover secret interests in my commitment, but these do not exist: my only interest is that people in this country should have better lives. There are those too who understand this very well, why regional ties are important, but insist on Croat radicalism and nostalgia for the NDH [Ustasha quisling state in World War II], because they think that will make it easier for them to realize their political and other aims.
There is the president of the Football Association Vlatko Marković, for example, who recently declared openly his attachment to the Ustasha movement.
I have not read about that, but the fact is that there were forty camps in the NDH in which people were imprisoned and killed on an ethnic and confessional basis. Whenever I speak about this, I recall the demonstrations that took place at the end of the 1990s on the Victims of Fascism Square [in Zagreb] and a man who took the microphone and said that his father had been an Ustasha who had died on the ‘Path of the Cross’. He said: ‘I loved my late father, of course, but he was on the wrong side. Never mind why he opted that way, the fact is that his side was the wrong one. Don’t ask of me today that I too should be on the wrong side.’ This was a message to all who have lost a relative: there is no reason why they should follow their relatives in choosing the wrong side. But it seems that it is a waste of time to talk about this to our NDH apologists. It is a great pity, however, that the schools and textbooks have wrongly presented the nature of the NDH to our children, so we now have fifteen-year-olds who wear Ustasha caps and sing Ustasha songs.
Stipe Mesić, president of Croatia, interviewed by Feral Tribune (Split), 16 June 2006.