'We shall renew our charge against Serbia'

Author: Haris Silajdžic - interviewed by Ines Sabalic for Globus (Zagreb)
Uploaded: Friday, 26 December, 2008

Until recently chair of the B-H Presidency, Silajdžic speaks inter alia about the concessions made by the EU to Republika Srpska, his own hopes for the Obama presidency, and Bosnia's relations with its neighbours Croatia and Serbia.

[Haris Silajdžić is these days the most disliked Balkan politician in Brussels, where he gets run down at diplomatic dinners as an obstacle to the progress of the country that until recently he headed as chair of the three-member Bosnia-Herzegovina presidency. Brussels holds him responsible for the crisis in which Bosnia finds itself today, and which began with Silajdžić’s 2006 rejection in the Bosnian parliament of the so-called April amendments. Silajdžić rejected those amendments - which had been negotiated under American patronage and were meant to inaugurate a constitutional reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina - because they allowed the entities to wield a right of veto at the state level. Silajdžić was criticised for this in Sarajevo too, on the grounds that Republika Srpska was in the meantime growing stronger, and that he would never get a better offer. Silajdžić is now trying to bring down the so-called Odžak agreement between the country’s three largest parties, which the European Union is determined to implement. The ire against Silajdžić in Brussels, where he recently took part in a meeting of the council for the implementation of the Dayton Agreement (PIC), the international body overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina, allegedly took a spectacular form - behind closed doors, of course. The Brussels crowd talks about him as a man of the past, but then they used to say the same about Mile Đukanović. It is true that Silajdžić is out of power right now, thanks to the poor performance of his party, the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina, at the last local elections. But as the wartime foreign minister he remains a key person in the region. This conversation took place on the thirteenth anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, in the formulation of which Silajdžić played an important role. Many believe him to be an American man, but he did not get on with many Americans either. During this interview he downplays the interesting fact that he is on good terms with the future US vice-president, Joe Biden. Globus]

The Dayton Agreement

Sabalić: The states constituting the PIC, as well as the EU itself, support the recent agreement on constitutional changes reached at Odžak between the leaders of the three strongest parties in your country: Milorad Dodik, Sulejman Tihić and Dragan Ćović. You are the most prominent and most strident critic of that agreement. What in your view is the merit, if any, of this Odžak agreement?

Silajdžić: We already have the Dayton Peace Agreement. I favour its full implementation. This is an international agreement that cannot be applied à la carte - one annex yes, another no.. . The main reason why I advocate this in many ways imperfect agreement is that it provides for return of the refugees and for the realisation of human rights. Today, however, we have a situation created not by implementation of the Dayton Agreement, but by the violation of its provisions. The April amendments offered Republika Srpska (RS) even more rights than it had gained by refusing to implement the key Dayton provisions on the return of refugees. It gained even the right to dissolve parliament, which was not possible under the Dayton Agreement. Although the Bosniaks and the Croats are constituent peoples also in RS, most of them cannot vote there, because they have not returned to their homes. According to the B-H constitutional court, the RS authorities have been obstructing their return. We rejected the April amendments, but the demands of the RS have increasingly been being met, since it is simplest to maintain the status quo: a situation created through violation of the Dayton Agreement, and before that by genocide and ethnic cleansing.

What about the Odžak agreement?

It is based on two vital concessions to the RS government. The first is the population census. To conduct such a census after the genocide, knowing that hundreds of thousands of people have not returned to their homes, is to close the circle. This is a concession to the political forces that seek legalisation of ethnic cleansing. The census will register that the number of non-Serbs [in RS] is about eight per cent, while the political significance of the fact that before the ethnic cleansing they formed 46 per cent of the population will be erased. The other important aspect of the Odžak agreement has to do with the succession issue, on which there exists a firm international agreement. The text is not quite clear on this, but it suggests an intention to meet the demands of RS, i.e. that it [property awarded under the succession process] should be registered with the entities rather than with B-H as a state.

Following this agreement, which strengthens the autonomy of - and even secures elements of statehood for - the entities, has Bosnia-Herzegovina in your view retained sufficient prerogatives as a common state?

What happened in Odžak is contrary to the agreement on succession. The new agreement limits the competence of the common state, in that the entities are given the right to dispose of state property. This is a great help for those working in the direction of entity secession and sovereignty, given the approach to the common state agreed on in Odžak.

Yet the Brussels diplomats welcome what they interpret as the progress achieved in Odžak .

They say that for opportunistic reasons. The facts argue that the contrary is true. Dodik’s two ultimata were accepted. I don’t wish to speculate why the other two leaders accepted them.

Under Attack by Brussels

The RS enjoyed a better negotiating position while the Kosovo status was being resolved, because the international community wished maximally to appease Serbia. I have been told that you rejected any agreement with Milorad Dodik at that time, because you were worried that any negotiation on the constitution initiated under such unfavourable conditions would be negative for your side. As a result you lost friends in the international community, and earned a reputation as a man who cannot forget the past. Were you deliberately sticking to those positions?

Because of that situation, because of Kosovo, I naturally refused to accept certain proposals. But I would anyhow have been against any constitutional amendments that undermined Bosnian state sovereignty. It is an open question whether Bosnia-Herzegovina would have a government or a parliament, had I accepted the April amendments. Had I accepted them, it is likely that RS would have been able to postpone the formation of a central government, if need be for ever. The analysis produced by the Council of Europe has proved us right. How can the Odžak agreement help Bosnia’s integration into the EU? With Bosnia’s disintegration? It cannot help unless one wants a Bosnia à la Milošević. The EU’s policy is short-sighted, because such an agreement will encourage those forces that still dream of a Great Serbia.

When Milorad Dodik called for the secession of RS, the people in Brussels called it mere rhetoric.

I too used to accept the explanation saying that it was just rhetoric. But then Brussels declared that we were all using nationalist rhetoric, including those of us who were reacting to Dodik’s increasingly radical tone. That was not correct. When I talk about Srebrenica, when I talk about genocide, when I ask that its long-term consequences be acknowledged, then this appears irritating and I am no longer a good guy. Yesterday, at the PIC meeting, when I reminded the political director of a large EU state of the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that the RS was responsible for genocide at Srebrenica, he replied: ‘It’s true that this judgment exists, but it should be left to lie in the archives of the Court.’ I was shocked.

If you say in Germany today that the Holocaust never happened, you can be gaoled. In other countries, such a denial of genocide is not a punishable offence, but it is treated as being uncivilised, as falling below an understood system of values.

How do you view the ICJ’s verdict, which absolved Milošević but at the same time declared the RS government and institutions to have been the initiators and executors of genocide? Will Bosnia renew its charge against Belgrade before this court?

We are much encouraged by the fact that the Court has pronounced itself competent in the case of Croatia’s charge against Serbia. We will start new proceedings, naturally with fresh documents and evidence. New documents make this possible.

The optimism that Obama brings

A new Washington administration will soon be in place. The future vice-president, Joe Biden, is a great friend of Bosnia-Herzegovina and your personal friend. He is responsible for all the Bosnian resolutions in the American Congress. Do you keep in touch with him?

We last spoke, on the telephone, immediately before his nomination. I have not called him since, knowing how busy he must be. There will be time for that. But I hope that something of this great change will be reflected also in Bosnia-Herzegovina. More democracy, more justice, more sensitivity towards us, so that it will not be so easy to overlook the genocide at Srebrenica - those human lives are not so cheap. We have a fascist project at work here. While the United States is moving towards a true multiracial society, here we have a form of racial segregation. Children here go to the same school, but through different doors; they learn separate histories, and are taught to live separately. You say people complain that I look to the past rather than to the future? But is the segregation in Bosnia, this surreptitious advance in the legalisation of Milošević’s project, the sign of a better future? Or should we, as I believe, seek to make Bosnia the kind of society that made it possible for Barack Obama to be elected in the United States?

We live in Europe, which it would seem has disappointed you. You seem far more trusting in America...

The Americans have always understood us better. Bosnia is not a state in which a single nation predominates, as is true of most European states. From the time of the Roman Empire through to the Church schism and the Communist era, Bosnia has always sat on the border line. This line has persisted, and is now being enhanced. It was not our choice to be stationed on this line. Simple solutions don’t apply to us. American pluralism suits us better.

How do you judge the policies of Croatia and Serbia towards your country?

Croatia is much more straightforward. We do have some open questions with them, which unfortunately are not being settled, such as the sea border, property claims, an electrical energy debt. It is not good that they remain unresolved. But for Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina is a state. Serbia, by contrast, is far more high-handed in its approach. It has ignored the ICJ judgement, refuses to surrender Ratko Mladić, etc. They don’t care much for Bosnia-Herzegovina, in fact. For them, it’s a matter of ideology, in my view. You can describe this too as a form of rhetoric; but people there take the rhetoric very seriously - many believe it and behave accordingly. That gives rise to many problems.

This interview has been translated from the Zagreb weekly Globus, 28 November 2008. Silajdžić, who currently serves on the three-member presidency of B-H, is a former prime minister and wartime foreign minister

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