bosnia report
New Series No: 35 August - September 2003
Interview with Zlatko Hadžidedic
by Senad Pecanin, for BH Dani (Sarajevo)






Dani: We were recently both present at a discussion on university, culture, economy and politics, organized in Sarajevo by the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies and the Centre for Human Rights, in which forty or so highly educated young people took part, together with the rector of Sarajevo university and a number of professors. I was surprised by the fact that the participants spoke more competently about problems in these fields than government ministers or members of parliament do. Was this your impression too?

Hadžidedić: Yes, but it should not come as any surprise that this in many ways representative group should have proved more competent in addressing problems than our current ministers and deputies are. Indeed, the very existence of these young and able people encourages optimism. It would be terrible if they were not given the chance some day to discuss these and other matters as government ministers or members of parliament themselves. It would be even more depressing if the education system were not reformed in line with the standards they advocate, rather than remaining at a level that reflects the mental cast of the majority of current ministers and deputies.

What are the chances for so-called 'civil society' in Bosnia-Herzegovina? Is it possible to envisage a radical break with the existing social agony, without the young and able becoming actively involved in politics?

I believe that the key problem of the way in which this society functions - if one can talk of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a unified society - is the absence of a culture of association based on the pursuit of rationally defined individual interests, i.e. a culture characteristic of civil society. We have here instead a culture of association and organization that is based on summarily allocated rather than individually declared interests, as defined by membership of the three ethno-confessional groups that appear in the constitution as ‘constituent peoples’. In our society, the key to the realization of individual interest and social promotion lies in simple membership of a given collectivity allegedly possessed of its own specific interest. It is, therefore, not surprising that those who seek individual affirmation, mainly the young, the able and the educated, refuse to engage in a politics that is based on denial of the very concept of individuality, and that exalts collective being as the essential and supreme value. It is impossible, in other words, to speak of a 'civil society' when there is no place in the constitution - hence also in social reality - for citizens, but only for ‘constituent peoples’. In politics, and in society as a whole, there exists in this regard only 'ethnic society'.

One of your papers deals with the question of whether our society can be treated as one, or whether it has become irretrievably divided into three separate ethno-confessional wholes. What is your answer?

A modern society is based on citizens, on individuals enjoying equal status. According to the Dayton constitution, however, our society is composed of ‘constituent peoples’, not citizens. This means that the ‘constituent peoples’ function as three parallel, ethnically defined and separate societies. Insofar as the constitution does not recognize Bosnia-Herzegovina's citizens but only Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs, it acts as an efficient instrument for social fragmentation along ethnic lines. This process of disintegration is not irretrievable, of course, provided that the disintegrating constitutional mechanism is radically and speedily altered in favour of defining Bosnia-Herzegovina as a modern state, as a society made up of citizens who are the bearers of an indivisible state sovereignty. In the current constitution sovereignty - which according to constitutional and legal theory should be indivisible and untransferable - is divided between, and transferred to, ‘constituent peoples’ which, being in possession of the most necessary elements such as separate territories and administrations , seek to become themselves sovereign and create their own separate states. In my view it is high time to begin a public debate about the true implications of the Dayton constitution for Bosnia-Herzegovina's sovereignty and integrity.

I have noticed that many anti-nationalists and proponents of civil society have become wary of the insistence of foreigners, who say they wish to turn us into democrats, on multiculturalism - which they do not really understand. I know you have your own views on this.

The concept of multiculturalism, in my view, assumes the separate and parallel existence of various 'cultural groups' within the political space described as the nation-state. The term 'multiculturalism' implies the mutual incompatibility of different cultures within the nation-state, with 'culture' in fact representing a euphemism for racial - or racial and confessional - identity. Within this 'multicultural' discourse various races and religions are a priori defined as essentially incongruous, however integrated they may be in social practice, so that the establishment of 'multiculturalism' appears as a precondition for their peaceful co-existence. In an openly racist society, social organization based on the idea of incompatibility of races, cultures and religions - hence, on their physical separation - is called apartheid. Although 'multiculturalism', in contrast to 'apartheid', does not imply a forced separation of different groups, it nevertheless rests upon the assumption that they cannot relate and should be kept apart. It is obvious that this model has nothing to do with the single-culture model, the model of joint existence we had in Bosnia-Herzegovina before 1992. During the war period and after it this model was considerably undermined, leading to a forced territorial-administrative separation of ethno-confessional identities. This forced separation - a variant of classic apartheid - is, however, in accord with the concept of 'multiculturalism', which a priori defines these identities as culturally incompatible, despite the fact that for centuries they have shared one culture, a culture capable of incorporating and harmonizing different cultural influences. The doctrine of 'multiculturalism' means that these identities have first to be physically separated, then mechanically arranged alongside each other - regardless of the fact that through a centuries-long practice they have demonstrated not only their mutual compatibility, but also their capacity for creative mutual interaction. In view of the price in human lives and material destruction which Bosnian society has had to pay for this process of separation and isolation to be accomplished, one can hardly treat 'multiculturalism' as an ideal towards which any society ought to strive.

Current criticisms of the rule of the OHR 'maharaja' tend to miss out one, in my view, highly detrimental consequence of it: the complete marginalization of all oppositional and public civic engagement in unmasking the catastrophic model of our present governance. Do you agree with the criticisms directed at Ashdown? Which aspect of his strategy is, in your view, particularly questionable?

I agree that we are dealing with a 'soft' totalitarianism, which strives to prevent all criticism and to be above criticism, while simultaneously seeking to preserve at all costs the existing model of state and social organization. Ashdown does indeed enjoy royal prerogatives, which up to now have been used to shore up the status quo rather than to reform the current system. At the same time, it is difficult to talk of the OHR having a strategy, unless by strategy we mean a persistent tactic of making concessions and pandering to the forces of disintegration. The persistence of these forces in imposing their partial interests on society as a whole is being regularly rewarded. If this is indeed a strategy, then I fear it is aimed not at preservation of the status quo, but at Bosnia's definitive break-up.

How do you explain the OHR's readiness, under pressure from RS, to give up on the need for a unified customs system?

Acquisition by the entities of fiscal sovereignty leads inevitably to their transformation into sovereign states. Paraphrasing Weber's famous dictum that the most important prerogative of a state is its monopoly on the use of legitimate violence, one may say that a monopoly on the collection of taxes and custom duties is what makes a state a state. Bearing in mind the implications of the entities eventually acquiring fiscal sovereignty, and assuming that the OHR is not staffed solely by imbeciles, we have to ask ourselves whether those forces which during the war advocated Bosnia-Herzegovina's partition, and which dressed up their own intentions as 'ceding to the militarily stronger side', are not still active within the OHR The factor of military pressure may have been present during the war and immediately afterwards, but I cannot see what RS could use today to bring pressure on the OHR, which wields enormous power. It seems more likely that some people in the OHR encourage 'pressure' from RS in order to be able to satisfy it.

How could the present Dayton structure of Bosnia be changed, in view of the fact that it is part of the problem and not of the solution of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s agony?

Formally speaking, one needs a majority in parliament or a referendum. The Dayton constitution is only one part of the international agreement, and one which can be changed without convening another international conference. The crucial question, however, is that of political will: i.e. the will of those parties which have a monopoly in representing the ‘constituent peoples’. Citizens, with a right to decide within the political bodies and political life of the country, do not exist in the Dayton constitution. This is why we must go back to the period immediately preceding the war, when ideas about an ethnic division of Bosnia first made their appearance. The war was waged in accordance with the principle of ethnic division that was adopted in Lisbon by the three main - and still dominant - ethno-nationalist parties. Given that the Lisbon principle of ethnic division, and the military and demographic consequences that followed from its violent imposition on the ground, were built into the Dayton constitution, it is difficult to expect those same parties to wish to change Dayton, particularly since they have repeatedly displayed their continued preference for the principle of ethnic division they endorsed at Lisbon. So far as I know, none of them has distanced itself from the idea of ethnic division, or from the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina as an arithmetic sum of three ethnic collectivities. The fact that such a state is unknown in theory and has proved unable to function in practice does not appear to worry those who have been comfortably living off this formula for more than a decade. The very appearance of these parties entailed the disappearance of citizens as a constitutional category. The continued existence of these forces of disintegration is the greatest threat to the well-being of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


This interview appeared in BH Dani (Sarajevo), 25 July 2003


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