29 September 2005, Volume
BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: BEYOND THE 'LEOPARD SKIN'
A program of RFE/RL's Radio Most (Bridge) by Omer Karabeg
Can a multiethnic society can be restored in Bosnia-Herzegovina, or it is more likely that the ethnic divisions established during the 1992-95 war will remain dominant? Our guests are: in Sarajevo, Beriz Belkic, member of the Parliamentary Assembly and former member of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in Banja Luka, Miodrag Zivanovic, professor of the Philosophy Faculty and president of the NGO European Movement.
To what extent do Serbia and Croatia exacerbate divisions in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
I must say that the ambitions and behavior of our neighbors have changed in recent times. They have finally started to accept Bosnia-Herzegovina as an independent state.
I support sound regional cooperation based on the fact that these three states have many common interests. A single market and a visa-free and duty-free system would enable us all to join the European market [more easily]. Unfortunately, we are still far from that. The entire region has made a strategic mistake by not getting integrated before starting EU accession talks. As a well-organized [bloc] with strong economic potential, we would have been an equal negotiator instead of, as is the case now, knocking on the EU's door one by one.
Of course, the regional aspect is important. Unless I am mistaken, the concept Mr. Belkic is talking about was topical in 1997-98, but, unfortunately, Brussels later abandoned the idea that the states of former Yugoslavia should join the EU as a group. That would have solved at least some of the problems encumbering this region, now known as the western Balkans.
Take a look at the present situation: not a single key problem has been solved. Macedonia remains ethnically divided, Serbia has its own substantial problems, the problem of Kosovo remains open, Bosnia-Herzegovina is in a difficult situation, and Croatia is burdened with many problems, too. Instead of a joint EU accession, we have the Stability Pact, which is nothing more than a fig leaf for the international community's ineffective policy in Southeastern Europe.
On the margins of the 2000 Zagreb Southeastern Europe summit, a top U.S. diplomat made a telling remark about the international community's perspective. "As far as the Balkans are concerned, we in Washington are only interested in the Belgrade-Zagreb express train. We do not really care about the passengers on board. However, if some of them misbehave, we will throw them out at the Vrpolje railway station." As we all know, Vrpolje is a railroad junction where the tracks branch off to Bosnia. This is actually a very serious warning that without radical and essential changes, Bosnia-Herzegovina might become a black hole not only on the geographic map, but also on the map of life.
What would be the impact on the Republika Srpska if Montenegro and especially Kosovo were to become independent?
The would certainly be consequences, and the ruling political circles in Serbia would most likely seek compensation in Bosnia for the loss of Kosovo. But I don't think it would lead to a change in borders.
There has been much speculation in the media recently that the "Cyprus model" could be applied to Bosnia, according to which only one part of the country would enter the EU, while the rest would be excluded. This shows once again that the international community lacks a serious strategy -- not only for Bosnia but for the Balkans as a whole. They simply react to events from day to day....
At a recent conference on truth and reconciliation held in Sarajevo, someone noted that one-quarter of the population live in fear that the withdrawal of the international troops would mean a new war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Do you think those fears are based on reality?
That figure was presented by the UN Development Program, and it is very disturbing. People are losing faith that things will get better.... But I am an optimist. I am sure that there is a natural instinct in the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina to work together and help each other. Moreover, I dare to say that we are one people here. We have different faiths and cultural identities but, for example, I would never accept the Cyprus model according to which the federation would join the EU and the Republika Srpska would stay out. For me it would be as if my brother was left in an abyss while I was pulled out. I would never accept it.
You do not believe that a war would start in Bosnia-Herzegovina if the international forces withdrew?
There is no one left here to wage war. There might be tensions in the future, but we already have them now. There are incidents and other things causing fear and frustration, but I am absolutely certain that there could not be another war.
The figure showing that one-quarter of the population fears a new war is a significant piece of information. That is a result of 15 years of media and other forms of propaganda that put fear in people's souls.... However, I do not think there will be another war here, simply because the big powers will not allow it to happen. There is something else I fear, though. I am afraid that a day might come when I will have to apply for a visa to travel from Banja Luka to Sarajevo. That would mean the end of Bosnia as a state for all of us.
Do you believe that the old, prewar, multiethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina might be restored?
Unfortunately, we must face the fact that prewar Bosnia-Herzegovina, as we remember it, cannot be restored.... In the future, we will have a Bosnia-Herzegovina in which it will be clearly recognizable where its respective ethnic communities live. But what is essential here are human rights, democracy, and a sense of belonging to one's own state.... Things have changed and the world keeps changing. Today's world is very much divided. Therefore, I do not think that it is important to go back to a previous era. What is important is to mobilize people and convince them that they have a future in their state.
There are two ways of turning back to what existed in the past: reconstruction and renaissance. Reconstruction is not creative. It is like destroying a building and replacing it with an exact copy. Renaissance, however, means something else: it is something with a soul and oriented towards the future. I believe in the renaissance of Bosnia-Herzegovina, not in its reconstruction.
We need people to break the deadlock, construct a state, generate as many jobs as possible, convince young people to stay, and create an educational system that is worthy of human beings. We should do the same in higher learning and all other fields. Then the multiethnic and multicultural character will emerge of itself. We cannot impose it by decree or by trying to reconstruct something that used to exist.